Gabriel J. Shuldiner dislikes categorization of his work to the point that he invents new “isms” to describe its allusive hybridity – its DNA can be traced to abstraction with elements of minimalism, expressionism, and Arte Povera. While Shuldiner’s use of material is extensive , his use of color is restricted to mostly black, with tinges of other colors at times. Gabriel J. Shuldiner shares with Art Spiel some of his thought and work processes.
AS: It seems to me that you like shifting boundaries. Not only the lines between painting and sculpture, but also between process and object. What is your take on that?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: I don’t like categorization. I find it limiting. Ironically, to not-categorize something is still a bit of a categorization, at least by definition. I’ve always been interested in words, wordplay, definitions, and meanings so it’s only natural that the work I make seems to flow within and between preconceived boundaries. It’s not something I intentionally set out to investigate; the work comes from some inner place I can’t describe. Where the work comes from is independent to its explanation – the shifts in the work, from painting to sculpture, process and object occur naturally.
In attempting to explain my work, I found it easier to simply create new words instead of trying to make my work fit what already seemed to exist, like “bruteminimalism”, which describes itself. There were aspects of minimalism, elements of abstraction and parts of conceptualism I resonated with, and some parts I disagreed with. Over time, I found myself incorporating those aspects I liked most and eventually found my own artistic voice.
AS: Yet, in Artnet you are introduced as a “painter.” Thoughts on that?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: Yes. I am a painter who creates what I consider “hybridsculptural” paintings vs. a sculptor who creates paint-like sculptures. It’s more than just semantics to me. I absolutely consider myself a painter. The history of painting, of paint, of what a painting is, of what a painting can be. It’s my heritage. It’s what I’ve always responded to the most. I do question what ‘paint’ is in my work. I use construction materials and glues in the same manner as paint, and I use paint as a construction material, as an adhesive. I’m interested in paint and paint technology, using 21st century materials merged with timeless elements of carbon black pigment, charcoals and graphites; blurring the lines between form and function. I am drawn to painting’s history, its present and its future. I find it fascinating that people have been saying “painting is dead” for hundreds of years. You just can’t kill it. I love that.
AS: Under “Text” on your web you address what “Black” means to you in 4 quite untraditional statements, perhaps somewhere between poetry and listing. In the first one you say that Black for you is “an undefined signifier, multi-coded metaphor and paradoxical Koan of [Absolute] nothingness.” Can you elaborate on these aspects and how they play a role in your work?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: I tried to see if I could come up with a self-contained, bizarre but accurate one sentence “pitch” for my work; as if I only had only one sentence and 30 seconds to explain what it was all about. One that would both explain and confuse, mirroring the cryptic disparate elements typically assigned to the color black. On the one hand I wanted to attempt to explain where I was coming from, on the other hand, I wanted to deliberately confuse. I was frustrated with the necessity to explain my visual art; it should be looked at. It should move the viewer in some manner. It should be a personal, private, communal experience, devoid of explanations. Each work being an existential void, merging my interests in science and eastern philosophy, among other things. But people want explanations. I’ve had people tell me they were more confused by my work after reading my words about it. I kind of like that.
AS: I get your frustration with explaining your work. Let’s get back to color. You use hints of color occasionally, for instance, DCE7E74B-F0C0-1_2019 or DNSPnT_2017. What can you tell me about the genesis, choices, and process behind those 2 pieces?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: A lot of the color, or hints of color, that appear in my work are remnants of ‘notes’ that I’ve made for myself as I’ve created the work, notes that remind me to do this or do that within the work. As the piece is developed, a lot of the color gets masked by the various blacks used in the work, but sometimes some of these ‘notes’ remain, hints of color that at some point in the process of creating were literal instructions. The color palette is typically derived from nature- fluorescent yellows and oranges, butterflies, bees and wasps – colors typically meaning “danger” or “warning”; colors that humanity has co-opted and can usually be found on construction sites.
AS: You provide an impressive list of materials and processes for each work – from pigments to studio detritus and from enamel spray to dry walling. What would you like to share about your process, materials and forms?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: I tend to list materials in the same manner that I would like to read them in others’ works. I’m always interested in the ingredients. Both what is used and how it is used. I break down paint into its component parts, I list the materials that are most important to me and all of the information. Part of this is to be transparent and in doing so, I tend to confuse. Most people won’t spend the time reading; so in a way I do it for myself. My materials help determine the form and the form is derived from the process. Just about all of the materials I use are ‘green’ in nature. They appear toxic, but all is primarily water-based. In my mind, each work starts out as a black square, and gets morphed and shifted. The result are works that appear organic and somewhat familiar. I tend to think of them as existential black voids; portals into the mind. I consider light as a material, as well, as it reflects and refracts off the various blacks that comprise each piece.
AS: Tell me about your scale. From what I saw, you work in a pretty intimate scale. I am curious to know why you are drawn to that scale and how you see the relationship between your objects. Do you see them as a sort of accumulation, fully independent individual pieces, or both?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: I view each individual work as a fully independent piece. Yet each piece is part of a larger, on-going, always expanding accumulative oeuvre. I work on multiple pieces at a time, bouncing different ideas off each work in progress. Gradually certain works resolve themselves and eventually one is ‘spit’ out of its developing orbit and is considered complete. My current process is democratic, giving just as much attention to deconstruction and ripping apart, as to building and accumulating. I like to have full control over the piece while I work, so a lot of the scale is determined by that. I want to be able to manually move the work around, the back becomes the front, the bottom the top. Eventually the work realizes itself and the orientation settles into place and the work gets tighter. Because of this intimate control, scaling the work has been a slow process.
AS: What would you like to share about how your current work in the studio is developing?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: Keeping the work intimate while scaled up at the same time is what I’m working on right now. While I love the intimate scale I work with, I would like to see my work consistently expand in size. I’ve worked large before, but my most recent body of work has fallen into a ‘standard’ range in which I can comfortably maneuver a work as I build it up – shift orientation, rip, cut, mend. There is something extremely powerful about working in a “human” scale that allows for this. Ironically, a lot of my collectors want larger works; therein lies the quandary.
AS: Our interview was conducted a while before the Corona pandemic. Life has changed since. How are you coping these days and what are your thoughts about the road ahead?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner: The Corona pandemic has been absolutely surreal and mind bending. I still have an extremely hard time wrapping my head around the whole thing, very post-apocalyptic. That said, my daily routine hasn’t actually changed all that much: I still paint every day, watch paint dry every day, and play with my puppy, Ms. Foxie, every day. And I’m grateful for that. The routine is comforting and I’ve been making my best work during this time but the emotional toll and the collective fear have definitely had an effect on me. I’m a naturally anxious person, so this situation hasn’t exactly been calming. Now there’s a new bizarre collective feeling that COVID-19 has somehow passed, with everything re-opening but it’s still right here. NYC is in a good place, but the rest of the country is getting worse, and no one seems to be taking that very seriously. To me, that is almost more surreal than the actual virus. I am truly fascinated by how things have changed and how they will continue to change, what the new normal is going to be. Some days I’m excited about that future and cannot wait for a post-Covid World. Other days it all just depresses me, but that passes. However long it all takes, I know we will all get through it.
I don’t know what is next for me. I cannot wait to show my new work but navigating the artworld in this new reality has been a bit strange. I’m close to reclusive, and although I like Instagram, translating my process and my work into the digital realm as the main outlet to show my work hasn’t been at the beginning a completely comfortable adjustment. I’ve just not been that fond of video-based studio visits or zoom interviews. Slowly that seems to be changing. I’ve done several of these recently, and my attitude toward them is definitely coming around. I feel that post-pandemic a lot of the new virtual outlets will remain as an extension of the physical realm, but not as a replacement. And that, I think, is a very good thing. Ultimately, I want people to stand in front of my work and experience it in person in a personal, intimate, spiritual kind of way. The physicality, the light, the power- a 2D screen just doesn’t cut it. Overall, the quarantine has allowed me to focus and produce strong new work with no deadline or pressure or interruptions and being in that space is an incredibly freeing, super creative place to be.
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She holds BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, BFA from Parsons School of Design, and MFA from SUNY Purchase. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org