Ted Gahl: Le Goon
January 12 through February 18, 2023
By EMMA HINES, January 2023
Ted Gahl is not a figurative painter or an abstract painter. The paintings are honest and romantic in their portrayal of what I can only describe as the patterns of the world. There are impressions of blown out lines of the shadows of thin branches, lit by a distant sun. There are constellations of lichens sprawled across aged stone, and quiet descriptions of a landscape out of context, tucked between columns of legs or walls. Gahl is not fussy or meticulous in his renderings of the world, his gestures punctuate unstretched canvas and pull just the highlights of small wave crests in a rippling pond and lay those marks beside unflinchingly large swaths of darkness that somehow don’t dominate the picture or create heaviness, but balance the descriptive strokes.
The themes that tie the pieces in this room together are in conversation with Gustav klimpt’s elongated figures and something like the shapes of shadows painted by Richard Mayhew’s in earth tones. Like an unlit living room, it is not empty, but quiet. You know there is furniture, and the comfortable somethingness that you can not see gives permission to let your eye wander to the window, and enjoy a frame of an intimate moment outside.
There is something I find really comforting about Gahl’s paintings, and I found myself sitting for quite a long time in front of the two large pieces adorning the back wall of the gallery. They stray from his iconic fracturing of the picture with fearless margins and references to open doors receding into space. These two are 8- foot masses of confident marks and loose fields of color. The piece on the left, titled “River Room” exhibits relaxed quadrilateral symmetry, and has a kind of hourglass shape to it, the greenish beige-ish blue-ish mass in the center flanked by warm hues on either side.
The feeling elicited from this piece is a poetic inquiry of space as many ideas come together. What exactly is happening as a pool of water recedes into space, reflecting both the heavens and the underbelly of a pond or river. What does it mean to observe a single plane in this universe of multitudes, a distinct place between air and water.
This cacophony of uncertainty plays with the mind of the viewer in a way that is both confrontational and soothing. While the vehicle for these questions present differently in each painting, the viewer can see this deeply emotional inquisition in each of Gahl’s works. Beside this piece is an equally large, dark painting titled ‘Ocho Wave’ with subtle rings of what appear to be a dark dye, rippling and drying in the way that dye does. There is a freedom in the deep expanse as the water conduit leaks into the folds of the canvas. The darkness is accompanied by a slightly asymmetrical geometric shape composed of red dots. The viewer is reminded yet again of Gahl’s mastery of space as they quietly enjoy the reminder of being alone on this planet and yet one of many.
Sometimes people tend not to be drawn to figurative work because they do not care much for the figure as a narrator of the painting, doing the heavy lifting of emotive brushwork and scenery by giving us a human to focus on, however I notice that most if not all of Gahl’s figures have nondescript features. They are unburdened from the task of telling us how to feel, but rather embodying a fractured, impossible landscape and seamlessly belonging. Some are playful but removed, others are foreboding and wise. All are complicated, giving room for us to be a mirror from a far away place, instead of inserting ourselves into a narrative we can recognize.
Gahl’s work successfully gives way to the dreamy sensation of not knowing where one idea ends and another begins. He contrasts abstract patterns and textures with an imposed frame to remind the viewer that he is very aware of the context of freedom that painting allows for. You are witnessing an imagination, a memory, and an emotional place with the caveat of announcing those spaces have boundaries. And yet, the boundaries of imagination do not limit it, but create the sensation of a portal.
What one sees between the defined edges of a shape could be to a scene underwater or a flirtatious moment between life and death. Gahl gives the viewer the safety to observe provoking and strange moments by creating distance that inevitably pulls us close through feelings of curiosity. Always looking forward to seeing what Ted Gahl does next; each piece compliments the entire body of work with little universes in every one. WM
Emma Hines is an artist, writer, and curator from Long Island, New York. She is a BFA graduate from SUNY New Paltz and currently lives in Kingston, NY. Emma has exhibited in galleries in Troy, New Paltz, Poughkeepsie, and Warwick New York.view all articles from this author