Wayne Gonzales’ fifth solo exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery comprises paintings that interrogate American history. Produced between 2015 and 2019, all of the works in the exhibition share an inherent ‘American-ness’ in terms of subject matter and sensibility. Drawing on source material from his own photographs, and those by iconic modernists including Walker Evans and Charles Sheeler, Gonzales’ meticulously crosshatched paintings critically examine the contemporary American landscape.
The exhibition consists of two bodies of work, each sharing a similar perspective in urban and pastoral landscape painting. The first, produced between 2015 and 2017, focuses on the effects of industrialisation in New York and Pennsylvania. The second, made between 2017 and 2019, looks at the artist’s birthplace of New Orleans and the surrounding region. Both bodies of work are interspersed with Gonzales’ own source imagery, as well as key photographs by Walker Evans, Charles Sheeler, Russell Lee and Ben Shahn, in an attempt to contextualise the artist’s own documentation of American history.
Discussing his recent paintings, Emily Wilkerson, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs for Prospect New Orleans, explains: ‘Between watching the view from his Chelsea studio transform with the city’s ever-burgeoning development, and tracking the ebb and flow of devastation and rejuvenation in his Southern birthplace, Gonzales has become interested in accentuating the psychological space between landmarks over time.’
Skyscrapers, factories and products of consumerism populate Gonzales’ images of New York and Pennsylvania. Paintings such as ‘View Up Tenth Avenue’ (2017) are based on a series of photographs that Gonzales took out of the window of his studio in Manhattan of the Hudson Yards redevelopment, recording the everchanging New York skyline in scrupulous, monochromatic detail. In contrast to this sign of prosperity, ‘Tank’ (2016-2017) depicts a closely cropped viewpoint from a defunct and weathered factory in Pennsylvania that once produced most of the steel that was required to build New York’s skyscrapers. The same plant is readily visible in the background of Evans' photograph ‘Bethlehem graveyard and steel mill. Pennsylvania’ (1935), likely taken on the artist’s fixed-term photographic campaign for the Resettlement Administration (RA). Presenting these works alongside one another emphasises how Gonzales points to the historical and economic disparity that is manifested by different architectural relics.
Gonzales’ new series of works recall archetypal depictions of American landscapes in the South, harking back to the Louisiana Bayou School in which French New Orleanians were trained, and influenced, by the Barbizon School of Paris. Significantly, these are the first of Gonzales’ crosshatched paintings to be rendered in vivid colour local to the region and were initially developed for the artist’s participation in Prospect Triennial, New Orleans in 2017. In this body of work, Gonzales alludes to the resonances between the 1930s and present-day America. This becomes particularly apparent in the juxtaposition between Ben Shahn’s photograph of levee workers from 1935 and Gonzales’ own present-day painting of the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans. Discussing this body of work, Gonzales explains: ‘I’m interested in the effects of industrialisation, development and natural disasters on the landscape and in how to represent change in relation to earlier representations of the same place: preindustrial paintings (La Bayou School), depression-era photography, and my work - a timeline or continuum. The bigger picture.’
Using a technique centred on the effects of chiaroscuro, the artist creates form through differing densities of interlocking, crosshatched lines. Dependent on our proximity to the work, Gonzales' scenes come in and out of focus like looking through the lens of an analogue camera. From afar, we are granted a strong sense of the scene as a whole; when up close, the landscapes dissolve into hazy, frenetic brushstrokes. The artist’s approach to composition is much like a photographer, cropping, editing and manipulating his own source imagery using digital technology as a form of drawing before configuring his paintings.
Wayne Gonzales was born in 1957 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. He now lives and works in New York, USA. The artist’s work was most recently featured in the acclaimed group exhibition ‘Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy’ at The Met Breuer, New York earlier this year. Other major exhibitions include ‘Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century', Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia in 2018 (group); ‘Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp’, Prospect Triennial, New Orleans, Louisiana in 2017 (group); ‘America is Hard to See’, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2015 (group); ‘Wayne Gonzales’, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London in 2015 (solo); Paula Cooper Gallery, New York in 2013 (solo); ‘Wayne Gonzales: Light to Dark/Dark to Light’, New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana in 2011 (solo) and ‘Wayne Gonzales’, CAC Malaga in 2011 (solo).
Gonzales’ works are included in prominent international collections including Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Microsoft Art Collection, Washington; Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.