What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

September 29, 2022

David Gilbert
My Heavens
Chris Sharp Gallery
September 10 - October 8, 2022

David Gilbert

Though consisting of just nine works, David Gilbert's exhibition My Heavens has tremendous impact. The elegant and minimal installation allows each piece to stand on its own whether large or small. The color photographs are beautifully composed and feature items from the artist's studio— flowers, drapery and props, as well as drawings and other photographs. Each image is a still life created in situ and photographed from a specific vantage point, not necessarily to emphasize a photographic illusion, but to capture the way light filters in, casts shadows and creates atmosphere.

In the large-scale ink jet print Morning (all works 2022), the foreground of the picture is framed by a dark doorway that directs the attention to the center where an ad hoc white wooden stand rests on a stool. Placed in front of an open window, it is illuminated by the light coming in. A wide piece of white satin arcs from one side of the stand to the other like a flowing cape. Further back in the photograph is another vertical stand draped with translucent pink fabric that creates a conversation between the two forms. The background is in shadow and partially filled with another photograph of a cloud filled sky, perhaps an indication of infinite space, as well as a reference to the skies that appear in traditional European paintings. Though devoid of people, the composition and the lighting call to mind the works of Johannes Vermeer.

In contrast to Morning, which is 70 inches tall, Hereafter is just 13 inches high. Dramatically lit, the image features layers of draped and cut fabric covering a window. Shadows criss-cross the diagonal uniting the different elements-- pink and green checkerboard cloth, a sheer curtain and translucent cut white paper and fabric-- that create geometric shapes as they overlap. Though confined to a shallow area foreshortened by the cameras lens, the space is intimate, seductive and inviting.

Shadows from slotted windows or horizontal blinds are present in Moonbeam and Slip. The larger of the two photographs, Slip depicts a giant loosely scrawled drawing of a flower that extends across multiple pieces of ripped and folded paper slipping down the studio wall towards the floor. The stem and leaves are cropped at the bottom of the image. Covering the floor are miscellaneous strewn papers, traces of paint as well as fragments from other artworks. Incoming light from an unseen window creates alternating light and dark striations across the scene. Though an amalgamation of fragments, the image has a poetic appeal. From afar, the 13 inch high Moonbeam appears to be a photograph of light filtering through blinds. It is a mostly monochromatic photograph depicting curved graphite lines drawn across several sheets of paper taped to the wall. The line poetically echoes the shadows cast by the paper. Though mostly a formal image, it is an elegant study of the way light falls on a surface.

The largest piece in the show is the 84 inch high Traces, a beautifully evocative image with subtle gradient-like tonalities that shift from blue at the bottom through red-orange and yellow-green hues to a deeper red-gray at the top. This large-scale photograph features a white-paper cut out of a plant push-pinned to another sheet of paper that is also pinned to a blank wall that takes on these shifting colors. Across the top half of the photograph are intersecting rectangles of soft reflected light— like when car headlights pass by a window-- that create a translucent grid--like pattern. The image exudes an inviting sense of calm and ambiguity.

It is evident that Gilbert is a master at creating vignettes by compiling materials in his studio and filling them with the commanding presence of light and shadow. Although the works are unpopulated, the props, gestures and remnants allude to human forms. The works can even extend beyond the frame as many of the images are croppings from a larger whole. There is a long history of constructed photography, yet Gilbert's work is unique in its framing and juxtaposition of solid studio objects with ephemeral materials. The pieces radiate melancholy and loss or absence becoming non-narrative visual poems that can be read in many ways.