Review by Mark Awody
..........”Such a gathering of work crystallizes the consistently direct, understated and uncluttered qualities of Gabriel’s aesthetic. Yet, while her pieces are simple, there’s nothing simplistic about them. All are formally astute and elegantly executed: Gabriel’s unpretentious take on minimalism is as artistically refreshing as a cool glass of water on a hot summer’s day.
Her two monoprints, both called “Ghost Shirt,” exemplify that minimalism. The artist ran a neo-Native American leather vest through an etching press and let the unembellished results speak for themselves. Those results include patches stained with the pale remains of the leather’s ruddy dye and a broad range of embossed textures. An outlined pair of phantom horse designs, apparently not dyed, and colorless rows of beads are among the prints’ details.
The iconic nature of empty garments has been a staple of the visual arts since Jim Dine virtually patented the pop image of a flattened men’s robe nearly 50 years ago. Since then, numerous artists have purloined the idea, producing robes, dresses, shirts and skirts ad nauseam. Gabriel uses this motif, but avoids the trap of flatness, in her 2004 drawings “Wonder Woman (With a wink to Degas)” — focused on a bodice — and “Figure in the Landscape,” featuring a frilly dress. Given that the garments drawn have illusory volume, Gabriel may have simply defined the forms and deleted the figures inside the clothes. Whatever her method, she seems to proceed from the point where Dine left off. The 24-by-22-inch, compressed charcoal drawings are further enlivened by sinewy contour lines of nicely varied weights.
The wall-mounted sculpture “Torso” is similarly simplified and iconic. The neckless, armless female torso looks vaguely classical, like a fragment of statuary dredged from the Aegean sea. Its materials, however, bestow a more organic presence than one sees among the torsos of the Elgin Marbles and other genuine sculptures of antiquity. Gabriel seems to have first made a plaster cast of the female model, then covered the cast’s interior with a heavy black wax medium. Vertical strips torn from the inner side of birch bark were applied as the “skin” of the torso. Like Gabriel’s fresh look at a frilly dress in “Figure in the Landscape,” “Torso” crafts a traditional form into something strikingly original.
While the show offers a continuum of photographs covering the last 30 years, some of the work from the 1970s is particularly interesting in the context of a mini-retrospective. The earliest pieces, taken with a German Rolleiflex camera, demonstrate that the New York City native, who came to Vermont in 1970, arrived with a strong conceptual basis for her photography. Gabriel continues to focus on tonalities rather than hues, while revealing more in the figures than their superficial appearances.
A photo with the Jungian title “Anima/Animus” is the subtle double exposure of a woman and man overlapped in the same chair; a quilt with a complex pattern hangs on the wall behind. “Man Sitting in Farmhouse” portrays a thickset young man smoking a cigarette. His features are blurred, like those of an abstracted figure in a Francis Bacon painting. The earliest images are all small, silver gelatin prints, generally about 6 by 7 inches. While the negatives were created years ago, Gabriel printed most of them only recently.
Her no-nonsense artist’s statement, posted at the entrance of the show, sums up the exhibition: “The work here spans 30-plus years and four distinct media. I have thought of it as a mid-career survey, mounting the exhibit primarily to see if the work, made in separate media and time, dialogues.”
It does, as Gabriel’s journey of self-discovery reveals.”