A short history of the edge of paintings on canvas. For most of history, they were covered by frames; then, sometime last century, the frames came off. In 1942 the art collector Peggy Guggenheim took the frames off the surrealist paintings in her Art of This Century gallery. What paint was on the edge of the stretched canvas was accidental. Some artists started to paint the edges. Then in 1958, Lucio Fontana used a knife to slash a linen painting, blurring the lines between painting, sculpture and conceptual art. The influence of Argentine/Italian painter, sculptor and theorist was a bit thing in Melbourne because the NGV had a single painting Concetto spaziale (1964-1965) of his. The gold metallic paint on the canvas stabbed with multiple holes incised in the gold metallic paint is “Luciano Fontana”.
In his current paintings, Joel Gailer takes this further, filling the slashes cuts in the canvas with slivers, gobbets and nubbles of bright pigments. Wads of colour patch holes in the canvas. Sculptural blobs, clods, knobs and gobs of paint stuck to the sides of the stretched canvas. Cross sections rolled into cones, clots of eye-melting bright orange and fluorescent pinks, and globules of metallic paint adorn the edges, extending the edge of the art beyond the empty raw canvas.
I spoke to Gailer about these recent works at his Cozens Street studio. He was still on a high after a successful time at Sydney Contemporary with an Artbox stall and getting represented by Sketch & Co Gallery in Sydney.
His approach to these paintings is systematic and formal. The variations on the theme accumulate. There is a wall of them as he works through variations, finding new edges to explore or challenging conventions. “I prefer small canvases”, he repeatedly tells me.
For Gailer, the picture plane has been explored; it was an arbitrary choice of surface. The edge is beyond the picture plane; no longer a two-dimensional painting but a three-dimensional sculpture. Conventions are abstract choices that have been codified, which he points out in his work. It is not all about the edge; there are other conventions that he is considering. Like, should the canvas hang vertically, horizontally or on the diagonal? Or why don’t we use paint for its adhesive quality to stick down the raw canvas or glue two canvases together?
All these conventions about art provide an entrance, and this entrance could be a familiar first step or a medium to transfer concepts. Gailer wants to approach this in a conceptual rather than a formal modernist way. There are different ways to approach an edge: going over the edge, following the border, printing from a bite, and sticking paint to the edge. The side of the canvas is a different kind of edgy, not over the edge but edge-aware. (Gailer is not an Edgelord.)
I knew that we would have to get around to talking about side hustles, for Gailer’s attention to the side of canvases is another aspect of his many side hustles. Art Box, Cozens Street studios, Red Betty bar in Houdini Lane, his extreme printmaking (see my post on his Performprint). The side of things is part of his life, surfing and skateboard riding. Surfers, skateboard riders, and printers know about edges. Skateboarders, like Joel, use the city’s edges to their advantage, grinding their decks on curbs and rails. Surfing, riding the wave, balancing on the edge of a system just before the wave breaks, and becomes completely chaotic.