Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Gustav Adolphus, 1983-84 and Wallenstein, 1983-84 

These paintings began as a doodle I was making while talking to someone on the ’phone.  I was trying to make a shape or some thing without taking the pen off the paper.  Then I made a drawing of it, where I put the shape into a dark field and put some stuff on the right that had nothing to do with it as far as I could see.  Then I started to think the shape looked like an explosion.  That made me think of Gustavus Adolphus, because he was the first guy to use mobile artillery, and having thus been led to recall the Thirty Years War I figured I could make two paintings.  A Protestant one that would be black and white, sort of, and accordingly called Gustavus Adolphus, and a Catholic, Baroque, one that would be colored and be named after Adolphus’ mortal enemy Wallenstein.

    Visually, or from a painter’s point of view, the crucial differences between the two are in the blacks and the grays, in Adolphus the black is basically black but in Wallenstein it’s basically blue, and the difference between the grays is similarly one between colorlessness and colorfulness: in Adolphus the grey has little but cold grey in it, in Wallenstein it’s much more colorful and both warmer and warmed-up by the colors near it. 

    Looking at these paintings now (2015,) I realize that they are important to my general attitude to art in that they are about a kind of spatiality which is as, or more, indebted to Kandinsky as anyone else in the history of abstraction and there are a couple of things to say about that.  First, as Dave Hickey and Rex Butler have both recently (in quite different ways) reminded me, for a lot of American painters, particularly in New York, Kandinsky was what you were not supposed to do.  Immeasurable depth threatened illusion in a traditional sense.  Hickey just says no, Butler thinks it’s to the point that lots of south California and Australian painters made similar paintings without knowing one another, and at the same time (forties to the sixties,) and without either or both knowing or caring that they weren’t supposed to like Kandinsky.  I think I want Kandinsky to be as much a part of how I think as Malevich or Mondrian, etc  (Matisse, Newman,) and note that he came back in a big way when Rebecca and I started working together, she being as big a fan of his work as I.