David Gista’s recent work contains a visual universe of mystery and playful wit, a subtly surrealistic urban landscape peopled with images of suits from the corporate world, stylish women, even some top-hatted art ghosts who have undoubtedly followed Gista here from the musty halls of the Louvre. Like people we pass by on city streets who give us just a momentary glimpse into their lives, Gista’s people only give us hints of who they may be. Are they “every man,” stand-ins for our collective social being or images from mass media, from the artist’s subconscious, archetypal icons of the digital age? We need to pay attention to context, to see what they are looking at, to feel the color of their worlds and how they move through them. The solitude and absurdity of modern life and Gista’s sardonic approach to the politics of power are allowed soulful engagement through his intuitive and multi-layered approach to the physicality of the paint and textured surface, the visceral energy of his line and the intellectual passion of his dialogue with his artistic predecessors.

Gista paintings speak to each other: a blue-jeaned couple wears shirts that seem to have come directly from the wall of Sean Scully-like stripes of color they’re contemplating. In another painting a similar wall is examined by silhouetted 19th century figures whose minds must be blown by the intensity and variety of colors (and perhaps mystified by the minimalist bands). Gista gives us people in the act of looking, the posture of observation in the theater of the sidewalk. An elegant woman in evening dress contemplates a wall of leaflets and posters (the drawings on the wall are Gista’s, a seamless insertion of his work as a draftsman into the composition). These images began with the artist’s memories of people on the streets of Paris stopping to read the layers of posters and notices pasted to walls. The successive layers of paper, partially torn away and covered over, became a history of the issues and events of city life.

The Hypnotiques take man out of the street and place him at the vortex of a spiraling universe — Gista’s freehand, painterly play on Op Art — dancing, conducting, running up to the end of a stairway, perhaps rising from the fog of the unconscious, perhaps headed for a fall. The hypnotic patterns of the backgrounds suggest that there is another power at work here– a commentary our vulnerability to being mesmerized by the bombardment of media images propaganda, random bytes of information. But there is a graceful energy to these paintings that keeps the encircling backgrounds from feeling ultimately oppressive; like an Alfred Hitchcock film, they leave us in a rather pleasant state of unease.

The circular form shows up again in a powerful painting of the Roman Coliseum, as does the association with power, government and of course, the grand spectacle of blood and entertainment. In another piece the curve reappears in a sculptural wall suggestive of a Richard Serra sculpture being closely and respectfully examined by two figures. Spiraling lines straighten out into stairways in the Escaliers; here we feel an inevitability in the way these figures ascend the stairs, some walking, some running, but toward what, away from what — we can’t see what lies ahead – do they know? As with many of Gista’s figures, we see them only from the back — their faces remain hidden to us. On these stairways they climb up, always up, the direction of progress, success, spiritual elevation? Or perhaps this is our collective delusion, this “Stairway to Heaven,” the belief that movement upwards, forward, has intrinsic meaning and ultimate worth.

Peggy Schutze Shearn, July 2011