Dolby Chadwick Gallery is delighted to announce the exhibition of recent work by Seattle-based artist Ann Gale, on view from March 3 to April 2, 2016. The artist will present oil paintings on canvas, linen-wrapped panel, and copper, as well as works in graphite on paper. In a day and age when our society seems obsessed with speed, and with viewing—and dismissing—multitudes of images streaming over the airwaves or bombarding us through the portals of social media, it is a revelation to contemplate the work of an artist such as Gale, who spends months, if not years, studying a single pose taken by one of her models. Gale's passion focuses on conducting an investigation into the nature of perception and the psychology of human interaction that transcends the purely visual.
With a stillness, and an intimacy so profound that it becomes nearly unbearable, Gale's keen powers of observation seek many points of reference, yet recognizable likeness remains a concern almost completely removed from her scope of interest—a fact that for many years caused her to shy away from the term “portraiture.” Her work instead addresses the emotionally-charged and potentially confrontational aspect of sharing space with, and relentlessly observing, another human being at close range for lengthy periods of time. While she also has painted friends and family, “when they were willing to endure it,” she feels there is really no difference, “every person is shockingly complex, both visually and psychologically,” she explains. Her unflinching approach is reminiscent of the wrenching and minutely-observed portraits of Lucian Freud—both grounded in a fearless exploration of raw experience.
Peter with Striped Kimono (2014) positions a seated subject against a rough grid blocked out in camouflage-like patches of army green, Prussian blue, and dark grays, setting up a rudimentary environment for the pensive figure. The kimono, striped blue and yellow, is bunched around the model's forearms, it has slipped off the shoulders and down the back, and acts as a drape below the figure on the chair seat. The prodigious, rotund belly of the model inclines toward the viewer, an area of the canvas slightly left of and below center. The pallor of this area is an expanse of cool pale grays and creams only slightly off-white, hatched and blotted over an underlying grid of marks. An animated belly-button asserts its presence above a reddish form abstractly suggesting male genitalia. This roughly-described treatment is echoed in blocky hands, a blur of active marks in pinks, grays, and mauve—gestural black lines on the right articulating wrist, pinkie finger, drape, and edge of the chair.
While many areas command attention, the area with the greatest magnetic pull is the face. Oddly separated from the torso by a shift in hue, one gets a sense of the model's complex inner life as distinct from his smooth, corpulent body. Tiny brush strokes in a rainbow of muted hues explore the planes of the face; highlights on balding forehead and protruding nose, along with a bright white tuft of hair on the left, echo the broader expanse of white below, and our eye traces its way around, from areas of strong chromatic shift, energetic line, to minute detail, and back. Eyes here are half-closed, as though lost in melancholy thought.
A pencil study for Peter reveals a bit more about Gale's process. A fairly regular grid undergirds searching lines that make up the planes and surfaces of the figure. This approach, essentially carving the figure out of negative space, is the very antithesis of contour drawing, Gale instead skirting the empty spaces and surfaces adjacent to what might be perceived as “edge.” This effect brings to mind discoveries in particle physics—the fact that, at an atomic level, our bodies are not, in fact, “solid” at all, but comprised of swirling fields of energy.
Other recent works, such as a portrait head Shawna (2016) delve into a meditative realm where thought eclipses emotion. Full lips and a fleshy nose hint at a sensuality countered by filmy, unfocused eyes. A cap of dark hair and crimson dress animate the figure, while a dynamic shield-like shape—an assertive mass of reflected hair—is hatched out behind the head. A small Self Portrait (2015) on copper presents Gale as though dissolving into a ground of mauve, flecked with warmer hues of yellow and pink. Close-set eyes appear sunken and veiled, dark hair curls to the shoulders, an open-collared shirt below is described by an explosion of pink and white stripes. Another variation, Self portrait with threads (2016) positions the artist, looking out over her shoulder, in a ground of mustard-yellows. Insistent white lines drape over the head and cascade, shawl-like, along her shoulders. Returning, as Rembrandt did, to the self-portrait with great regularity, Gale's intense gaze tackles the subject of her own visage—with the same relentless scrutiny.
Born in 1966, Ann Gale earned her BFA from Rhode Island College and her MFA from Yale University. In addition to exhibiting across North America, Gale has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship in 2007, a Washington Arts Council fellowship in 2006, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1996, among others. Her work was included in the 2011 Dolby Chadwick Gallery exhibition, HEADS, curated by Peter Selz. Gale is Full Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Washington, Seattle.