Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, May 6, 2001

Uncle Bob Geyer's Manoa home is filled with his
paintings and drawings.

Uncle Bob loves his art
the way he loves Aileen

By Suzanne Tswei

UNCLE BOB is almost apologetic in announcing that he has arrived at an art career with absolutely no credentials. "I can't say I know what I am doing. All I can say is, this stuff just pours out of me. I can't stop," says the 88-year-old self-taught artist who is both elated and nervous about his first art exhibition, which opens next week at The ARTS at Marks Garage.

Uncle Bob, who was born Bob Geyer in Michigan, does not realize he has some stellar company.

Henri Rousseau, the French painter famed for his fantasy tropical scenes, had no credentials either. He spent years working as a toll station inspector and began painting only after his retirement. Rousseau became a celebrity, befriended by Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein and other luminaries in the Paris art community.


Place: The ARTS at Marks Garage
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, reception 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday
Call: 521-2903

Then there was Grandma Moses, a mother of 10, who did not pick up a paint brush until she was 70. By the time she got to be Uncle Bob's age, she was an American institution, beloved for her rustic landscapes.

Geyer is not motivated by the kind of fame or fortune that followed Rousseau and Grandma Moses. Nor does he care that if he were to become famous, art historians would categorize his work as "primitive" or "naive" art.

He just wants to make art. Every day.

"All of this," he points to his paintings and drawings scattered throughout his home in Manoa, "came out of me in the last two years. I have 600 paintings."

His canvasses often are discarded paper boxes or Styrofoam food containers. He has fashioned art out of the foil paper from his cigarette packs and assembled sculptures out of knickknacks rescued from the trash.

"Nobody's rubbish pile is sacred to me. I use everything under the sun," says Geyer, whose limited finances force him to be creative with other people's trash.

Although he dabbled a little in art before, he did not become obsessed until two years ago when he found his long-lost first love, he says.

"I never married because the girl I really fell in love with was a girl in high school. She was beautiful, magnificently beautiful. But she came from a wealthy family, and she had no time for a hayseed like me," he said.

"Ailene" married Geyer's rich cousin, and he never found another woman who could measure up to her. After nearly a lifetime apart, he began thinking about her, and she happened to be thinking of him also.

He is shy and did not track her down, but Ailene, who was twice married and a widow, found him. She sent him a letter, and the two have been carrying on a long-distance correspondence romance "more satisfying than any marriage could possibly be," he says.

GEYER BEGAN to draw when he was writing to her. He first drew a rascally dog to sign off his letters, and that led to more doodles, then more serious artwork.

"I don't know where all this stuff is coming from. I just know I have to do it. I believe this is what the Lord intended me to do," Geyer says.

Geyer, who is deeply religious, is an ordained minister who holds services Saturdays in his home. He says God saved him from alcoholism and has guided him through his life, which he sums up as "a journey from a pig sty to pie in the sky."

The pie in the sky is the upcoming art show, and the pig sty was his grandparents' farm where Geyer had an unhappy childhood. After his alcoholic father abandoned the family and his mother remarried, Geyer lived with his grandparents, who often depended on him as a one-person farm labor force.

"Milking, plowing, harvesting -- just name it, I did them all, and I hated every one of them," he recalls.

He dreamed of becoming a big movie star, like his idols Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Gary Cooper, and escaped to Hollywood after high school. But after two trips his movie career consisted of a single and brief nonspeaking appearance in a forgotten movie, "San Francisco Waterfront."

"I was the guy standing under the lamppost. You really couldn't recognize me."

Geyer got a job selling wallpaper and became "a poor man's decorator." Eventually, on a dare, he followed his roommate to the islands in 1958, the year before Hawaii became a state. He worked as a security guard for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and eventually moved up to become head of security for the Sheraton hotel chain.

Geyer's drinking problem began on the mainland, but he swore off alcohol while here and became a minister more than 30 years ago.

Geyer went to Japan to preach for two years before returning to Hawaii where he continues to open his home to seniors and troubled youths.

His paintings are influenced by Japanese culture, for which he feels a special kinship. Geyer says he is not sure what he is striving for with his art but that the process gives him a spiritual lift.

He is only hoping for one more gift, a face-to-face reunion with Ailene, someday.

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