Artist Spotlight: Gregory Thielker
Current Exhibition: ‘The Wall,’ Granoff Centre, Cohen Gallery, Rhode Island 28 February – 22 March 2018.
In his latest project, ‘The Wall,’ Gregory Thielker has collaborated with the anthropology scholar, Paja Faudree. Their exploration into how the border between the US and Mexico has impacted life at a local level has been realised through a series of sculptures, sound installations, photographs, paintings, texts and interviews.
The exhibition builds upon Thielker’s previous show, ‘Unmeasured,’ at Castor Gallery, New York, 2017. For ‘Unmeasured,’ the artist travelled to numerous sections of the border, interviewing community members, and documenting the terrain. Thielker also produced a series of black and white watercolour paintings. These ranged from intimate scenes to large murals that depicted the local landscape. The series responded to the intensifying public debate surrounding the contentious issue of illegal immigration. Thielker continues this investigation in ‘The Wall.’
Gregory Thielker, The Valley, 2017. Watercolour on paper on panel. 101.6 x 152.4 cm. Image courtesy artist and gallery.
With controversial calls to expand the border wall, Thielker’s installation at the Granoff Centre can be seen as a response to the aggressive populist rhetoric that fuels these demands.
The artist allows his images to speak for themselves; despite the controversial themes they address, their compositions are nuanced. The detail with which the artist traces human interaction, whether that be in the form of a footprint or an imposing metal barrier, gives his work political poignancy. This is especially true of his watercolour paintings, which show various types of border wall construction, from tall steel barricades to historic concrete markers. Their intimidating, industrial frames scar the dry earth, fracturing the land between the north and the south. Drawing and enforcing land boundaries between peoples has consumed political discourse in recent years. Thielker asks us to consider how the border wall, if expanded, will affect the environment it occupies.
Anthropological investigation and aesthetic visual experimentation
It is a delicate, yet powerful study. One that mixes anthropological investigation with aesthetic visual experimentation. This combination not only serves to document the area in question but reminds us of the harmful ramifications that can result from escalating hostility between two neighbouring societies.
Gregory Thielker, Breathe Slowly, 2016. Oil paint on linen. 86.5 x 76.0 cm. Image courtesy artist and gallery.
Distorting perspectives – revealing the lens through which we see the world – has become a defining feature of the artist’s process. Breathe Slowly (2016), for example, sees rainwater obscure the landscape beyond the car window upon which it falls. The image’s texture abstracts reality and arouses a false sense of nostalgia. Having painted the scene with hyperrealistic detail, Thielker aims to alter the normal limits of human perception. Hyperrealism serves as a tool for a slow, meticulous transcription of a scene onto canvas and, since it mimics the nature of photography, it exaggerates the artificiality of image-making. His painting process also acts as a means of documenting the contact he makes with each place he visits.
Gregory Thielker’s artwork is a symbiosis of modern and traditional techniques, fusing aesthetics and politics with unimposing subtlety.
The artist has exhibited throughout the United States and internationally. He is the recipient of many grants and residencies, including the Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Award, Sanskriti-Kendra Residency in Delhi, Hybrid Art Projects Residency in El Salvador, and the American Scandinavian Foundation Artist Grant. His work has been featured by Vermont Public Radio, the Independent, the Guardian, La Repubblica, and New American Painting. He most recently exhibited at Castor Gallery, New York and at The Brattleboro Art Museum, Vermont.
Author: George Greenhill
Cover image: Gregory Thielker, Breathe Slowly, 2016. Image courtesy artist and gallery.