In Neil Gall’s newest paintings, which are currently being exhibited at David Nolan (April 30 – June 13, 2015), there is a powerfully coercive interplay between figure and background that veers between the unstable and the terrifying. Uneven, jagged holes, cut out of tape-wrapped canvases, become resting places for large, perfectly white, almost moon-like spheres (as in the all-white “Kitchen (Velasquez),” 2015). Sometimes the orbs are not perfectly round but punched or crunched. It is only on second glance that these prove to be not sculptures but paintings, examples of dazzlingly skillful photorealism.
Gall paints and draws from enlarged photographs of sculpture-like models, with such accuracy that it feels like an exercise of physical force to squeeze their robust three-dimensionality onto a two-dimensional plane. His compelling, uncanny representations of composed detritus materials — mainly Ping-Pong balls and colored tape, but also string, tinfoil, and strands of hot glue — seem to strain, push, or pop out from their surfaces.
Gall was born in 1967 in Scotland and now lives in London, and this marks his third show at David Nolan. Even as his work requires masterful techniques, he plays with a particularly dynamic form of bricolage, which lends his pieces the sense of discovery found in a child’s arts-and-crafts project. He wraps and layers colored tape around Ping-Pong balls — and other everyday materials from his studio — to create his models. He then precisely lights these off-kilter, almost haphazard sculptures, full of bulges, jagged edges, and angular, misshapen circular cut-outs, and photographs them. His meticulous paintings and drawings of these objects use the photograph as a reference, rather than the original model.
Gall uses materials of assembly and repair (tape, glue, plastic wrap, tinfoil), but also of play. They bear no particular cultural or allegorical meaning. All the more strange and even humorous, then, are the anthropomorphic associations of his work, as when a white, cycloptic sphere seems to stare out from a background of yellow tape in the painting “Eye” (2015). Yet the personification never fully is complete: the materials remain singular enough that one never forgets the reality of colored tape and white balls.
Gall’s previous work explored monstrous, creature-like models of taped-together Ping-Pong balls, often posed against plain backgrounds, which called to mind the work of 17th-century painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, as well as the mannequins in the Metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, the Surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Yves Tanguy, and the biomorphic dolls of Hans Bellmer, and suggested various sexualized scenarios of bondage.
The feeling of bondage in Gall’s work continues in this show, but encompasses the background as well as the figure, and in fact confuses and entangles the two. The drawing “Ghost” (2015), its edges pulled and torqued, approximates a diamond. The tape performs two roles: as a background, it subsumes the figures within it (the white orbs); as part of a three-dimensional model, it also acts as the dominant figure in the composition.
Gall gestures toward a wide array of painters, from Bronzino to Nicolas Poussin to Barnett Newman, and his tape and ping-pong ball models lend a touch of silliness to a painterly tradition that used sculptural maquettes as preparatory tools. In “Allegory (Bronzino)” (2014), a “solid” plane of tape echoes the blue background of Bronzino’s “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” (ca.1545), and white balls, some barely visible within the blue tape, are analogous to Bronzino’s composition, where submerged heads and hands eerily emerge from varying depths of the background, bodies twisting and arms reaching, with no one place for the viewer’s eye to rest. In Gall’s composition, the blue material actively stretches, taking the place of the fingers and hands: the background reaches into the figure, and the figure is partially subsumed into background.
That these depths and shadows emerge from feats of photorealism lends them a seriousness as well as a strange ambiguity.
In a recent interview with Amy E. Brown in Curating the Contemporary (CtC), Gall describes his creation of models as playful and childish, while his painting and drawing feel more like the “work” of an “adult.” Indeed, the technique of framing these bound compositions into the secondary frame of the two-dimensional canvas or paper surface gives them a weight, a “substantial” quality (a word that Gall mulls over in his interview). The images appear to bulge and press outward, but not towards a separate allegorical meaning, as in some of the metaphorically-resonant images from Gall’s earlier work – “Wildflower” (2008) includes images of flowers, while “Stitch in Time” (2008) includes trees, and “Consider Her Ways” (2007) includes images of the facade of a house, clouds, and grass. Rather, they seem to seek escape from the forces of representation itself.
Yet one also feels for the obsessive impulse evident in the tape-become-background: after all, isn’t tape used to hold things together that threaten to fall apart? What structure threatens to collapse? These painted sculptures evoke messy, haphazard, hurried, desperate taping jobs on well-worn boxes. In “Yellow (Poussin),” trails from a glue gun hang. The horizontal yellow tape makes it all the way across, but vertical pieces (gesturing at a grid) stretch across the top half and end in the middle. In most of the gaps left by the yellow tape where Ping-Pong balls push outward, there is white tape, and beneath that, bits of pink and blue and a tiny hint of red, brown and, in the upper left quadrant, a black gap. The textures and depths of these compositions defamiliarize the camera’s perspective, exchanging the ordered, known, and mathematical for another kind of depth — the lost or neglected, depthless space of a shadow that falls on an imaginary surface.
The soft, exposed pencil lines of Gall’s drawings — displayed at the back of the gallery and in a small adjoining room — reveal immediately their two-dimensional status and offer greater nuance in terms of layers and colors than his paintings. Colored pencil lines overlap in crosshatched grids; light reflects from the translucent plastic wrapping; the edges gradually fade into a purple haze created by gridded red and blue pencil lines. Up close, these works seem perhaps more attuned to the details and intricacies of the materials dangling and overlapping in uneven borders. A few strands of string or yarn wind in curlicues. Whereas brushstrokes are not visible in Gall’s paintings, here pencil lines are apparent, creating a feeling of intimacy with the work as a crafted thing. The figure blends into its background, and the composition merges into the white paper surface. The represented folds in the drawn object echo the actual folds of the material paper.
What Gilles Deleuze calls an Exogamous force in his 1988 book, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, is here in full display: we see an outward system (strips of tape) acting on another system (a rectangular frame, Ping-Pong balls) to form and shape it. Half-deflated balls reveal the impact of this external force. Or is this an endogamous system — of folds revealing other folds, existing coherently as a structure and form in itself? Is this background a living landscape, full of forces intrinsic to it?
Gall’s work seems to model, even literalize, such ambiguities of figure and background. If one struggles to define and separate the two, then the white balls, as they seem to pull away from the taped bindings, physicalize this very struggle. Perhaps Gall’s paintings and drawings do not allegorize contradictions of figuration so much as illustrate and physicalize them. Figure battles against background and background against figure in a finely and precisely-depicted morass of contradictions. Indeed, so skillfully does Gall paint and draw that the illusion of three-dimensionality vies against the viewer’s certainty of the painting’s flat surface. Viewing these works incites an internal war between illusion and materiality where the two-dimensional illusion is the tactile reality and the three-dimensional material model is illusory. These pieces confront us with the tensions latent in mimetic representation and in the boundaries between painting, sculpture and photography, in that they put all three mediums fully into action. Gall’s newest work also refuses to let the viewer rest as a mere spectator or voyeur: it extends beyond the imagery’s borderline, subsuming and entwining the viewer in its strong, sticky embrace.
Neil Gall continues at David Nolan Gallery (527 West 29th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through June 13.
Did You Know These Museums Were Free for New Yorkers?
The “Free Admission” campaign is advocating to make ticket pricing information more transparent to visitors, who may be confused or misled by institutions’ language.
AI Images Visualizing Trump’s Arrest Send Internet Into a Frenzy
The pictures, created using Midjourney, depict the former president’s greatest fantasy: being dragged away by police in front of the cameras.
Haggerty Museum of Art Presents Tomás Saraceno in Dialogue With Dr. Somesh Roy
The artist and researcher will explore soot’s effects on climate change and public health in this online conversation.
Some AI Artworks Now Eligible for Copyright
New guidance from the US Copyright Office sets some policies around AI-generated images.
NYC Hispanic Society Workers to Strike Indefinitely
One worker said the museum’s “skeletal” workforce bars the institution from functioning to its potential.
McKnight Visual Artist Fellows Discussion Series at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The series features 2021 Fellows David Bowen, Mara Duvra, Rotem Tamir, Ben Moren, and Dyani White Hawk in conversation with renowned curators and critics.
In Search of Inclusive South Asian Futurisms
We have been dangerously siloed for far too long by colonial constructs of race, nation, and time that separate, divide, and deny us our very being.
What Do Shtreimels and Cowboy Hats Have in Common?
A chance meeting on the subway introduced photographer Francesca Magnani to the multicultural world of Brooklyn milliner Richard Faison.
Nevada Museum of Art Presents Adaline Kent: The Click of Authenticity
For the first time in nearly 60 years, the innovative yet under-recognized artist is the subject of a retrospective exhibition. On view in Reno, Nevada.
Richard Hull Completes the Picture
Once known for his abstracted portraits, the Chicago artist is now exploring new directions.
You Too Can Have Your Art on a Postage Stamp
The process isn’t complicated, and thousands of people submit themselves for the talent pool every year.
The Public Theater in NYC Presents Plays for the Plague Year
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’s theatrical concert chronicles the 2020 lockdown and the hope and perseverance that emerged from it.
Bobby Wilson Combats Indigenous Stereotypes Through Humor
The artist-performer’s career undulates, ever so gracefully, across multiple mediums and registers of generational pain, healing laughter, and Indigenous joy.
Rare 19th-Century Silhouette Album’s Secrets Unlocked
Traveling portrait artist William Bache’s album depicts famous figures like Thomas Jefferson as well as people whose identity was previously unknown.
just because you can, doesn’t mean you should 🙂
Comments are closed.