Over the last 50 years, Jaroslav 'Jerry' Gebr enjoyed one of the longest exhibitions any one artist could have ever wished for.
His works might not have crossed the auction blocks of Sotheby's, Christie's or Bonham's yet, but throughout your life long romance of motion pictures and television, you have subliminally admired his work over the last six decades. His name has remained unknown to most of you and to the fraternity of art dealers and galleries worldwide, but his son and family at 'gebr.art' are committed to changing this. The Art Directors Guild's Gallery 800 (ADG, IATSE Local 800) is exhibiting his work in a special exhibit entitled “A Tribute to Jaroslav Gebr” through March 4, 2017.
Since his escape from communist occupied Czechoslovakia in 1949, Jaroslav Gebr's journey through numerous mediums and styles have evolved - from portraits and frescoes in Bogotá Columbia to portraits, murals and visual effects in such Hollywood productions as "The Sound Of Music," "Camelot," “Towering Inferno,” "Dune," "The Sting," "Scarface," television's "Night Gallery," "24" and countless others.
Gebr had an incredible gift to immerse himself within an unlimited range of artistic styles. Such as in the replication of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel for MGM's "Shoes Of The Fisherman" and then transforming his artistic technique and aesthetic nuances within the same week to perform within the abstract / impressionistic fantasies via the mind of Rod Serling in his mesmerizing and haunting paintings for 'Night Gallery.'
No historical period or medium posed an obstacle for Gebr. From the Western scene on the semi-truck-trailer in "Smokey and The Bandit" to a Baroque style portrait on a set for Alfred Hitchcock and all works delivered within a film production window of one to two weeks.
Jaroslav worked hard to satisfy the insatiable thirst of the film studio's drive for commercial short cuts. But while doing so, he always stood his artistic ground displaying his classic 'Euro' craftsmanship in even the most simple of works for a network 'sit-com' or for a farcical feature film comedy as in Mel Brooks' "Robin Hood, Men In Tights." No job was to small or to big for Gebr, the love and attention to his work was constant.
This commitment to artistic excellence ensured his role as chief artist for such legendary filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, George Roy Hill, Vincent Minnelli, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and David Lynch and more.
During President Gerald Ford's administration, The U.S. Armed Forces commissioned two portraits by Gebr to be hung in the White House and Pentagon. Yet it was the Hollywood portrait commissions that have given him much of his notoriety since retiring from studio work. To name a few, Orson Wells, Lucille Ball, Steven Spielberg, Robert Culp, Rachel Welch, Barbara Streisand, Jack Lemmon and John Candy.
Not only did his artwork find a continuous showcase via motion pictures and television over his 50 year career, his works have become part of the aforementioned directors and producers private collections for such Hollywood greats as, Kim Novak, Lucille Ball, Roddy McDowell, Joan Crawford, Clint Eastwood, Lou Wasserman, Jules Stein, and countless others.
Jerry’s son Thomas answered some questions about his late father.
What did your Dad feel was his greatest achievement in the world of art?
Although he painted countless high profile celebrities, in somewhat photographic/illustrative styles while he worked on some of the most popular films and television shows of our time, he primarily regarded himself as a highly educated artist in the finer European tradition, from Prague to Munich to Vienna. His particular love were portraits in lose brush: 'post impressionist and surrealist,' and was also his works on murals; His fresco at "La Cathedral Primada," Bogota, Columbia in 1953 and his 'Children of The World' mural 20'x40' for the United Nations, 1967, via a Bob Hope production from MGM which hung in the UN for several years... in his mind, were his crowning achievements.
Did your Dad ever mention a particular celebrity he enjoyed working with?
His closest friend for many years was Rod Serling. They worked together in simpatico. Jaroslav (Jerry) would sketch off a story board or sketch from a description over the phone from Rod's office and more often than not, when Mr Serling would arrive in Jerry's office Rod would say, "perfect, I couldn't add anything else to this Jerry" They certainly were inside each others heads. Mr Serling's untimely passing affected my father for quite some time.
What did your Dad like most about being a scenic artist?
Although it was quite a change for his usual work as an artist who could spend a month or two on a portrait or mural, working for the studios meant a portrait a week or sometimes less. Murals such as the life size copy of the Sistine Chapel, billboards to buttons, saloon signs to storyboards, he embraced the challenge from so many styles, mediums and periods. His extensive education helped him tackle Old Western needs on “The Wild Wild West,” to futuristic works for “The Fantastic Voyage,” from medieval “Camelot” to the roaring twenties “The Sting.” It was the challenge and the ability to answer all of them as one resident artist for Universal Studios for 30 years.
What do you remember most about your Dad?
I saw very little of him through my younger years, as someone in the industry who worked 60 hour weeks and then usually would take work home to his studio to complete something that was to shoot first thing Monday morning on set. We only had time on the tennis court (his passion) when he had a rare weekend day off.
Are you an artist?
Yes I am. I was of course trained by my father and I majored in art in college. Although most my life has been spent as a composer and entertainer in the music industry, I return, on my off seasons to art to use my skills he taught me.
Anything else you would like to add?
I cannot only express how thrilled I am that the Art Directors Guild has given my father and I a platform to share with the public, who this incredible talent was. And although no one knows his name, but have seen his works for decades on their favorite film or television shows, the world now can put a name and face to the works they have admired.
May your memory be a blessing and your artwork continue to bring joy.
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