Echoes from the South | Gabrielle Raaff

Wed, October 16, 2019 to Thu, November 7, 2019

Gabrielle Raaff describes with glee how the act of making a mark in a wet on wet painting process dissolves her intended stroke into something unexpected because of the movement of the paint. Her act of painting is thus a wrestling between intention and chance and an undoing of certainty. It is about finding a form of painterly mastery by working with the unexpected actions of her medium. As final images, her paintings in ink and water-based oil paint on cotton and linen attest to an intelligence of fluidity and a mastery of visual intuition. ‘Echoes from the South’ continues Raaff’s investigation of the photographic image in the medium of painting but is also a sympathetic investigation of the juxtaposition of the shocking and banal realities of a suburban neighbourhood, and how two realities can exist in a single experience.

Working from the understanding of photography as a subjective record of an event or person, Raaff sees her act of painting photographs as a means of extending the subjective reality of the image. Her process deliberatly works against what Susan Sontag describes as the objectifying nature of photographs that turn an event or person into something that can be possessed. [1] Working with the material properties of diluted ink, of painting wet into wet and of oil resisting water determine the means by which a new image is created. This painterly response to the various elements and forms derived from the photographic referent, both record and manifest an intuitive unfolding of the image in the process of painting. The images that Raaff creates in this way, record a destabilization of the fixed identity of the photographic image. The original photograph is extended, like the sound that manifests an echo, such that a new and multi-layered embodiment of experience or place can be expressed.

The photographs that Raaff begins her paintings with are sourced from her local community newspaper. By relinquishing these photographs of their specificity, the achievements or horrors conveyed in the original image can evolve into a reflective comment on the collective behaviour in her neighbourhood. The titles of the works retain the syntax of the original news item but are oblique enough to read as poetic touchstones for a viewer to engage with the imagery. The titles do as much or as little to provide a definite engagement. As noted by James Elkins in an encounter with Mark Rothko’s chapel works, "meaning is what's absent, and people who intellectialise Rothko, use history and philosophy as a balm that soothes the nameless loss." [2] Meaning - as Raaff has observed in our discussions - distances us from pure experience, pure feeling. It is indeed, as Elkin’s describes it, a balm for a viewer resistant to occupying a state of uncertainty.

The paintings in ‘Echoes from the South’ straddle an inseparable and mysterious tension between the abstract and the figurative. One could say in this way they occupy the infrathin, a term coined by the influential 20th century artist Marcel Duchamp who proclaimed, “The passage from one to the other takes place in the infrathin.” [3] Duchamp’s idea of infrathin is explicated in his examples of the warmth of a seat which has just been vacated, or the inability to distinguish the odour of the mouth that exhales tobacco smoke from the smell of the exhaled tobacco smoke itself. It is the moment in which two entities can exist simultaneously and this is particularly true in Raaff’s works which are neither abstract nor figurative and both at the same time, existing in a mysterious tension of transition from one to the other.

Raaff’s painting process and the resulting images challenge us, as viewer, to engage in a sense of uncertainty - of ideas in transition - when we come into conversation with her works. Our current social, political and ecological reality has manifested uncertainty as an everpresent state of being. Fact, knowledge and history as definite or truthful is transitioning into a future in which these concepts are realized as fluid and shifting. ‘Echoes from the South’ presents us with a chance to converse with painted echoes that champion the realm of pure experience in the face of uncertain futures.


[1] Susan Sontag, 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, P64

[2] James Elkins, 2004. Pictures and Tears. New York, NY: Routledge, p13.

[3]Arturo Schwarz, 1997. The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp. New York, NY: Delano Greenidge Editions, p258.