Gary Abkin – An Anthropology of Earthly Fools


distance is everything (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x91cm


And approach to the meaning restores the experience

In a different form, beyond any meaning

We can assign to happiness.                               T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages 



Gary Abkin uses paint to protest against logic, reason and quiet serenity.

Like all good gestural painters, he’s in love with paint’s pliant resilience and mutability. And he exploits this fluidity, making it synonymous with shifting emotions underlying everyday life, adapting to his own inquiry Surrealism’s and Abstract Expressionism’s automatic access of the unconscious mind. He can’t help himself – his highly charged sense of humanity’s illogical behaviour defines his aesthetic, and shapes his pictorial vocabulary in the service of getting to the bottom of what makes us tick.


In his work, the body is distorted, but unquestionably carnal; abstract elements take on a corporeal or architectural presence. His freely flowing formal inventiveness works to figurate currents in mood, dynamic and affect. His explorations of colour and texture create layered passages of intuitive, gestural brushwork picturing a symbolic, seriocomic world of universal everymen and women. Instinct is at work.



new currency (2017) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm


Caught in truly insubordinate situations and compositions, his men sprout bouquets of genitalia; naked x-rayed women contemplate altar-like bathroom vanities; messy, libidinous blobs reach out to each other through strange appendages; genderless humans speak through misshapen, prickly cadmium red thought bubbles in sap green landscapes. An unusual, deadpan sense of humour is at play.


untitled (2017) oil on paper, 54cm x 75cm



garden (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm


With a child’s intensity, his imagery calls upon both the sacred and profane, without really differentiating between the two. Piece by piece, line by line, he builds spikey towers (recalling cathedrals), castles out of thin air, and bridges attaching anything to everything. Men and women seldom appear within a single canvas, but their naked honesty is similar to an Adam and Eve – not only expelled from Paradise – but also confused as to whether one ever existed. Thus, beatitude is not an option.



sale of indulgences (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm


His canvases present a theatre of the absurdly familiar with subversive honesty – shapes and forms reminiscent of primal desires – fleshy, wet pinks dissolve into funky veils of grey; scatological, tumescent lumps sport noble displays of aortic appendages; vessels, knobs and breasts covered with messy dots, stripes and whorls assume a crackpot decorative quality. Art Brut echoes through these canvases.



in the garden (2016) oil on canvas, 80cm x 110cm


But articulating their meaning with words feels impossible. One can describe but not explain: proximity, closeness, touching, not touching, being next to, connecting and the need to shelter and enclose – all the relationships that go along with being human and being in the world are enacted here by and with paint. Surely the artist knows what these canvases are about… but maybe not. Perhaps working directly through the painting process renders them impossible to translate. All the better, I can hear Mr. Abkin say.


He aligns himself with Philip Guston’s declaration that “… [P]ainting is ‘impure’. It is the adjustment of ‘impurities’ which forces its continuity.”



pseudo-science (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm


This, coupled with a liberating sense of dramatic insanity frees him to hunt down demons, cartoon Freudian wishes, seriously engage anarchic humour and even shape-shift genders, animals and landscapes. Everything rolls out in a carnival of impulsive, dreamlike, panoramic stabs at emotional veracity, subsequently reworked for elegantly awkward formal resolution.


Disturbing? Shocking? Fascinating? Challenging? Beautiful?

Yes – to all the above.


See more of Gary’s work at:

All photos courtesy the artist.