Theaster Gates 5 March–16 April 2022 White Cube 2512 Florida Avenue West Palm Beach, 33401
White Cube is pleased to present an exhibition of new painting and sculpture by Theaster Gates at West Palm Beach. ‘No More Dark Days’ furthers Gates’s exploration of labour, craft and value through the materials of tar and clay, two conceptual touchstones of his art.
Gates’s new series of paintings evolve from ongoing research into compositions using historical roofing techniques and ‘flame’ based painting methods. Creating a dialogue with Modernism, Gates’s abstract compositions extend the canon of painting beyond its familiar boundaries by forging new formal possibilities.
The artist applies the vocabulary of roofing towards the creation of new paintings through a series of processes that includes covering torch down bituminous material with oil-based enamel paint and then torching it. The action involves working swiftly, against the time constraints imposed by the rapid cooling of the tar. Almost a meditative act, for Gates painting is a sustained, highly focused and time bound procedure.
Broadening the vocabulary of his earlier tar paintings (a series he began in 2011), in these new roofing works Gates adds what he identifies as an ‘industrial chromatic charge’, applying swathes of enamel paint across the surface of the works. Applied on top of thick layers of collaged roofing substrates before the application of heat, and secured by copper nails, Gates foregrounds the sculptural aspect of painting: ‘Roofing, and by proxy, painting, has become core to my practice.’
An active surface that bears the traces of its making, clay, like tar, has an indexical relationship to the body, registering the maker’s hand and active nature of the chosen material. Gates’s tarred clay vessels combine two key tenets of his practice: the centrality of craft within human culture, and the complex skill of roofing, a trade the artist learned from his father.
The ongoing ‘Preservation Exercise’ series comprise sculptural assemblages made from highfired stoneware vessels from the artist’s studio or found African pots, paired with oolite stone plinths. In Gates’s sculptural practice, the humble vessel is elevated to an object of reverence. Highlighting the potency of craft, the use of vessels in Gates’s work affords him the artistic freedom to move across time periods and cultural influences in search of nuanced sculptural forms.
These variously sized vessels, each one with a distinctive glazed surface and enveloped in tar, exhibit a range of surfaces, whether that be cracked, smooth, matt or shiny, some more skin-like than others. Those sculptures made from found vessels, objects without identified maker or date, are re-contextualised and re-presented, reigniting their intrinsic power and, in so doing, foreground issues of preservation, visibility and cultural value. This act of repurposing links to Gates’s wider practice, and his interest in recognising and attributing value to the unknown maker.