Ted Gahl: Le Goon
January 12 – February 18, 2023
Ted Gahl’s Le Goon at Harkawik picks the plangent chords and stirs the submerged chromas of terra melancholia. Melancholia, as opposed to anhedonia, conjures a sensual pleasure within the somber. While his paintings don’t seem to exist in the present, they also don’t seem to be nostalgic for another time, instead dealing with some time outside of time. They index a time of painting, a resting clock with stopped hands at the markings of Edvard Munch or Edouard Vuillard. Gahl’s paintings are a Connecticut Jugendstil, with all of its fall leaves and winding creek beds, captured in a way that makes you feel foreign to yourself, longing for something you didn’t previously know you had lost, and now, dispossessed of your own experiences, able to see them externalized in front of you. Each picture is painted like a whisper, intransitive to direct experiences and at odds with your own confrontations and impressions of life, at odds with your ability or trust to remember things in order or when or how they happened.
The Entertainer (2022) is an enumeration, a phantasmagoria where the world becomes motion at the silhouette of the body. Colors become an ecstatic profusion, an emblem of whirring flesh; the body remembers itself and all of its movements in cacophonous recitals of itself. In Woman Putting on Jacket (2022) the jacket seems to dream the world it wishes for beyond the doorway, wrestling with a suffering that is happening elsewhere, beyond Connecticut pines and rivers, laden or stricken with a deep sealed-up haunting. The motif of borders, seen in paintings like Death Leading Sleepwalking Boy to River (2022) and Purgatory (2) (2022) confirm and reaffirm an isolation, making everything into little archipelagoes of nature and bodily intimacies, a sense of calling numbers on the phone that are now disconnected. Maybe there is some tragic recognition that nature has recognized it has been disavowed, and it fills us with unrelenting shame through its autumnal intensities. A tear of Clyfford Still breaks up the representation in Two Lost People (2022), something severed—a page break or caesura—rendering unity inconclusive, a kind of modernist shock. Each is a tableau without action, populated with figures in a state of passing through, gliding forward, revealing themselves as shimmering torches, or occluding themselves as still eclipses, while denying narrative progression. The bodies are sites to be marveled at, folkloric archetypes that seem to reference a gilded manuscript beyond the frame.
Such archetypes seem to be a recognition for a yearning of a collective unconscious, the need to see signs transform into greater shared symbols, while the wispy figures want to be shape as much as anything else. The inclusion of Blank Hutch (2022) is important, because it registers the representational works as a position, and not a form of new sincerity. River Room (2022) is a scroll of marks, perhaps what is shed from other paintings, and exerts the force of an artist interested in the negative space that is conditioned by the mark itself. Excess breeds more excess, and indulgence, and flourish becomes addictive. Marks repeat the dim imprimatura, producing a dull and rainy October of pentimenti, scrubbing and scumbling images and matter into soft suppressions. Nothing is swift. Everything is spread into ethereal reflections.
While there are others who have carried forward this Munchian lineage (Kai Althoff, Sedrick Chisom, Tarwuk, Justin Caguiat, and Ernst Yohji Jaeger among them), Gahl has picked it up and exercised its familiarity as a form of Hegelian freedom. The post-modern freedom to take ironic or critical stances has had trouble finding permanence within American painting. Whereas German painters such as Martin Kippenberger, Werner Büttner, Albert Oehlen, and Markus Lüpertz were able to move in and out of style with an understanding from their audience that style is not an obligation, American painters have not been afforded the same libertine indulgence, and have long been doomed to criticisms of authenticity and sincerity within their practice. Even as the market and audiences try to induce a commitment to style, Gahl resists, identifying as a painter, first and foremost. Shapes and their edges may be the unifying motivations within all of Gahl’s work, but the haecceity lies in his uncommon rejection of parochialism, of ultimately landing as an exuberant defender of painting as a humanistic practice, with goals of personal subjectivity and the ability to daily learn about yourself through it. Gahl’s interest across painting seems to be in his uncanny identification of its historical manifestations of earnestness and sincerity, adopting shape-oriented abstraction, Jugendstil, and narrative materials as interesting investigations of pastiche. Gahl is a painter that wouldn’t reject such ventriloquism, understanding that painting takes on a larger kinship, channels itself through generations and communities as opposed to singular experience. Painters see themselves as torch bearers of larger structures of feeling. There is a sociability within such efforts, and a choice to reject the market as the sole definer of value, and to instead use painting as echoes and dialogues with the past and present, a kinship across any distance or circumstance.