John Gordon Gauld : Interstellar Overdrive
Salomon Contemporary, New York
April 3 – May 10, 2014
By JOEY FRANK MAY 2014
They are paintings not sculptures, but there are metaphors and meanings in fresh eggs John Gordon Gauld cracks to make his new tempera paintings. Knowing the medium, each canvas of objects feels like contents of an exploded kinder egg. New York City has been experiencing its most reluctant spring in years, but this show delivers us presents, Easter objects.
Interstellar Overdrive, named for the unhinged early Pink Floyd jam, includes six medium small paintings and one larger canvas oriented so that it’s the last thing you see after ascending the stairs in James Salomon’s new gallery space. The square canvas features the international space station laid over the fingerling space cloud of the challenger explosion, laid in a web of constellation lines. This image anchors the room and hints at the Interstellar content in the other six paintings. It overlays our greatest space success, a fully habitual orbiting space station, haunted by our greatest space failure, the Challenger disaster.
Whereas some of Gauld’s earlier still-life work seems to animate a motley collection of action figures into the type of camp scenarios one might see in an old world cathedral that had paintings illustrating the stories of Jesus - a scene from the stations of the cross – these six smaller paintings have a more occult and interstellar meaning. They are representative of the first six signs of the zodiac as John sees them: a collection of evocative hints and bits. Nowhere in the paintings’ titles does Gauld indicate this, and the order in which the paintings are hung does not represent their astrological underpinnings, but I have first hand knowledge from the painter as he embarked on these compositions.
Now look, I’m an astrology educator (https://classes.pioneerworks.org/collections/other-classes/products/radial-family-charts-march-session) and a friend of John Gordon Gauld, and he hung his show incorrectly in my opinion. One of the central powers of astrology is that it takes normal conscious information and groups it into seemingly arbitrary monthly categories. The groups stand in opposition of correlative logic, or the aesthetic logic of this “looks balanced” or even “looks beautiful.” In this way, sticking with astrology presents the paintings in a predestined order and opens the insight beyond intentionality. Here’s an example, these two paintings with a white background and large branches are hung to “balance” the more vertical brick painting.
This proposition takes into account that I know, and support, that the paintings were not painted in astrological order, but in the order intuitive to the artist (in his studio he has already painted many of the last six signs in the zodiac). If Gauld had painted them in sequence, rearranging them into sequence might be less satisfying.
In the astrological order, the two very similar branch compositions get hung next to each other, instead of being used as an aesthetic balancing element. The unexpected progression feels “right” seeing how Gauld shifts from chromatic greys in Taurus to the subtle colors of Gemini, with tints of perfectly handled iridescence in the green pitcher. The content moves too, from a stayed bawdy energy of the crumpled Red BULL can and Rough Rider condom box and sweet little birdy with a message in its beak. It’s satisfying to see that “spent” nature of the Taurus painting shift into an almost unnatural doubling of the objects in the Gemini twin canvas, how the one hand becomes two. You might stare at Gemini for a long time before understanding that many objects - the pitcher, the hand, the little deer sitting in the hand - are in reality only one set of objects photographed in different lighting scenarios and photoshopped into a single image for Gauld to reference in his painting.
The show opened in Aries, just after Easter and so the first painting would be The Hired Man. Pertinent information: these are Mars settlements, that the bunny rabbit here is the Easter bunny.
The watery Cancer sign painting called Northern Gate of the Sun, and the subsequent painting The Great Lion move the scenes to a brick corner of the studio. These paintings acknowledge John’s interest in old world masters like the convex mirror references Jan Van Eyke, and the strange dog under the table in the lion painting is actually lifted from Jan Van Hoogstraten.
The viewers are left with a circular canvas featuring a grewsome chasty belt to represent Virgo, the virgin - the flowers and the abstract chrome object attending to innocence mixed with a certain kinkyness. This painting, more than the rest, feels like a planet because of its shape; its objects rendered in egg and pigment on a canvas island, orbiting the gallery. It makes me think of le Petit Prince. Its nice to think of these paintings as small colonies, slowly rotating around Salomon Contemporary with the lazy determined path of the international space station.
Make sure to see them for yourself while they are still up. WM
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Joey Frank is an artist and editor of INTERCOURSE magazine. He teaches an applied Astrology chart making class for all ranges from the casually curious to the esoterica enthusiast. The next class is on May 10th at Pioneer Works in Red Hook Brooklyn. Photo of Joey Frank by Michael Avedon.