06/05/2022 - 25/06/2022

New Work - Painting

Gabriel Hartley - Skies

"Gabriel Hartley is a modernist painter in the 21st century.

Let’s wheel back for a second. Western modernism movement daddy Clement Greenberg’s version of events has the whole journey of painting climaxing in the 1940s, in tingling apotheosis, with abstract expressionism. Centuries of painting, according to this one guy, had brought us to a moment of empirical, elemental clarity about what the medium is supposed to be and do. The exciting, retrospectively way-too-much central idea of Greenbergian modernism was that painting had reached its ultimate form, its final evolved state, like a saint, or a Pokémon.

And this was, at first, a macho American story, of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline and Willem De Kooning, the destiny of white men arriving at their journey’s end. Once everybody realised this was a goofy, incorrect idea, modernism then yielded and fragmented, in Morris Louis and Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler and Sam Gilliam and Ellsworth Kelly and Tsuyoshi Maekawa and Jean Dubuffet and Lee Ufan, to better reflect a discussion that was moving past the idea of the painter as heroic conqueror. Modernism entered a decade of experimentation and openness to multiple histories, not just one, and a collective resolve to keep the conversation about painting — specifically painting — in progress. In fact, this movement was in full flow, in the middle of its next evolution, when pop happened. And conceptualism happened. And post-studio happened. And nothing was the same.

Postmodernism was primed to take over, and it did so, immediately. Art history went totally elsewhere. The story of painting, the quaint philosophical stakes of pigment on support, was suddenly secondary. And this is no big deal, nothing to get hung about. The last 60 years have been great. Art schools started filling with new, urgent discussion of technology, consumerism, desire, reproduction, identity, all those juicy bones we’ve been gnawing on since pop. Seventeen, by the by, has played its part in exhibiting and pushing these themes and scenes. It was founded on that energy. Postmodernism rules, obviously.

This is not Gabriel Hartley’s milieu. Hartley is, nominally, a painter of this postmodern generation, yet he has imagined a parallel path for his practice. Hartley has a kink where the midcentury adventures of painting continued to grow and remain modern alongside — yet totally apart from — the dominant revolutions of technology and culture. He paints a different version of history and arrives at now."


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