One gets the distinct impression that Gabriel Shaffer enjoys the path of visual exploration so much that he hates to quit working on each piece of art.
Evidence for this? The panels he works on have a side depth of three-and-a-half-inches thick, and the sides are as energetically worked as the front.
Shaffer creates paintings layered with paperwork he’s salvaged from abandoned hospitals, condemned houses, Dumpsters and the like, his Website says. His new show, If You Want Blood, will be at Satellite Gallery through October 24.
A self-taught artist, Shaffer seems enthusiastically engaged with the history of image making. This author found references to cave painting, aboriginal art and Christian architecture in Her Faceless Empire. A fetish-like, native-esque human/bear figure shares the stage with iconography reminiscent of 60’s civil rights posters in The Weak Push of Gravity.
The media Shaffer chooses seems to highlight his fascination with the images offered in both past history and contemporary media. Building up a base with collaged bits of diaries, advertisements and other discarded paper creates a sampled background from which he can react.
Indeed, his main imagery seems to be created in direct dialogue with the intricate collage material of the background. This is seen clearly in his series of city scenes. For example, in The Crowded Street Broods and Trembles, the cartoon-like representation of a cityscape rests upon shamanistic imagery that seemingly materializes right out of the background of collaged materials. The works are, to say the least, visually exuberant.
This intense engagement with the history and technical process of image making might seem somewhat out-of-order for a self described “self-taught” artist. As far as I can tell, this moniker means that Shaffer does not create solely from within one tradition.
In other words, he is not referencing only the museum or gallery tradition as exemplified, say, in the New York art scene. In this sense “self-taught” means less a lack of the necessary training than an ability to think and utilize imagery of more diverse types.
The creation of images can “help us off the plantation,” Shaffer says.
What he means by being “on the plantation” is falling into a tendency to fixate on one visual (or conceptual, political, etc) program to the exclusion of all others. Certainly such an existence can bring a feeling of safety, but it often entails a failure to appreciate the multitude of other, potentially richer, options.
But given the wide-ranging and open-ended quality of Shaffer’s work, helping us off the plantation could not be achieved through force, but only through a fully engaged and enthusiastic relationship with the other image options available.
[Brian Butler is an associate professor of Philosophy at UNCA.]
who: Gabriel Shaffer
what: If You Want Blood, mixed-media work by the Asheville-based artist.
where: The Satellite Gallery (55 Broadway, downtown Asheville)
when: Through Oct. 24. (505-2225 or gabrielshaffer.com) www.thesatellitegallery.com)