»Drawings & Collages«
»Maximum of functionalism with a minimum outlay of energy« goes the old constructivist saw. Although Jonathan Gibbs’ collages eschew such a straight formulaic approach, his vocabulary and methods are grounded in the »rational« and »intelligible« procedures of constructivism. In Gibbs’ work the niggling interference of free-lines and their subjective course is discouraged by a drawing technique which adopts the devices of collage: blocking, overlapping, stencilling. Gibbs’ drawings are assembled in freely articulated segments, usually in the form of broken up grids scattered and twisted across the surface or in blocks of lines. (This is one of Gibbs’ favourite devices. He places on the surface of the drawing two pieces of paper and rules a group of parallel lines between them.
The effect is very similar to Johns’ bands of parallel brush marks). Each part or configuration of the drawing is clearly distinguishable in origin. In this sense Gibbs’ drawings have a high degree of disclosure. In some of the drawings the articulation of space is more architectonic and dynamic — packs of parallel lines stride across the picture-surface and interpenetrate with other packs of lines — in other drawings it is more densely controlled; a kind of compressed, tumbling, whirligig space. The dynamism of the larger, more architectonic drawings is derived from the ambivalent impression that the structure is in an arrested state of collapse. Underneath this skewed and broken framework Gibbs marks out a loose spread of dabs and flecks of graphite. The resultant tension in the pattern-making — the quick flick of the sporadic marks against the firm pull of the lines — is not unlike looking at one of André Kertész’s aerial scenes of a snow covered street which has been run over this way and that with tyre marks and footprints. Gibbs’ drawings enjoy that same play with contrasting patterns and their particular physical provenance.
The »mechanical« devices of these collaged drawings gives them a diagrammatic, printed look.
(One of the sparser, more elegant of the large broken-grid drawings looks like a collaged computer print-out. In his latest work, which consist of small four-square torn canvas collages, Gibbs has started to use a furniture makers line-wheel.) This comparison to prints is therefore not fortuitous. Like printmaking Gibbs’ images are a direct result of the process of working, and like prints offer a degree of sustained objectivity in their making. It is not surprising then that Gibbs has devoted a lot of time to collage. The pre-given, distanced nature of collage making (collage has a certain »prepared« quality to it) is ideally suited to Gibbs’ predilection for a way of working which is direct, fixe and design-based. Gibbs’ drawings though must not simply be seen as works produced in tandem to his collages, but as works which evolve directly out of his collage making and which in turn actually come to influence and develop his collages.
The stylistic sources of Gibbs’ collages are manifestly obvious and he would be the first to admit it. His preference in some of the collages for Byzantine or Russo-Greek shapes — long triangles, wedges, half moons, scimitar-like forms — and red-black positive-negative contrasts recalls the constructivist graphics of El Lissitzky and Rodchenko. Gibbs makes these sources his own by allowing a more decorative impetus to take hold and by introducing occasional drawn elements.
In other collages free-floating convocations of shapes are exchanged for a more complex build of forms; the illusion of space is deeper.
Recently Gibbs has been painting. If his use of modulated surfaces in a couple of recent drawings
is anything to go by, there may be a shift or even turn-about in direction on the horizon.
by JOHN ROBERTS
14. – 15.07.1980