Abel Baker Gutierrez – Swimming
Abel Gutierrez’s exhibition, Swimming, at Luis de Jesus Gallery, closes this Saturday, August 27.
Gutierrez’ recent investigations into the nature(s) of maleness are continued with these modest-sized paintings of Boy Scouts at play in nature. A film in the second space of the gallery offers another view of these, or some, boys. Do you know? I want to reconsider my use of the term ‘investigations’ and try ‘wonder’ or ‘wondering’ instead. Investigation is such a harsh term, so clinical and academic and what Abel Gutierrez is doing feels much more… tender and considerate in a human way of his subject matter.
The eroticism on display in this exhibition is quiet and nostalgic and not terribly urgent – I don’t feel lust so much as I am aware of loss. What I think about most – as I am writing now it becomes clearer to me – is a possibility that boys such as these could play, and a pre-adolescent erotic energy would be present among and around them, and an onlooker might be aware but not implicated, and there could be room for this ambiguity and freedom. Rather, we have a larger culture that has long monetized such sweet moments and turned them into opportunistic and damaging entertainments and marketing campaigns, and so we may have poisoned the well of childlike nature from which we drew. Ambiguity doesn’t fare well in a market-driven society and young boys, as well as young girls, need nothing if not to be uncertain, or certain but mercurial. How sad that we as a culture have lost those several years of freedom that are so important in a young life.
Sexuality is not a fact, rather it is a state, a feeling. Boys such as the ones pictured here seem free to move in and out of that state without consciously preening in a way they have learned from popular culture. The current aping of older people’s fantasies and the awareness from which it derives must be terribly limiting for children.
Another thing that comes to my mind and that I appreciate about Gutierrez’s paintings is that he plays with the surface of the water, and makes ambiguous the relation between that surface and the surface of the painting. In Rescue Breathing While Treading Water the boys’ lower bodies want to disappear under the water but they hover on the surface, in places laying on the water like leaves floating. I recognize this as relating to paint application, and this knowledge registers – but my eye is fascinated anyway and I keep looking.
In other paintings, such as Leaning Over the Stern, the physical space that is implied gets pushed all out of place – looking at this painting I find myself wanting to gaze up, and the objects, including the boy, have weight and do not stay within the surface – of the water and of the painting.
There are a number of paintings to view and a wonderful film. The images I offer only give you the basics of outline and color, so go to Santa Monica to see Swimming and then head to the beach and maybe watch kids play. (Or if you want to go crazy, go to the Promenade and watch kids be played.)