As a painter, my work in the studio is all about thingfulness: I am bringing an intense focus to bear in an effort to rouse a flat white plane of canvas or wood into a state of aliveness. Beyond the boundaries of that surface and unseen to eventual viewers is a work space that has incubated, nudged and coddled each painting into its final form. A studio, like a womb, is a vesseled space, a geolocation from which one’s work, intentionally free of its context, can emerge.
Sometimes that separation between making and the made can be turned on its head. Sometimes context can be engaged to create a visual experience that can transform our ways of seeing, looking, perceiving.
George Wingate, a dear friend of mine for many years, is an artist of multitudinous parts. He was trained in traditional painting at the Art Students League by Frank Mason but is also a postmodernist, a minimalist, a sculptor, a poet and an all over evocator. What is particularly exceptional about his sensibilities is how effortlessly—and with such a fresh hand—he can move from one form to the other. As exquisite as his individual made objects are, they take on a singular enchantment when he offers them up in a thoughtful and provocative continuum. George creates a visual stream of consciousness experience, a neural network of ideas, images, humor, sacred objects, connections. Like Samuel Beckett‘s description of his lead character in Murphy, George is one of those “who require everything to remind them of something else.”
This way of presenting his work has been evolving over the years. In 2011 I wrote about his pop up installation in an empty storefront in Marblehead Massachusetts. Titled The Dark Room, it was a first step into a new and singularly Wingatian form of expression. From my review of that show, Take Me Deep: The Dark Room:
It is hard to adequately describe why the Dark Room succeeded in being both deeply personal and yet larger than life. Without a whiff of manipulation or self-conscious posturing, George offered anyone who was lucky enough to have been invited a fascinating tour of his deep inner life as an artist. But this tour completely sidesteps the over-sharing, confessional, tediously TMI proclivities of our current culture. George takes you down deep with just a few simple objects and some words on a card. That brevity and essentiality is rare because it is hard to do. Very hard.
His latest venture is Up Stairs In Sight. Having been given a beautiful second storey space in the home of friends Steven and Isabella Bates in Manchester-by-the-Sea, George has once again given us access to the imaginative richness of his mind and eye. Having seen his earlier staging, I experienced this as an even stronger showing. It is closer to the bone of the imaginative melange, the chaos of creativity, of inspirations, influences and ways of thinking.
Wingate offered this simple statement as an introduction:
Some travel well-known paths. Some reveal what they know. Some are certain. Some search. Some don’t know.
George Wingate may know it when he sights it. IT is not necessarily valuable in a monetary sense. IT cannot necessarily be bought like a chip or a cheese or a cat or a car. Or a Bacon.
Or it can.
Travel Up Stairs In Sight to see one day’s mystery tour in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, his Adam and Eve series of the last few years. Discover stuff of value, of transience. Discover debris, lovely debris.
Every corner of the space was touched by George’s hand. Blue masking tape becomes a powerful mark making tool. A single twig, in Richard Tuttle fashion, becomes a small figure trapped on the wide expanse of a wall. Books, photos, words, colored swatches and a single apple, hung from a string, mingle together to alter every day reality. In this room the up, the down and the eye level are approached with equal respect. How sterile a white box gallery exhibit feels after inhabiting this playful, 360 offer to engage.
Who can’t find a place in this method of showing, working and exhibiting the nonlinear juxtapositions that are the visual imagination? Climbing the stairs you pass a small word painting that simply stated the obvious: It’s Magic.
While many permutations have been seen in the domain of installations featuring the highly personal and the intimate, nothing feels derivative or cliched about George’s open book/open heart exhibit. His reference to Adam and Eve speaks to the sourcing he is in search of—for beginnings and lineages, for the primordial material that is the bedrock of any artist’s work.
Francine Prose wrote thoughtfully about Marina Abramović’s performance at MOMA last year in her piece, When Art Makes Us Cry. Her words seem apropos to Wingate’s latest as well:
Art can, of course, do many things: dazzle us with its energy, its originality, its technical virtuosity; amuse, unsettle, or outrage us; comment on the culture in which we live; give us pleasure and provide us with intimations of mysterious beauty. It can touch us in ways that transcend the limitations of language. But quite aside from the question of aesthetic merit, less and less frequently does contemporary art do what “The Artist is Present” appears to have done—to inspire its viewers with anything approaching an extreme emotion.