Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Eugen Gabritschevsky @ La Maison Rouge

Eugene Gabritschevsky, Untitled, 1947
I know very little about Art Brut, other than that it is usually identified as being outside the trends and movements of the professional market. It is also meant to possess a purity and an innocence that derives from the isolation of its artist: people in prison, with mental health disabilities, and those who have “never grown up.” This imprisonment of the artist is what isolates him or her and gives the work a purity and freedom from the forces of culture that weigh on the socially integrated as opposed to excluded. And as I wandered through the more than 250 works of art by Eugen Gabritschevsky at the Maison Rouge, I was convinced that today, this man’s art would probably not be Art Brut. Hospitalized at 39 years of age with schizophrenia, and thus imprisoned by his own mind, he was effectively locked up for the rest of his life. In France today, he would be treated differently, and given a place within a community. As a result, I imagine his art would have looked very different. So given all this, I wonder if this genre of Art Brut is in fact a historical phenomenon?

See original image
Eugen Gabritschevsky, Untitled, 
The Maison Rouge exhibits Gabritschevsky’s work thematically as opposed to chronologically. This is somewhat disappointing because although similar themes and motifs preoccupy Gabritschevsky across forty years, other critics have noted the transformation of the work together with the deterioration of his health. This is not visible in the current exhibition because of the thematic organization. The thematic organization also underlines repetition. It is then only a small step to looking for the obsessions and fixations that lead to his label as a mad man. I kept looking for the the wisdom in the madness, but I was no doubt looking in the wrong places. A different organization of the work might make for a very different response.

Eugene Gabritschevsky, Untitled, 1947
It is a body of work that is very close to nature -- the understanding of the emotions and movements and rhythms of nature is keen. The works are consistently and repeatedly filled with dramatic evil forces, storms brewing and at times in full force. When scenes unfold, they often do so in what might be an underwater setting, where things are unpredictable and uncertain. Or perhaps the scene in the painting is being washed over by a tidal wave. Figures also proliferate: there are animals and ghosts and ghouls, humans, fairies, devils, Christ and a whole host of other unidentifiable creatures. It’s as if Gabritschevsky sees creatures that we don’t, as if he finds life and meaning in the monsters and malformed beings that live in his painted worlds, often either alone or made anonymous through their substance as one of a crowd.

Eugen Gabritschevsky, Untitled, 1942
The images themselves are usually flat, played out on the horizontal surface of the paper or  cardboard, composed without depth. And as a result, we never get a sense of any human emotion. For example, the human and non-human figures are never connected, they are isolated even when they are in a crowd. They can be precise, motivated by raw energy and uncontained, but they never relate to the world around them.

What I loved most about the abundance of works, in addition to the child like innocence, and the fact that everything is always in a perpetual state of transformation, is that nothing is precious. The works are made in paint, charcoal, pencil, on note paper, tracing paper, newspaper, effectively, whatever Gabritschevsky can lay his hands on. And though the figures and scenes can be very precise and deliberate, they typically are not dwelt on after execution. It seemed as though we see Gabritschevsky’s mind moving directly through his hand onto the page. The instantaneity is both charming and unusual. For Gabritschevsky, painting comes as a life force, something he has to do in order to maintain his subjectivity in the world. And there’s no singularity of purpose, no tortuous looking things over and over and over again to follow an intellectual preoccupation as was the tendency of those painting in the twentieth century. In spite of the curatorial choices, this is a rare opportunity to see painting at its most primary: these works are what they are, and say what they say, there’s absolutely nothing compromising about them.

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