Marc Gaba goes beyond the visual
Marc Gaba, Vault, 2016, oil on canvas, 65 x 80 in.;
There is an exuberance to Marc Gaba’s use of color, a buoyancy that almost contradicts the discipline of each stroke, each stripe on the canvas. Using a palette knife to apply the paint, one can imagine the amount of care that went into the seven paintings that make up Days of Creation – a visualization of first chapter in the Book of Genesis, which was exhibited at Galeria Duemila from April 8 to May 30.
And yet, color is not the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of Gaba’s work–at least not when confronted with One, an oil on canvas measuring 80 x 65 in. which opens this series. A bright white orb floating in a sea of darkness, One represents the calm command to let there be light, signifying not only the dawn of time, but the separation between the visible and the unseen. For Gaba, it could also be “a ball of yarn, suggesting ‘the beginning of the spin,” or–in jest–“the white-haired vagina of a very old African woman,” suggesting perhaps the cradle of civilization?
Kidding aside, Gaba pointed out that despite telling a story of contrasts, the color black was not used in this rendering of the first day–nor does it appear anywhere on the palette used to paint the Days of Creation. By using very deep browns instead of black, Gaba meant to evoke that “if to be human was to be of the earth, then the act of God creating man can be derived from the same idea.”
And it was good and thus, Gaba asserts, through this seemingly inconsequential choice of colors, that the book of Genesis is a story not only of how God made a world of differences (between night and day, between sky and sea), but an ongoing narrative of humanity’s place on earth. This affirms Gaba’s belief that true power is not about spectacle and grandeur, but can be found in the calm, gentle rhythm of shared responsibility, as seen in Kingdom – a wall-bound installation showing 139 photocopies of the artist’s hands.
Beyond showing how we got here, the creation myth he renders is about presence: where the Days of Creation take place not in a largely constructed past, but in a future that continues to take shape in the now. It thus becomes no wonder that Gaba’s paintings–especially his more recent works–are so large, demanding an awareness of their countenance and a need to step back in order to be viewed in their entirety.
“I am acutely sensitive to scale,” says Gaba, a statement affirmed by New Condition (2014), created for a group exhibition at the Vargas Museum entitled, Still. From afar, New Condition depicted an aerial view of Tacloban in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda. It measured approximately six by seven meters “in order to capture a disaster that was larger than all of us.” Up close however, the work becomes a collection of crowdsourced responses to “what, in the context of climate change, do you love without apology?” Applied in varying shades of grey and blue, the words on the canvas act as “a tendered primer for environmentalism,” honest answers to what makes existence worthwhile, amidst crisis and destruction.
The smaller works in Days of Creation measure 60 by 80 inches (or five by six-and-a-half feet); the other pieces are not much larger, at 65 by 80. Like the small moments that are revealed in New Condition, what appear to be lines on canvas become layers and textures and an entire spectrum of color that is barely perceptible from afar–let alone on a screen or a page, which is a typical problem for painters. Gaba’s insistence on the experiential nature of his work links him to the legacy of abstract minimalists, such as Agnes Martin, who painted details so precise and so exquisite, that they made her work difficult to photograph and just as impossible to document.
Rather than rely on documentation, Gaba asserts the need to “experience painting.” To this, the use of lines in his painting practice can be described as both strategic and conceptual – a means of describing the process and tracking the work’s unseen dimensions, where lines denote the strokes and textures that come with the application of paint, as well as their trajectories. To Gaba, the line is both a means of representation and a means of thinking about painting.”My work is about space, about what lines produce.”
“What lines produce” may also refer to Gaba’s writing. A published poet, Gaba has a way with words that skillfully articulates his formation as an artist working across several disciplines. “The work that I was doing in poetry very much resembled visual art,” he says. “I spent a lot of time staring at the words…so when people say I was a poet and now I’m a painter, that comment tends to overlook the fact that my poetry was a very visual practice.”
To this, Gaba cites the influence of Mark Lombardi, who gained some notoriety in the early 2000s for his graphs and maps which drew links between global finance and international terrorism. Lombardi referred to these works as “narrative structures”, and in a similar manner, but completely different method, Gaba combines the visual and the verbal in his work. It is in his combination of media and disciplines that one finds an insistence on the visuality of poetry and on painting as a literary medium, as well as a working definition of what it means to practice abstract art.
Through abstraction, in what is arguably his most accessible work, Gaba goes beyond using painting to illustrate and interpret the word of God. Here, painting is also a method of inquiry and an ongoing, open-ended exercise, hence Days of Creation. In the white cube of Galeria Duemila, the exhibition consists not only of a suite that signifies a week’s worth of work (at least that’s what it was in the hands of God; the series itself took Gaba months to complete), but is completed by installation and sculptural pieces.
Affirming this need to go beyond the visual, the viewer’s hands are required to complete the Future Shape of the World, a sculpture composed of a mirrored pedestal that houses a soft lump of black clay which one can play with–shape, if you will–by reaching through a round opening on one side, covered by black garters. Through Future Shape…, Gaba composes an exercise in contradictions: here is a vitrine one can look into without actually seeing its contents, in a space and a module that demand the performance of reverence while requiring the viewer to reach in and touch what has been deliberately concealed. These are elegantly rounded out by Future Shape being, after all, a malleable object.
“The world is an unfinished work of creation,” wrote Gaba in his statement on this latest series, “and as long as we exist, we are still creating the world.” The choice of the pronoun “We” refers just as much to how reaching in to touch, feel, and manipulate the Future Shape of the World requires not only faith in what we create, but how–amidst this ongoing act of creation–the self remains the only thing we can clearly perceive and deliberately shape, so that we may live on this earth among others.
This is an unedited version of a feature written for Art+. At the time of writing, the visual artist Marc Gaba was getting ready to open an exhibition on the Book of Genesis entitled Days of Creation at the Galeria Duemila. The show will run until May 30. Galeria Duemila is located at 210 Loring Street, Pasay City, Metro Manila.