Frank Gillette at Universal Concepts Unlimited


Frank Gillette's esthetic was shaped by Abstract Expressionism, which was at its height during his adolescence. He is still, he says, unwilling to abandon that idea of beauty. Nevertheless, for 30 years his work has featured video installations, large-scale Polaroid prints and computer graphics—all mediums that renounce the cult of touch which Abstract-Expressionist critics and practitioners often regarded as essential.


The 12 identically formatted digital “drawings” in this show have been described as abstractions and are undeniably beautiful as pure “painterly" expressions. But most evoke the landscape in their orientation (they are long horizontal rectangles) and look like natural vistas of some kind. Considered in this way, their mood is troublingly nocturnal, even stygian. They Seem to be views of a burned-out World, or memories lingering in a burned-out mind. Perhaps they are post-apocalyptic visions, after the death of the Sun, When the gray cooling washes away all color (there are just the last grains of color here and there near the works’ centers). Though the images were made slightly before the attack on the World Trade Center, they seem appropriate to the aftermath.


Gillette's method for producing the images combines elements of drawing, digital art, conceptual art and performance. Walking about seven minutes from his home near East Hampton to a nearby pond, he would gaze into the water for a while, usually at dusk, taking special note of the visual activity around the edge (the “tangled bank” of the series' title), where the movements of the Water Collide With the bank and disturbances arise, causing distortions in the reflections. Returning home, he attempted to construct from memory a version of what he had seen, drawing at the computer with a mouse. A Tangled Bank #3 suggests a broad view of Continents and Oceans, as if from a satellite or space station; A Tangled Bank #5 seems to Show an Occlusion of the moon in a wintry sky; A Tangled Bank #6 evokes a vast whirlpool or sand dune. Though such subjects may be pleasant enough in terms of art-viewing habits, in Gillette's work they seem to bear tragic overtones. It's as if the artist were trying to remember, after the death of beauty, what it had been, or what a world might be like that still had beauty right there on the surface. Still, there may be reason for hope. “A Tangled Bank” is borrowed from the last paragraph of Darwin's The Origin of Species. The provenience suggests an invitation to the next stage of evolution to reveal itself. Gillette's method here is like a mode of necromancy, in which the diviner gazes into a pond and strives to see the future taking shape in the swirling pattern before him.



Thomas McEvilley


Art in America / October 2000