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Ted Gahl’s exhibit, “Three Twains, Roads, A Beauty,” currently occupies the project space of Zach Feuer (on view through December 20). The press release for the show was actually a journal entry, which in turn, acted as a guide for the works on view. In it, the artist recalls car rides with friends to paint homes, lazing by the pool, girls he used to know, and neighbors who have come and gone. These comprise experiences from some time ago. Still, memory is always rooted in place, reified upon return. These subjects come full circle in a series of works that flirt with representation, the figure and landscape.
One large painting to the right of the entrance, Twain ’89 (Three Sloops) (2014), is made of mostly pale whitish-blue, semi-transparent washes that nearly saturate the surface of the canvas, making otherwise sweeping marks read as stains. On the right hand side, a childlike rendering of a balding man with mustache is hazily captured in contour. Three black triangles stack vertically on the left. Brief patches of red-umber peak from corners among brief, scrawled, edited passages that recede into the background.
Also on view is a five-panel painting, each part a different color. Here, Gahl takes on a well-known minimalist format. And in relation to Gahl’s straight-up abstractions, these works are something of an outlier. Using dyed linen over wood on canvas, the artist has affixed stir sticks to the underside. They operate as a stand-in for “roads.” The sticks–placed vertically, horizontally, or diagonally–meet to form intersections and parallel lines. In doing so, they depict the subject and simultaneously pronounce the painting’s objecthood. The format and arrangement is a bit weighty in the otherwise small room, and it will be interesting to see how these works develop. Yet, unlike so many pretentious attempts to quote paintings’ material make-up within a painting, these strike a delicate balance of clever and poetic.
Beauty (You Don’t Get to Tell Me What to Do Ever Again) (2014) will convince the non-believers. Using the movie cover from American Beauty, Gahl crops the image to a hand, rose and stomach complete with a Goodwill pricetag. This work is in part a nod to popular cinema and erotically charged subject matter, and given the title, part devotional piece to a lost love. The work is on a small-sized canvas, but large in scale. With a faded, chalky appearance it aligns itself well with vanity paintings. And like all good memento mori, highlights the temporality of existence and undermines the seeming permanence of visual images.
“Three Twains, Roads, A Beauty” occupies a tenuous category between lyricism and architecture, combining the structural armature of Cezanne with an elegant sense of touch. While it is true that the gesture is no longer analogous to notions of originality, it remains that the gesture is the actor in a given environment. Now, it only matters what kind of play is being performed. In these works, the gesture is in service of memories’ unfolding drama. And in contrast to most mark-making in contemporary abstraction, Gahl manages to create marks that bear that ineffable quality called, intentionality.