July 6 → August 10, 2023
Is it a painting or sculpture? Is it classic minimalism or outright kitsch? Is it made by hand or a machine? These are some of the questions that drive the art of Richard Gasper. For the better part of the past two decades he has employed the tools, language, and social significance of industrial production to create highly-finished artworks that mimic the sheen of consumer goods yet embody something altogether more complex and psychological, given the interplay between their use of imagery and how they’re articulated.
Depending on the project, Gasper will use industrial commodities, such as MDF, aluminum and valchromat as his base material, and laser cutting, CNC milling, lost wax casting, and industrial spraying as part of his process. And yet his imagery is specifically chosen to counter such machine aesthetics, or as he suggests, “to enforce the idea of gesture within the mechanical or the machined.” For instance, he’ll get the machine to attempt hand-made doodles, or some of the rudimentary drawings made by his father, who was an amateur artist. Or, as in the work in Silt/sap/salt/sass, drawings that were found on various websites, such as Eastern European or Russian craft blogs that promote designs for cross-stitching, embroidery, and/or needlepoint pillows. These latter designs also induce their ‘gridding’, meaning the measured, vertical and horizontal lines stamped over the design for sewing, which breaks the image into vibrating, hypnotic, tessellations. More importantly for Gasper, these images of frolicking frogs, dancing cats, or playful mice—despite their campy, lowbrow quality—also “relate to psychoanalysis and free-association exercises,” as he explains, which allow him to produce works that can be construed as “a hybrid of human processing, digitization, and mechanical output.”
While his earlier works were mostly defined by performance and installation, Gasper was inspired by his tutor, Phyllida Barlow, the British artist who made her own form of expanded paintings, with exceedingly large installations composed of inexpensive, low-grade materials painted in vibrant colors. This led Gasper to create his own explosive forms, which were marked by an obsessive aggregation of materials, such as polyurethane foam, wood, and metal. When discussing his work he often cited the etymological definition of ‘Baroque’, which alludes to ‘a rough or imperfect pearl.’ For him that glistening object—warped and deformed, with allusions to unattainable perfection—was an apt metaphor for cultural production as well as his own desire to create slick, clean surfaces that might house something more sinister, or abject within—much like Paul Thek’s wax replicas of bodily flesh contained within plexiglass boxes.
Gasper’s current approach got its kick start in 2014, when he turned industrial technologies not as a nod to Bauhausian Modernism, but Nicolas Bourriaud’s Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay—a book that inspired him to view cultural products as a vast toolbox, or open narrative space, to be reused and remixed at will. From that point on he began to see how everyday functional objects—such as lamps and rugs—could be transformed and reworked into sculptural objects of his own. (He took patterns from rugs for example, and translated them into sculptural forms made of wood or metal). Since then, he has found an even more symbiotic relationship to machines, while pushing their capacity to be more ‘human’ at the same time. “It’s the symbolic psychology of gesture from the hand-made into the digitally rendered, fed through automated mechanisms, that I’m most excited about,” he explains. “[It’s] some kind of romanticized encounter with factory output.”
Gasper studied BA 1st class Hons, Painting at the Slade School 2001-5 and MA Painting, Royal College of Art 2005-7. From 2010-11 he was awarded the Sainsbury Scholarship in Sculpture and Painting at the British School at Rome. His work has been widely exhibited and collected across Europe, UK and USA. Noted solo shows at Kinman Gallery London, Johannes Vogt Gallery NYC, SET Studios, New Cross (2021), The National Gallery London, 2019 and 2020 and The Folkestone Triannual, 2017. He has received grants and commissions from The Elephant Trust (2011), The British Arts Council (2020), Nadfas (2007), The Contemporary Arts Society (2016), The Perfetti family (2016-17) and various private collections. Gasper has also worked and lectured for many years at Kingston University 2013-2019. Central Saint Martin’s 2017-21, Tokyo University of the Arts (2018) and at The Slade School of Fine Art.