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Jonathan Gabb


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Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM

“The show uncovered such a range of interesting work from artists all over the UK and I very much look forward to seeing what comes of the winner’s residency with WW.” Sheila MacGregor, Chief Executive, Axis and judge for the WW SOLO Award 2012

“The standard of the work was particularly high and it was a pleasure to be one of the judges for the first WW SOLO Award.” Deb Covell, Artist and Co-Founder, Platform A Gallery, and judge for the WW SOLO Award 2012

“Gabb’s work conjures up memories of other artist’s previous investigations intoform and colour, such as Eva Hesse and Piet Mondrian, whilst presenting a clear sense of his own artistic statement” Jessica Bunyard in Mouth London

“They call out to be danced amongst like streamers, and the overwhelming evocation is one of carnival and theatre, of celebration of some kind. And, indeed, that is exactly what they are: a celebration of paint and colour, pure and simple.” Anna McNay, art writer and researcher


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Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM



FOREWORD Debra Wilson & Chiara Williams

SYSTEM at WW Gallery in January 2013 was Jonathan Gabb’s first solo exhibition, and epitomised the WW SOLO award in its aims and scope. The SOLO Award was created in 2012 for the purpose of offering a structured opportunity, providing support and development for contemporary artists working in any medium and at all stages in their career. With a focus that stretches further than new graduates, WW believes that artists can be ‘up-andcoming’ at any age and provides £1000 and a three-month mentoring period to facilitate the winner in realising an ambitious new solo show each January. It is our intention that the award should stimulate debate for visitors and provide progression, exposure and opportunity for the winner.


Having rigorously developed his practice since graduating in 2008, Gabb entered the SOLO award with strong examples of previous work, as well as ambitious but realistic plans for new work. The residency allowed Gabb to create site-specific works inspired by the natural light of the gallery, something he had been deprived of in his own studio, culminating in a thoroughly researched but also visually spectacular exhibition. Jonathan Gabb’s new work for SYSTEM was incredibly well-received and unanimously praised for its ambition. His five new painting installations were the result of significant hard work, commitment and professionalism and

Jonathan Gabb  SYSTEM

the exhibition marked an important step in his career. Numerous reviews and interviews have followed on the strength of this show, as well further invitations to exhibit. Jonathan Gabb is definitely one to watch.

Middlesbrough) – who chose Jonathan Gabb as the inaugural SOLO Award winner amid very tough competition.

We would like to once again thank the 2012 selection panel – Sheila McGregor (Chief Executive, Axis, the online resource for contemporary art) Helen Sumpter (Senior Editor, Art Review), Kate Davis (Artist & Tutor in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art), Deb Covell (Artist & Co-founder Platform-A Gallery,


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Jonathan Gabb  SYSTEM


I am delighted to introduce the work of Jonathan Gabb, winner of the inaugural WW SOLO award. Jonathan’s three month residency at WW gallery has culminated in a series of remarkable site specific installations which display a celebratory exuberance and theatricality that completely transform the neutral gallery space into a visual spectacle putting ‘Paint’, with all its material possibilities, firmly centre stage. Jonathan has a rigorous working method, which involves carefully casting PVA glues with acrylic paint to use as a material for his 3D paintings. The plasticized paint is literally cut free of its ground, dissected into strips and hoisted upwards and outwards before coming to rest within the walls and ceilings of the space. The coloured painted strands are carefully choreographed and transformed into rhythmic veils or canopies bringing about a sensory engagement with the viewer. The finished pieces come to resemble a large abstract expressionist painting where the painterly gestures meet the perimeters of the canvas and artistic energy becomes contained and fixed. However Jonathan’s pieces are not contained in a traditional sense, as the viewer can move freely around the work

viewing it from various positions; it is constantly changing and in flux as long as the viewer is moving. Also, this particular drama is not focused on the artist’s personal plight as in the work of the abstract expressionists, instead the emphasis is placed firmly on the current role of contemporary abstract painting, free of association or mimicry and allowed to be itself by fore fronting the visceral, emotive and sensual qualities of paint. After experiencing the pieces we are always brought back soberly to the beginnings of the work with the coloured ground left behind like a redundant carcass. We are reminded of the traditional canvas as a window in which to view the world but are quickly woken to the fact that in Jonathan Gabb’s evocative installations the work is its own world.


Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM Helen Sumpter

‘Deep Gum 8’, hangs down from the gallery ceiling in large, tiered, shiny, curtain-like folds of rainbow-coloured strips, the spotlights hanging within the work bouncing back the light onto its glossy fronds and casting shadows on the floor like giant brushstrokes from a long-bristled brush.


Viewed from the front it has the feel of an extravagant, theatrical and almost garish example of interior decoration. Seen side-on, however, it’s completely different. From here it’s an abstract and complex investigation into the layering of colour, light and form within space.

dimensional, multi-coloured installation. It’s almost as if Gabb had taken something of the cool, colour field paintings of Barnet Newman and turned them into something like the gestural action paintings of Jackson Pollock, without in any way resembling either.

Artworks that contain elements of opposition, ambiguity, ambivalence, contradiction and transformation often intrigue the most and Jonathan Gabb’s sculptural paintings confound at every turn. For a start they begin as flat colour-fields – large plastic sheets coated in a mixture of single-hue acrylic pigment and PVA glue. But then Gabb slits each rectangle into a fringe of strips, still attached by at least one edge, and affixes the frayed sheets in pairs or groups, of different colours, to the walls or ceiling, re-arranging the hanging strands into configurations of drapes and loops. Each individual strip now functions as a line or mark in what has become a vibrant, three-

That both Newman and Pollock are key figures in mid-twentieth-century Abstract Expressionism may be another contradiction but if it is, it’s one that that Gabb is well aware of. Although neither a homage to nor a pastiche of the heavyweight ‘ab-ex’ painters of the past, Gabb’s work does, nevertheless, explore some of the same formal concerns with colour, with light, with surface and with depth. But whereas the work of Newman, Pollock, Rothko and their peers are associated with artistic endeavour of an almost painful levity, Gabb’s paintings unashamedly display a flamboyant, frivolous and almost flirtatious intent. Their tiers of multi-hued drapery part to reveal secret shadows and hints of

Jonathan Gabb  SYSTEM

colours hidden behind. Their spotlit strands seductively catch the light as they trail, curl, coil, spool and are stretched taught. Perhaps there’s something of a Pop Art sensibility at play too. Flat colours painted straight from the tube or tin, as are used here, without any use for subtle shades or tones isn’t the stuff of serious fine art painting is it? That belongs to the territory of comic books, commercial printing and eye-catching advertising. And surely rainbow spectrums are just for kids or for fun or for an optimistic sense of community? Surely they’re far too loaded with existing references to have any place here? These works could also be seen as somewhat flighty. Even if they’ve become sculpture, paintings should at least stay fixed in their final form, shouldn’t they? Gabb’s paintings have no reticence in turning that convention upside down either. Although initially configured and hung for the architecture of a particular gallery, they’re perfectly happy to be taken down, taken apart, rolled up and re-installed in a different venue, in a totally different way. Does that chameleon-like trait only add excitement or is there also a frisson of danger in the thought that that ability may also make them a tinge untrustworthy?

For a more contemporary association one might look to the work of British-based, Spanish artist Angela de la Cruz. De la Cruz also often begins with a single colour canvas, which also undergoes a transformation from framed painting to sculpture but by being crumpled, crushed and folded. In their allusion to both human emotions and figuration De la Cruz’s canvases, however, are far more overt than Gabb’s paintings, and those emotions tend to be towards the tragicomic, rather than Gabb’s sense of the celebratory. Maybe it’s peculiar to an idea of Britishness, but there’s something far more uncomfortable in Gabb’s creation of work that, if it had a personality, would be upbeat and show-offy, than in De la Cruz’s more reticent and bashful structures. If Gabb’s paintings did have a reason to be apologetic it might be that they’re constructed





materials of acrylic paint on plastic, rather than the ‘authentic’ artists’s medium of oil on canvas. But here again, these works don’t just not care, they seem to revel in the fact, and are all the better for it.


INTERVIEW with Jonathan Gabb Francesca Brooks

There is more to Gabb’s installations than first pleases the eye; what isn’t immediately obvious is that these showers of colour take inspiration from the decorative elements of Art Nouveau, or are working to achieve an effect similar to Baroque and Rococo architectural adornments. Gabb describes his work as “playing with reality”, his influences are as diverse Wayne Thiebaud’s Refrigerator Pies, where paint comes to resemble frosting on a cake, and Damien Hirst’s abstract yet arbitrary spot paintings. In a world filled with a persistent realism, Gabb’s work reminds us of the transformative power of pure materials. You have developed a very particular method of working with paint as though it is an object, how did you begin working in this way? I was introduced to this technique whilst on a life painting course, PVA glue was mixed in with acrylic paint so that it appeared more translucent. Later on during my degree


I became interested in the act of painting. I loved how acrylic paint could maintain its plastic quality when PVA glue was added. I was interested in exploring how I could make reference to the act of painting, by making sheets and cutting them into threads I was able to create forms which allude to drips and sweeping paint strokes.

Jonathan Gabb  SYSTEM

It is not obvious how you handle the paint, are you interested in confusing the viewer? It’s more about confounding the expectations of the viewer. With a painting, people expect paint on a canvas or pigment in liquid on a flat surface, I’m trying to do something different. I want to stretch the material value of paint in a 3D form to transform it into something else - the paint is freed from a fixed surface and can be viewed as an object. Does working in this way achieve an effect? I enjoy the optical element of the work; viewing the work becomes more of an event. The viewer can move around the work; from a side angle it might resemble a pen and ink drawing, then it merges into denser three dimensional forms at another point. The viewer is encouraged to engage physically with the work. During my residency at WW I’d like to explore how I can create work which responds to the nature of the space and how the viewer will interact with the installations as they move through the gallery.

Are there particular colours or forms which you find most effective when you are making your installations, or are other elements the driving forces behind your work? My selection of colour in my more recent work has been consciously arbitrary. I also love the idea of celebrating the notion of abstract art as an ornament or decoration. The abstract expressionist paintings of the 1950s were meant to be the height of modernism, yet at the same time they decorated minimalist architecture in the way an ornament would, despite being a contradiction to the ethos of the time. So these works adhere to the ceilings and walls in an unself-conscious way – like the adornments of rococo and baroque architecture.


THE ARTIST Jonathan Gabb is an artist based in New Cross, London who has been exploring the idea of paint as object since graduating from Cass school of art at London Metropolitan University in 2008. He has participated in a number of group exhibitions at the Islington Arts Factory, the Royal College of Art and took part in a residency at the College of Art, Zagreb, culminating in a show at the Gallery Miroslav Kraljevic.


Jonathan Gabb  SYSTEM

THE WORK 1. deep gum 8 310h x 250w x 470d, acrylic paint & mixed media 2. deep sequence 8 310h x 133w x 120d, acrylic paint & mixed media 3. parsing: prussian blue + white 310h x 140w x 100d, acrylic paint & mixed media 4. parsing: cadium yellow + white 310h x 140w x 100d, acrylic paint & mixed media 5. prime titanium 4 470h x 230w x 330d, acrylic paint & mixed media


Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM

deep gum 8

310h x 250w x 470d, acrylic paint & mixed media



Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM

deep sequence 8

310h x 133w x 120d, acrylic paint & mixed media



Jonathan Gabb  SYSTEM

parsing: prussian blue + white 310h x 140w x 100d, acrylic paint & mixed media



Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM

parsing: prussian yellow + white 310h x 140w x 100d, acrylic paint & mixed media



Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM

prime titanium 4 470h x 230w x 330d, acrylic paint & mixed media


Drawing for prime titanium 4


Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM

Drawing for deep gum 8


Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM Published by WW Gallery on the occasion of SYSTEM, a solo exhibition of new work by the winner of the WW SOLO Award 2012 Wednesday 9th January – Saturday 2nd February 2013 Preview 6 – 9pm Tues 8 Jan © 2012 WW Gallery. All rights reserved. Designed by Anne Lander Edited by Francesca Brooks Photography: Peter Rawlinson

Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM

The WW SOLO Award 2012 was funded by WW Projects Ltd. and supported by: State Magazine and Jackson’s Framing Ltd.


Jonathan Gabb  SYSTEM



Jonathan Gabb SYSTEM | 2012 SOLO Award Winner  

Jonathan Gabb was the recipient of the 2012 SOLO Award, which comprised £1000, a 3-month residency and a solo exhibition at WW Gallery in Ja...

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