It is not every artist who can seamlessly move between multiple media, incorporating essential characteristics of one medium into another, or make every bit of his sculpture with his own hands rather than outsourcing the labor.
One of the artists who can is Mark Gibian ’80, a sculptor and printmaker who has an exhibition entitled Curvilinear: Sculptural Monoprints on view in Hartell Gallery this week.
Gibian’s work is about the juxtaposition and symbiotic structural relationship between the delicate and the sound, the spindly and the solid. Its forms imply skeletons, archaeology, rollercoasters and architectural interiors. The monoprints describe three-dimensional space, as promised, as well as motion and speed. Furthermore, they establish an ongoing conversation with Gibian’s sculptures, some of which are included in the show.
The artist earned his B.F.A. from Cornell and has since been living and working in New York, both on his own practice and on several public commissions at places such as the Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall subway stop and the Hudson River Park, among others. It’s clear from these works that Gibian has a touch for making public art that is sensitive to its surroundings. Although his monoprints are furthest in scale and intimacy from these larger pieces, both are just as intricate and equally carefully balanced. While it is not immediately obvious from the work or the installation at Hartells — in fact, one might easily think the opposite — most of Gibian’s prints are sketches for sculptures.
The chicken-or-the-egg confusion stems from Gibian’s expressive technique and use of color, cropping and negative space in the prints. They seem more like portraits of sculptures made after the fact than plans, especially because of their medium — a choice the artist has made because printmaking, he has said, is a way of “forcing yourself to come to a conclusion,” even in the act of sketching. Printmaking is time-sensitive — an artist must finish and print the image before it dries on his plate — and it inherently formalizes. Having a paper border, an embossment, and a standard for signing and numbering editions pushes an artist to complete an image enough for it to stand up to its format.
Gibian’s subject matter is structures, both organic and architectural, and the way they exist inside and support things like walls and skin. These structures range in form and transparency from voluptuous, dense and squishy to rigid and hollow. They intersect and support each other. They are people. They rarely explain themselves completely, leaving the viewer to wonder if an image is part of a whole or the whole itself. Part of the ever-present ambiguity here is related to the negative space in each image, which may be either shallow or deep, regardless of the part of it visible on the picture plane. Gibian’s most satisfying works are the ones in which the system he uses to imagine space is most obvious and rigorous; the style is obviously engaging to the artist, as well as to the viewer.
The color in Gibian’s prints is particularly effective, as his sculptures are largely monochromatic. The occasional — and incidental — brass ring may interrupt a field of steel wire, but doesn’t come close to matching the variety of colors in the prints. This incongruity raises questions: What about the prints’ colors does Gibian consider or discard when he translates them into sculpture? Which colors best describe sculptural space on a two-dimensional plane? Why not use color in real sculpture? While Gibian’s reply might be that he simply likes color and is, in fact, thinking about making colored sculptures, the truth is that flat local color effectively describes space, distance and atmosphere in a way that monochromatic drawing cannot. And neither are Gibian’s metal sculptures completely gray; the marks and texture left by welding look like oil slicks and the shadows cast by the metal’s glass casings are blue and violet. Finally, the color of the prints reads as another sculptural layer; just as glass sits over metal, color lies under metal.
Gibian has learned to treat metal, glass and powdered pigment as both sculptural and drawing materials, creating three-dimensional lines and marks as if they were graphite and two-dimensional monotypes as if they were relief. And that intersection, the intangible hinge between dimensions, is what Gibian’s exhibition is really about.
Curvilinear: Sculptural Monoprints will be on display in the John Hartell Gallery in Sibley Dome through Friday, Oct. 30. Admission is free.