By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, FEB. 2017
Daniel John Gadd's studio is situated directly across from his gallery, David & Schweitzer, in the increasingly exclusive 56 Bogart building. Once a haven for artists looking for inexpensive studio space, the Bogart building now hosts a myriad of commercial galleries, not least of which is Gadd's own gallery, while non-commercial spaces such as Momenta Art and Mellow Pages Library, as well as the artists who ran them, have had to close shop or relocate. In this increasingly ambitious atmosphere, Gadd seems quite at ease. His painterly assemblages are finding a market, and the trajectory of his work, sculptural reliefs of wood and glass, can potentially take off in many directions.
For the moment, Daniel Gadd is still discovering his process. Seemingly in the midst of various defining epiphanies, you get the sense that a singular strength of will is holding his paintings together. Often circular in shape, Gadd's sculptural abstractions seem weirdly reminiscent of Hilma af Klint more than Frank Stella, to whom he is sometimes compared. The way paint washes over pockmarked wood and broken glass makes a Gadd assemblage (what else should we call it?), appear delicate despite its scale, conscientiously less than perfect without feeling overwrought or conceptually opaque.
"He’ll make the things not perfect on purpose,” says Michael David, Gadd’s gallerist, indicating that the scarring, smudging, and impasto-like smears that gnaw at the surfaces of Gadd’s work are more than merely decorative.
Yet there’s also a certain whimsy about Gadd’s artistry, a preference for bright colors — yellows, oranges and pinks — reworked to look like clay. The thing-like quality of Gadd’s paintings, apart from their being wooden, sculpture-like reliefs, might stem from his former fixation on the figure, on the representation of emotion through the demeanor of the body, the physiognomy of a face. “I was making figurative paintings for about 5 or 6 years before they just naturally evolved,” he says. “I think a lot of these do come from portraiture and landscape.”
The body of work Gadd exhibited last October was grouped under the title "For the Moon," an allusion to the artist's young daughter her influence on his art. "We were playing with shapes at home and I was like, cool, why don’t I try it.” The shape Gadd was initially drawn to was the circle, which could be said to carry the emotional weight of a Jungian mandala, while representing cyclical return. “This one looks like a smiley face,” Gadd says, gesturing to a new work leaning against the wall, "I don't know if I love it or hate it."
Looking over Gadd’s work, one sees a sort of alchemy at play in the way materials are transformed into their contrary. Glass is painted over and cracked until it looks like marble; the edge of a painting is sawed so that the continuity of its shape appears interrupted, gnawed at. A blend of warm and cool tones seems to give the materials, and the forms they’re hewn into, symbolic connotations. In one particular work — suggestively titled, “I know Rivers” — two halves are axed into a kind of necessary symmetry. Three gray squares toward the bottom right are mirrored in the more expansive gray coloration on the painting's left side, like a Baudelairean correspondance: “Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité, / Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté…”
The trick underlying the expressiveness of Gadd’s work might lie less in the way he handles paint, than in the way his materials — a mixture of pigment, glass, splintering wood — pockmark the surface of a work to make it resemble a weathered face. This gives his paintings a personable character, despite any overt rawness — what Michael David called "an elegant punk.” Talking about the paintings in Gadd’s last exhibition, David tells me, “the thing that really resonated about his work was that it was fragile, violent, compassionate, all at the same time. That’s why people can connect to them. They know there is something real, and honest, and directly emotional.” WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer based in New York. You can find his work in BOMB, artnet News, Archinect, Imperial Matters, Folder, Hyperallergic, and elsewhere. His chapbook THE TTTROUBLE WWITH SUUNDAAYS was published by Louffa Press in 2014. He curates a reading series on contemporary poetics at Hauser & Wirth Publishers, West 22nd Street.view all articles from this author