Oh White Baby Bamalam, 2018-20

Oil, acrylic, enamel, gouache, and graphite on canvas

Dimensions: 36” x 48”

Images courtesy of the artist

Gaby Wolodarski

Montevallo, Alabama gabywolodarski.com

My practice is anchored in painting, but I tend to reinvent its materiality and context from project to project. I call what I make “pictures,” though the format is sometimes installation or object based.

The work is also a form of mute philosophy—an attempt to understand what is happening to the contemporary human psyche by looking at how the medium of paint, in its stillness, operates in a screen-addled, information-saturated, light-speed world.

Is there anything new under the sun? George Eliot distilled the riddle 150 years ago, in Middlemarch: “That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

The underlying impetus which compels me to make visual art is anchored in that total-life beyond the veil––that absurd dream of hyper-consciousness––that looming sub-consciousness of an unfathomable, almost-present all. “Keen vision and feeling” (of the veil as such, as a means to its lifting) is an artist’s task. The premise haunts me that, personal prejudices and pragmatic facts of life notwithstanding, no one thing has more importance than another, and that neither does any criterion fully outweigh any other.

Part of the function of daily perception and daily mental activity is to filter the important from the unimportant. I mean this not just in the sense of prioritizing concrete concerns or conforming to familiarities, but in the sense of refraining, with our attention, from “hearing the squirrel’s heart beat.” If we did not filter in this way, rhythms, colors, temperatures and motions, not to mention words and thoughts, would overwhelm us. We simply could not function at all. And so we filter; what we call experience is an extract.

But what if even the smallest things––little specks on the border of intelligibility––are as monumental, really, as those which evolution necessitates, habit consecrates, and civilization values?

The idea of the basic parity of all things makes their partisanship all the more exciting. There is an aspect to picture-making that is akin to a small child deciding, impishly, for himself, that his left foot is evil and his right foot is good; that peanut butter is evil and jelly is good. What is this emphatic insistence on difference (salty, sweet) if not a celebration of the world, of all, as that which is bigger than oneself, new and mysterious and worthy of parsing?

I have a hunch that there’s great potential in human perception of the intersection of basic tensions. How do light and dark operate in terms of surface and depth? How do weight and levity operate in terms of sympathy and antipathy? How do color relationships inform a sense of presence vs. absence? And how can the mind be made to see its own complicity in the on-off flicker of knowledge, wherein certainty comes at the expense of experience, and vice-versa? How can eyes be taught their complicity in the vicissitudes of mind? In the perpetual crafting and re-crafting of language?

In one sense, art is trickery. If a viewer can be made complicit––if her eyes can be mine––her vision yoked to my intent––then truth might be set free from language, if only for a moment. And their devilish alliance was broken. In another sense, though, art is sharing and caring. How to make our own images? How to keep them clear? At times, the sense of responsibility that comes from imagining the interconnectedness of everything can be paralyzing, to say nothing of the awareness of the hubris involved in that same purported responsibility. To imagine all is also to think nothing. A melancholy bent, a sense of emptiness just below the surface, paranoia––art (I mean the stuff itself, not just the making of it) ought to be, once in a while, a garden for the contemplation of the smallest and scariest thoughts.