||New Zealand-born, New York-based Max Gimblett’s large abstract work predominantly consists of geometric shaped canvases - rectangles, quatrefoils and circles - painted in bold, even fluorescent colours, anchored by sometimes delicate or lyrical, and sometimes violent or explosive gestures of paint. In its purity of colour and interrogation of the picture plane, Gimblett’s practice slides neatly into the historical trajectory of Modernism. It is perhaps Gimblett’s ability to speak to that ‘schism’ while simultaneously exploring a density of associations that span geography, history, art, religion and culture that make the work so intriguing.
His practice reveals, among other interests, the artist’s familiarity with Japanese calligraphy, Jungian psychology, and the practice of Buddhism. Gimblett’s palette is one reason the works resonate so widely. Explosive colours, such as fuchsia and acid green, call to mind Warhol’s screenprints. Incandescent gold and red suggest Tibetan Buddhist paintings. Saturated, primary hues are applied in broad brushstrokes and evoke Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning. Throughout, zigzags and twisted, centrifugal ellipses coalesce—dissonant spatial forms juxtaposed with one another.
A different set of associations is conjured by the shape of Gimblett’s canvases. Since the early 1980s, the artist has favoured the quatrefoil—a format that breaks with the notion of the canvas as a picture window. Suggesting a four-petaled flower, it also evokes the four cardinal points, the four dimensions, or the arms of the Eastern Orthodox cross. It is inspired by the Venus of Willendorf, primeval symbol of female fecundity, as well as by the completely male, quadrilobate design of the tsuba, the Japanese sword guard. Finally, the form alludes to Carl Jung’s four fundamental human activities—sensing, feeling, thinking, and intuiting—pointing toward the centre of being, like a mandala of wholeness.
With each work, Gimblett creates new relationships among surface, colour, and gesture. The artist’s method is based in the practice of meditation. First, Gimblett centres himself, emptying and silencing his mind. Then he rapidly moves his arm, often his entire body, hurling a brush (or mop) at the canvas. The exuberant energy of these gestures leads one to think that Gimblett is having the time of his life. This spontaneity is combined with the laborious construction of layers. The eye moves among the complex, superimposed planes, tracing the artist’s oscillation between diagonal shifts and twisted perspectives and free-floating brushstrokes.
Adapted from texts by Anna Dickie and Ida Panicelli.