by Emily Flamm
A subtle challenge of the digital landscape we so often inhabit is the default framing of all messages as equal. Most things are discovered in roughly the same way, on the same screen, from the same physical posture. Anything can feign legitimacy. It can seem, while flipping through pages of chatter, profundity, and sock ads that whatever we encounter is writ large for some reason external to us, when its frame is made in part by our gaze – our having shown up to see it.
In Glass Giant, his recent solo show at Civilian Art Projects in Washington, DC, painter Jason Gubbiotti articulates the wonder and artifice of power, desire, and the bathroom floor. To view the show is to bounce between extremes. Some paintings appear swaggeringly self-assured from across the room. The artist knows the pleasure of his pictures; the candescent, gleaming “Gold Top” and “Aztec War God” are magnets for the eye. The apparent surety of the images is a bit of a setup. Moving closer, each work has a topography, with abandoned versions layered in, leaving contours in the surface. Procedural evidence in paintings is nothing new, but there’s something peculiarly affecting about the tension between the inner and the outer lives of images that appear so cleanly engineered, so planned. The effect is a little like a tease of shapewear beneath a silk gown: an illusion pronouncing the effort of its conjure.
Gubbiotti, who lives near Paris but studied and first showed his work in DC, squares coolness with heat, and delivers meditations on animal instinct with refined mechanics. While each piece finds its own hard-earned balance of oppositions (when inspecting his thin beams of color, it’s hard not to see the artist there, excruciating over the application of painter’s tape), the overall phrasing of the work feels loose, even improvisational. There is enough variety and movement in the presentation to give the sense that even what’s bleakest (o cataclysmic leader, he’s looking at you) is, at some distance, just another wild channel being collectively surfed.
As a whole, the show’s rhythm is idiosyncratic. Some paintings – “Alpha Detector,” “Gold Top,” “After Low Twelve” – tow viewers inward with their symmetry and heaviness, while others puncture the mood with a more childlike, exploratory mind. “Cat Math” and “Pink and Gold Are My Favorite Colors,” for example, read in the context of darker material as almost arbitrary, hey-lookie-here, but the spikes of intensity and humor do more than offer contrast. Diversions matter; they form so much of our cultural tubing and wiring. Each painting alters the viewer’s craving for lightness or darkness, and each affects the viewer’s expectation or tolerance for depth. For each painting, Gubbiotti has created a unique support.
Some literally stick out from the rest of the family, a high one here, a low one there, and “Square Waves” hung on edge, its painted surface perpendicular to the wall.
In the small white room filled with the work of a painter so interested in structure, variation, and vitality, I’m reminded of an epic A.R. Ammons poem, “Extremes and Moderations.” The poem is basically a glorious, grotesque run-on sentence that indicts mass consumption while being, itself, a grand show of appetite. One of Ammons’ signatures is the bracketing of ideas with colons, a light and singular formality, a harnessing of feral impulse. His stanzas are practically uniform – early in the long poem he refers to his own form as “variably invariable, permitting maximum change / within maximum stability, the flow-breaking four-liner, lattice / of the satisfactory fall, grid seepage, currents distracted / to side flow, multiple laterals that at some extreme spill / a shelf, ease back, hit the jolt of the central impulse…” Like Ammons, Gubbiotti invents and imposes his own formality, fencing the ooze of his ideas. It will be interesting to see what happens when that ooze, still building anticipation and momentum, pushes past the fence.
(All images courtesy of Civilian Art Projects)
Glass Giant ran from March 11 - April 15, 2017 at Civilian Art Projects in Washington DC