The Drawers - Ron Giii   Commentary written by Oliver Girling

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Inde-Picks (Independent Curator's Selection)

Where to begin? At the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve and Pinch-me and the whole nine yards. Usually thought to have been located in the fertile delta between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in northern Iraq, there is nevertheless another good candidate in the same country, namely the marshlands of the south, historical home to the so-called Marsh Arabs. Home to countless species of birds, otters, turtles and other freshwater creatures, it remained a natural paradise over the course of millennia. That is, until Saddam Hussein, in a fit of genus- and genocidal pique, drained the marshes in the early 1980's, monstrous payback to the residents for a failed rebellion against his rule that had been encouraged (but not supported) by the Americans.

Can we spare a thought for the marshes, the marsh people, the Iraqis? Ron can, and that's why my thoughts about his work begin with The Marsh People Iraq 2004. It's a rare “cameo” in the show, that is, head and shoulders shot, the head surrounded as usual with a saturated oil halo, but here the halo also bleeds down the page where the rest of the body would have been. The top of the skull is separated from the face, perhaps a skullcap or a kefya-furrow in the man's brow; his raccoon-eyes peering into the middle distance. His ears and narrow nose are terra-cotta, his mouth a thin, sensual slit.

Rauschenberg once said of his “Combine” pieces that they were invitations to look away from the artwork, at something or anything in the gallery other than the wild chaos of his assemblage. Gillespie invites us to think away, using an opposite strategy: all his heads are stylized and simplified, so that the artist gains access to a wide range of subjects under the imprint of this hieratic human presence. Zoological, geometric, pathological, the faces are sometimes those of Gericault's asylum inmates, but also by turns eager and gormless, idiots savant and Savonarola.

The Desert Night Air 1963 is a pool on a blinding white expanse of Fabriano, recrudescence of cold-pressed linseed bearding the face orb with the concentric circular hat. The fisheyes wave over a weathervane nose that could've wandered out of Paul Klee circa 1930, but it's about the '60's, the great first years of independence for many African countries. The face is confident, inquisitive; what does history hold in store?

Too Roberta Smith is the art critic, looker and seer, magnificent expanse of unwrinkled forehead; intelligence inherent in sight. The palpable generosity of those who toil in the ocular salt mines. Mr. Kim/Sherbourne and Queen is a posthumous tribute to a Korean convenience-store owner near that corner who was murdered in his shop. An Elizabethan ruffled collar offers a light magnificence to this modest man, under the obligatory halo; and is it his fatal wound we see in the oil lozenge near the bottom of the page?

Les Archades the 3rd year is one record of a reading adventure, Walter Benjamin's fantastic Arcades project. Brains are roiled and sparkling with silver highlights; and the iconic flat nose has acquired a mini-bridge, as if actually smelling the words on the sensual page.

Copyright © 2006,  Oliver Girling