In artists working exclusively with the body, I always find a fascinating breed. The body, a vehicle, a container is a primary subject of art, that age-old presence upon which the fabric of human history rests. It never gets old, and here lies the challenge: dealing with the body relevantly can be difficult.
There is something of the primal in Gabriel’s nudes; intrinsically intimate, immediately relatable. I found the portraits especially compelling; Portrait (Blue) is an avid example. It is reasonable to comply with Niki Young in the exhibition foreward, that ‘there ought to be no psychologising present here…’, and truly so. The work lends itself very well as a carte blanche for the emotional enquiry of the viewer.
The issue I tend to feel with Gabriel’s work is simply this: his works feels scattered. ‘Steering away from over-rationalising’ is in itself an admirable trait in an artist, because it allows for more expressivity, more viscerality to be unearthed, and yet there is the danger of being scattered, a body of work that doesn’t quite manage to come together as one. There is the danger that the very viscerality that is achieved is not harnessed; it is plausible to ask whether the artist wants to in the first place.
This feels evident in the technique and style of painting which seems to shift back and forth between soft and grizzled, stark and soothing, colourful and dull. While the brush strokes, or the line, or the palette manage to carry the figures well in some cases, they don’t in others. The portraits were a favourite, were sleepers (I interpreted them to be asleep) were evidently uncomfortable, the bad sort of limbo, even disturbed.
My favourite, a yellow nude (Nude III) carries with it that intimacy within which is a quiet sensuality, and yet feels troubling, the subject straining, turning away, the artist unfeeling. Another striking one was Portrait (Blue), so blue and abused one feels sorry for the depicted, yet cannot help but relate.
I truly believe the pursuit of answers in the human body is always worthwhile, irrelevant of artistic credos. While embracing the emotional volatility and viscerality that bleeds from Gabriel’s work, I would love for a compact show, one that really and truly makes us uncomfortable with what we might find inside of us, looking out.
*all quotations taken from the Nudes exhibition leaflet