JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 black and white photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2015. The prints range in size from roughly 30×24 to 53×42 (or reverse), and are available in editions of 6. This is the artist’s first solo show in New York. (Installation shots below, courtesy Jacob Lewis Gallery.)
Comments/Context: Quinn Gorbutt is one of the newest additions to a growing group of contemporary photographers settling into their studios to construct reality. A Yale MFA grad from 2015, Gorbutt joins artists like Yamini Nayar, Daniel Gordon, Erin O’Keefe, Bernard Voïta, and others who have turned away from the outside world and found their photographic calling in the rough physicality of plywood and two-by-fours, paint and tape, discarded building supplies and random found objects.
In the confines of their meticulously controlled studio environments, these artists are quietly transforming raw materials into sculptural made-to-be-photographed constructions that consistently defy our ability to comprehend them. Leveraging the early lessons of 1970s photoconceptualism and extending its optical illusions and visual tricks via architectural interventions (some as large as entire rooms, others as small as table-top dioramas) and powerful software tools, their images are consciously confounding our previously-agreed-upon notions of space, depth, and the interplay of flat planes. In short, these new pictures are complicated exercises in deliberate visual deception, and the best of the new works in this burgeoning genre are a constant source of seemingly-impossible physical realities.
Most of Gorbutt’s contributions come in near the abstract end of the spectrum, especially in those images that seem to telescope inward in layers of rectangles. By restricting his palette to the monochrome tonalities of black and white, his contrasts seem to pop with more authority – lines of white and black march inward or interlace in overlaps and weaves, like stuttering frames or a fall down an elevator shaft, and shadows (or the appearance of shadows) add another set of echoes and repetitions. Spatial depth is altogether perplexing in these pictures, both due to Gorbutt’s approach to construction (where angles and geometries are controlled and manipulated with care) and his management of the focal plane (where crisp focus images are digitally stitched together to create the illusion of up close crispness at all depths). Only when we see the fragment of a Snickers wrapper, a dollar bill, or a snippet of printed text do we suddenly realize that the scale of what we are looking at is measured in inches not feet, which the pulls us back down the rabbit hole of unpacking the iterative structures that have so cleverly fooled us.
A few of Gorbutt’s other images introduce the sinuous curves of a facial silhouette to the compositions, adding the recognizable bridge of a nose (in alternating black and white) to the straight lines and square corners of the surrounding collage-in-space rectangles. Like similar works by Abelardo Morell and Daniel Gordon, they turn the face into a figure/ground exercise, where shadows, echoes, and outlines pare down our perception of something human into its bare representational essence and create a push/pull of apparent depth that oscillates back and forth.
Part of the allure of Gorbutt’s constructions is their handcrafted messiness – paint drips, boards are roughly sawn, dust gathers in the corners, and the various surfaces feel freshly worked. But these improvisational textures shouldn’t distract us from the rigor of the thinking that ultimately led to these sophisticated pictures. These are photographs full of devious traps and subtle snares, readymade to upend our sense of visual balance. For those interested in watching the flatness of a camera’s vision turned back on itself, Gorbutt’s dizzying shifts and deceptions are thoughtfully misleading.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced based on size, ranging from $2000 to $3500. Gorbutt’s work has no secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.