Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Whisper of Ambiguity

"I believe whispers carry farther than shouts."
Maud Gatewood

Although widely traveled from Austria, on a Fulbright Scholarship in her late twenty’s, to India, Africa and China with her longtime friend the Charlotte gallerist Dot Hodges, the American painter Maud Gatewood produced the majority of her work in the town of her birth Yanceyville, the county seat of Caswell County, one of North Carolina’s poorest county’s.

As a child in the 1940’s, Gatewood would often accompany her county sheriff father on his rounds including moonshine still busts. About which she says in the documentary Gatewood: Facing the White Canvas, "I had a more than average knowledge of the many foibles of human existence."

And as the county transformed its self from Bible-Belt to Sun-Belt through the urbanization and industrialization of its rural beginnings in the latter half of the 20th Century, Gatewood observed and depicted the inherent ambiguity within the process.

As the art historian Robert Hobbs notes the artist saying in his 1994 essay Maud Gatewood: Re-Visions "I think it's in the nature of the species to be a little evasive and covered. Ambiguity might be the heart of life as well as art… Creating a good painting is like walking a tightrope. You've got to make the thing work, but almost not work, to get that teetering sensation… What I'm trying to paint is relationships, formal relationships: light and color and forms. There might be messages, but I think a lot of times painters know less about what their painting says than anybody else.”

Gatewood is reported to have begun her artistic journey in the thrall of Abstract Expressionism but like the changing fortunes of Caswell County her work evolved to express this threshold of differing realities. As urban and rural sensibilities interacted so too did abstraction and realism within her work.  

“The important thing is to follow your own muse, but skeptically and carefully. If you don't question what you're doing, you're an absolute fool," Gatewood told the Independent Weekly.

And ultimately Gatewood trusted her work to suggest rather than proclaim "With a shout, it's boom, splash and it's gone. A whisper just drifts on and on," she claimed.

The exhibition Maud Gatewood: Selections is currently on show at Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Museum until the 29th of November.


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