Nearly half a century has passed since Paul Garland's first professional solo exhibition of paintings, which was held in February 1967 at Rochester's since-closed Janus Gallery. In celebration of Garland's five decades of intensive studio work and numerous solo shows in New York City, Toronto, Chicago, Buffalo, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, AXOM Gallery is currently presenting "Approaching Fifty," a solo show of Garland's pleasing work.
"Approaching Fifty" is Garland's third solo exhibition at AXOM Gallery since the space opened in 2012. In fact, Garland's "Convergence" was the space's inaugural show, which presented three separate painting series: non-objective abstraction, naturalistic landscapes, and abstraction juxtaposed with landscape.
"Rather than solely concentrating on a single painting objective, the direction of my studio practice for the past decade has been deliberately directed toward three simultaneous unique painting series," Garland says in a provided statement. "Rather than one single direction my focus is multifaceted."
Last summer, Garland exhibited a series of 16 naturalistic landscapes based on the beauty of Fair Haven, New York, where he currently lives and works.
Artist and AXOM curator Rick Muto has known Garland since college, and they are both West Irondequoit natives. "Paul has always been a non-objective painter," Muto says. "The underlying aspect of his different series is that there's always a spontaneous reply to a piece of art that he never really set out with a solid idea to do anyway. I guess I would call it a stream of consciousness."
This particular show includes two different series of new work. Garland says the first series, "NOW," consists of modernist abstractions that "symbolize one's inevitable life experiences of facing abrupt change and confronting how to effectively deal with loss."
Garland's approach in constructing this work was to develop a piece of art, and in mid-stream, "when it's at a point of a reasonable level of success, he puts in on the table saw and cuts it," Muto says. "He then tries to mend or resolve the problem he's created, which will throw him into a whole different avenue."
Garland writes in his statement that while slicing the work "may seem to be a monumentally stupid act the resulting two parts present new painting opportunities and/or dilemmas. Flipping, inverting, upending the past and searching for renewal."
The fragmented pieces are usually applied or layered on top of other works to create an assemblage. In many of the pieces, Garland also incorporated one of his old paint sticks he has used and kept in his studio over the years. "The sticks, replete with a mapping history of their own, serve as a bridge between the bifurcated halves of the original work and a physical/visual connection to the past," he writes.
These thin, pigment-encrusted sticks are often wedged between the cut panels, breaking up the dark spaces between already vibrantly-hued panels.
Garland is a colorist. His surfaces are ripe with unexpected combinations of seductive hues, often contrasted with creamy neutrals or pitchy shadows. And in each work, Garland strikes a careful balance between void and harmony, positioning "the geometric against the nebulous," as Muto puts it.
In that respect, Muto says he sees something of painter Wassily Kandinsky's style in Garland's work. "You can fall right into the picture plane," he says.
Though Garland works with acrylic, some of the pieces employ layered glazes that read like luminous works of oil, and in one piece in particular, "Much Of," milky washes of paint over darker layers precisely resemble the waxiness of encaustic.
Around the turn of the century, Garland began working with the landscape imagery, creating what he called "Juncture Paintings," in which he'd pair a minimal, almost tonalist landscape with an abstract painting. Some examples of this work are currently presented in a narrow back hallway at AXOM.
At first glance the components might seem jarringly juxtaposed, but the eye quickly picks up clever commonalities in color, texture, or form between the different sides.
"There's an element of happenstance at play," Muto says. "He wants to see the kind of tension created between the two sides."
The second component of "Approaching Fifty" is "Square Moon Rising," a series of three large acrylic paintings on canvas that combine abstraction with elements of landscape. In each, elegantly wraith-like floral elements drift in and out of focus amid sweeping, deep color fields. The effect is like a dream half remembered, where structures and imagery and atmosphere blend and float, all of it permeated by a comforting darkness.