Gabrielle Kruger’s first solo exhibition with SMAC Gallery, For paint to dry comes as a continuation of the artist’s exploration into the expanses and limits of her chosen medium, acrylic paint; and touches on the idea of a performance painting – ‘paint’ as a verb, as a performing actor in the creation of a work of art. For paint to dry is a deliberate focus on the immersive processes that happen in the studio – on the relationship between the artist, the paint and the artwork – where the acting ensemble is centre-point, resulting in the complex materialities present in the surfaces Kruger creates.
Kruger utilises the malleable nature of solidified acrylic paint mimicking the fluid yet constructive quality of fabric as her vehicle of expression. Exploring the idea of, what the artist has termed a performance painting, these works and ‘un-grounded landscapes’ act as the foundational enquiry into the unique nature of her paint – the medium coming to inform composition, and the work becoming like a skin: growing both over an around its subjects, and from its own subjectivity. In prior exhibitions, Kruger has also created a number of ‘wearable works’ – literally worn by a performing actor – sustaining and enhancing the notion of her paint as being both a performing actor in the creation of a work of art, and as a performing work of art.
Here, the continuous application of layer upon layer of paint in Kruger’s work allows the medium to assume a number of different roles. Both the separation of layers and coming together of various elements invoke texturally rich surfaces – where Kruger has empowered the paint, and awarded it its own language. For Kruger, each new element of the work becomes a new kind of brush stroke, a new way of mark-making. The manipulation of her paint also highlights the interaction between control and freedom in composition; while Kruger controls the assembling of elements, trimming and cutting away at her paintings – her work-of-art-as-process – she reveals a life beneath layers. Her work is a process of revealing and concealing – both within her creative process and the acquiescent nature of her medium’s many assumed roles – where Kruger’s paint breathes and pulsates and shimmers and grows; and both Kruger and her audience are asked to give way to the tactics and pragmatics of action in paint.
In Barbara Bolt’s Art Beyond Representation: the Performative Power of the Image, she writes that “the focus on artworks, rather than practice, has produced a gap in our understanding of the work of art as process”. Bolt goes on to question that “in all this thoughtful [formal and semiotic] analysis, do we know any more about the practice of art? What tools are available to enable us to apprehend or understand what is involved in this work?” It is here – in Kruger’s very practice of art – that she challenges our habitual way of reading images, reclaiming the process of painting as a pure form of expression and performative intervention; reinventing our conventional reading of the general utilisation and application of paint.
Although Kruger also utilises a certain sense of formal analysis to describe the process of her practice, there is a playful and unexpected element to how the artist works with her paint – and a fine balance between total surprise, the paint’s agency, and the artist’s hand in manipulating the outcome of the work. Like baking, Kruger smears and squeezes, peels and pastes, carves and cuts – where the process of each work comes to materialisation. Kruger’s focus is with the ‘recipe’, the very process of creation, which is also evident in her pasty icing-pink palette and creamy paint consistency. Her compositions reference collage cut-outs, where carved away pieces of paint – left as remnants of other works – are used to discover new paintings; and the quick, radical shifts in composition (often left to chance and how her paint dries) become necessary to the process. Here, the scattering, sprinkling, swirling of elements during the process of creation are echoed in Kruger’s final compositional structures.
While For paint to dry deliberately focuses on what happens in the studio, it is the time spent here that is most visible in the work: her medium is demanding – the process of mixing her paint (developed with the assistance of a chemical engineer) requires a full day; later waiting for the paint to dry, to solidify, before the artist can carve away at it, or guide/plait/weave/fold/build it into a new form. Kruger’s process is performative – a spirited negotiation between the artist and her medium, where the paint becomes almost sculptural; a blurring of boundaries between disciplines and an insistence that the focus lie on its materiality, its subjectivity as a performing actor. Her work is a process of revealing and concealing; essentially relinquishing her sole agency as the artist to give way to the pragmatics of an artwork in action. This action, this performance, sees the blurring of boundaries – between artist and artwork; between what is exposed and what is not; between process and the absolute. Here, Kruger presents us with a play of sorts – a series of characters, an ensemble of actors, cast into unsuspectingly exacting roles – to enjoy while we wait for paint to dry.