WASHINGTON, DC — During the darkest days of the pandemic, when the materials that Jason Gubbiotti typically uses in his paintings weren’t as easy to come by, the artist made do with what he could find in his garage. So, in lieu of gesso and canvas, he attacked plywood with felt, glitter paper, even skateboard grip-tape for the paintings that make up The Travel Section at Civilian Art Projects in Washington D.C.

Gubbiotti, who lives in the countryside just outside Paris, says there’s a French term for this jury-rigged approach, “le Système D.” The root is “débrouille,” getting by, or the slangier “démerde” — figuring shit out, more or less. The works in this show reflect the makeshift craft of le Système D, but also an impulse to push through, to get over, to hunker down, and to simply create. 

Jason Gubbiotti, “Florida Painting” (2021)
Jason Gubbiotti, “New Bones” (2020)

A sense of anxiety carries through The Travel Section, a show that is rooted in isolation. Some of the artist’s decisions come across as fidgety or repetitive studio exercises. The rectangular hole cut out of “Sugar Show”’s (2020) canvas, for example, reads not as an elegant nod to absence but more as a breakdown in the grid. Another rectangular void appears in “Creepier Death” (2021–21), this one long and horizontal. In “Florida Painting” (2021), the negative space is replaced with a positive addition: Gubbiotti screwed a bar of wood onto the surface of the canvas, a maneuver to make the separation of painting and support explicit. It suggests an artist pulling his works apart and reassembling them as the hours tick by.

In “Love Accumulator” (2014 and 2021), the surface appears at risk of losing coherency. Made with felt, Flashe, and satin interior wall paint, the work reveals the materials’ textures in layers, a departure from the super-flat matte surfaces that Gubbiotti usually prefers. The piece hangs next to “Normal Pleasures” (2021), a similar painting that looks secure and stable in comparison. The latter could almost be the “before” version of the former — a sequential display of a process and practice that is coming unmoored. Throughout the show, jutting edges, bare plywood, and hidden materials are all evidence of a restless hand at work.

Jason Gubbiotti, “Love Accumulator” (2014 and 2021)
Jason Gubbiotti, “Morning Combat” (2020)

Despite the different materials, The Travel Section continues Gubbiotti’s longtime project of pushing the boundaries of hard-edged geometric abstraction into the sculptural realm by using custom-shaped canvases or plywood. This show is his most sculptural yet. It’s also his most intimately scaled. “New Bones” (2020) is a 14-inch-tall column wrapped in canvas, like a desktop tribute to Anne Truitt, whose work looms large over Gubbiotti’s. “Morning Combat” (2020) could be a miniature maquette of an edgy skyscraper.  

Gubbiotti’s studio output crackles with nervous energy. But there are glimpses of serenity in The Travel Section, too. For “Unofficial Meditation” (2021), the artist makes a drawing with a line in space, creating a trapezoid with string that originates in acrylic on plywood.

Jason Gubbiotti, “Unofficial Meditation” (2021)

Much of the delight in looking at Gubbiotti’s paintings comes in craning your neck to find how he’s pushed the work beyond the boundaries of his format — in discovering that he’s hidden a perfect fuchsia square on the underside of a support bar, for instance. The small scale, off-the-shelf materials, and close working and reworking of surfaces in The Travel Section points to the claustrophobic nature of a lockdown, but it’s not without moments of release. 

Jason Gubbiotti: The Travel Section continues at Civilian Art Projects (1314 21st St. NW, Washington D.C.) through November 20.

Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab, the urbanism site for Bloomberg News. He is based in Washington, D.C.