These days you can’t walk out of the house without tripping over an abstract painting. While this resurgence seems positive, if I read another article about Oscar Murillo I will seriously freak the fuck out. For every good new painting in the world there seems to be at least five of the half-baked variety. John Gordon Gauld’s selection of carefully hand painted still lives at Salomon Contemporary provide a surprising antidote to this wave of slapdashery.
Gauld’s intimately scaled canvases are painstakingly painted with egg tempera. His pristine surfaces radiate with saturated color and diffuse light. Flowers, ceramics, fruits, and tchotchkes of every ilk seem to flaunt the lush intricacy of their surfaces. These are masterfully wrought canvases: Gauld seems to take hints from the renaissance masters; indeed he uses a variety of rare, historical pigments. There is a clear sense of tradition. Immediately one is struck with the quality of craft.
These works do not apologize for their orthodox subject matter, rather they strut, touting the pleasure one gets from natural beauty. These are easy-to-look-at paintings. However, the closer one does look the more disturbing they become. His “The Fertile Godess” is one of the few Tondo (circular paintings) I’ve ever liked. The image itself is suffused with a delicate white, as if the whole surface had been lightly and loving bleached. While the picture’s focal point, a particularly ebullient bunch of flowers, is idyllic, it takes a minute to fully grasp the context created by the other objects placed carefully in proximity. Half a pomegranate, a white riding crop, and a rusty antique chastity belt cast the picture in a haunting light. There is a quiet, smiling violence to this painting. The voluptuous beauty of the surroundings serves as a Venus fly trap of sorts, pulling the viewer in before delivering its paralytic dose.
“Seven Sisters” offers an equally compelling opportunity to puzzle through the artist’s encoded system. His compositions seem to bask in the weight of history, making calculated use of symbolic associations. Painted in a Whistler-esque fog of grey and silver tones, a songbird perches improbably on a single flowering branch that extends from the mouth of a preposterous dog headed mug/vase. A crumpled Red Bull energy drink sits in the corner. We are not quite sure what to think, but there is a pervading sense of meaning obscured just beneath the surface. “Northern Gate of the Sun” presents the artist’s signature amalgam of quirky objects set against an astrological star map. This is perhaps the most revealing portion of the exhibition. In this context, the crab in this picture seems to make reference to the astrological sign cancer (as the previously mentioned Red Bull can might be a reference to the Taurus). Certainly these paintings play within a historical context, making full, often cartoonish use of allegory. On a more practical level, they seem to foreground the human need to collect, to surround ourselves with stuff and then to proscribe it meaning. The result is as remarkable for its pleasurable surface as for its latent fuck-you attitude.
Interstellar Overdrive in on view at Salomon Contemporary (525 West 26th Street, 4th floor, Chelsea, Manhattan) through May 10th.