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There is more to Gabb’s installations than first pleases the eye; what isn’t immediately obvious is that these showers of colour take inspiration from the decorative elements of Art Nouveau, or are working to achieve an effect similar to Baroque and Rococo architectural adornments.
Gabb describes his work as “playing with reality”, his influences are as diverse Wayne Thiebaud’s Refrigerator Pies, where paint comes to resemble frosting on a cake, and Damien Hirst’s abstract yet arbitrary spot paintings. In a world filled with a persistent realism, Gabb’s work reminds us of the transformative power of pure materials.
You have developed a very particular method of working with paint as though it is an object, how did you begin working in this way?
I was introduced to this technique whilst on a life painting course, PVA glue was mixed in with acrylic paint so that it appeared more translucent. Later on during my degree I became interested in the act of painting. I loved how acrylic paint could maintain its plastic quality when PVA glue was added. I was interested in exploring how I could make reference to the act of painting, by making sheets and cutting them into threads I was able to create forms which allude to drips and sweeping paint strokes.
It is not obvious how you handle the paint, are you interested in confusing the viewer?
It’s more about confounding the expectations of the viewer. With a painting, people expect paint on a canvas or pigment in liquid on a flat surface, I’m trying to do something different. I want to stretch the material value of paint in a 3D form to transform it into something else - the paint is freed from a fixed surface and can be viewed as an object.
Does working in this way achieve an effect?
I enjoy the optical element of the work; viewing the work becomes more of an event. The viewer can move around the work; from a side angle it might resemble a pen and ink drawing, then it merges into denser three dimensional forms at another point. The viewer is encouraged to engage physically with the work. During my residency at WW I’d like to explore how I can create work which responds to the nature of the space and how the viewer will interact with the installations as they move through the gallery.
Are there particular colours or forms which you find most effective when you are making your installations, or are other elements the driving forces behind your work?
My selection of colour in my more recent work has been consciously arbitrary. I also love the idea of celebrating the notion of abstract art as an ornament or decoration. The abstract expressionist paintings of the 1950s were meant to be the height of modernism, yet at the same time they decorated minimalist architecture in the way an ornament would, despite being a contradiction to the ethos of the time. So these works adhere to the ceilings and walls in an unself-conscious way - like the adornments of rococo and baroque architecture.
WW Gallery Solo Award
Details of Jonathan Gabb’s solo show at the WW Gallery will be announced in December