“None of us know much of the fundamentals of mind/body/spirit…where are the boundaries between self, thought, sensation, present, past, future?” – Gregory Gillespie, 1995
George Adams Gallery is pleased to announce Mind/Body/Spirit, our inaugural exhibition as representatives of the estate of Gregory Gillespie (1936-2000). As the first comprehensive presentation of Gillespie’s work at the gallery, it will examine themes that were constants in his life and career. Gillespie gained recognition starting in the ‘70s for a meticulous and eerie verisimilitude, inspired in part by masters of the Italian renaissance such as Crivelli. He showed extensively, with two lifetime retrospectives and paintings in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum; Whitney Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, and other major institutions.
Throughout his life, Gillespie spoke openly about various influences on his art: a rigidly Catholic upbringing; preoccupations with sexuality; mental illness. In particular, the journals he kept show frankness in his attitude toward life, his career and his art. Seen in force, there is a suggestion of the Gillespie world-view: “I no longer know where the outer and inner world begins and ends.” His paintings are a perpetual balancing act between implicit contradictions – he often worked on several paintings at once, usually over a period of years, scraping back layers of paint or going over entire sections to build up a richly textured surface. In the latter half of his career, that precision was increasingly balanced by a rougher, sketchier style, though still with the same obsessive re-working of his surfaces to capture what he described as “an undercurrent of molecular energy running through everything.” An example of this is the series of ‘Swamp’ paintings made between the mid-‘80s and ‘90s. For most, this title is the best indication of their subject – all are dark and convoluted, yet they contain potential, the natural cycle of life and death. The painting Julianna (1991) perfectly captures this dichotomy, as it shows with loving detail the figure of his young daughter standing knee-deep among the roots of a tree, surrounded by a chaotic mass of painting, which suggests undergrowth or rather hidden spirits.
Indeed, birth, or rather the potential of life is one of the most potent themes in Gillespie’s paintings, ranging from the directly physical to the metaphorical artist giving life to his work. The untitled painting Pregnant Artist (1985-98) shows a seated figure, hugely pregnant, holding a paintbrush. In parts it is finely detailed, others are roughly outlined, while entire sections are on a sheet of plexiglass, to obscure the image on the underlying panel. Tantalizing glimpses of the hidden sections suggest an artist ripe with the possibility of inspiration, more so for the strangeness of the figure despite the traditional pose it takes. Gillespie often used the word ‘weird’ to describe his more esoteric paintings - though he also spoke of his job as an artist to create beauty out of chaos by painting it. While to break down his iconography would be a complex undertaking, its opaqueness is precisely what makes the paintings so compelling. Again in Gillespie’s words, meaning “is something not necessarily apparent to us… and I’d like to keep it that way.