Open to explore online from tomorrow, 29 January 2021, Hauser & Wirth present Los Angeles-based artist Charles Gaines’ first solo exhibition in the UK, featuring a host of new works presented across the gallery’s London spaces. Born in 1944 in Charleston, South Carolina, Gaines began his career as a painter, earning his MFA from the School of Art and Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1967. A seminal figure in the field of Conceptual Art, Gaines’ body of work engages formulas and systems that interrogate relationships between the objective and the subjective realms. Using a generative approach to create series of works in a variety of mediums, he has built a bridge between the early conceptual artists of the 1960s and 70s and subsequent generations. The subject of numerous exhibitions, Gaines’ work is in several prominent public collections and was presented at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2015.
The latest phase in the artist’s influential practice comes in the form of Numbers and Faces: Multi-Racial/Ethnic Combinations Series 1, a continuation of the Faces series that Gaines began in 1978. In these new works, Gaines creates an amalgam of faces within one artwork and seeks to interrogate ideas of representation, and more specifically the political and cultural ideas that shape one’s understanding of the concept of multi-racial identity. The artist tells, “I believe that the system of mapping these faces over a series can, itself, become meaningful by being drawn into an analogy with certain concepts of human reproduction such as heredity, genealogy, descent, lineage, genetics, etc., concepts that exist within the same domain. One of the main issues that interests me in working with systems is that, at a certain point, its relationship to any idea is arbitrary.” In preparing for this work, Gaines searched for people who self-identified as multi-racial or multi-ethnic and invited them to be part of the project.
The concept of identity politics has played a central role within Gaines’ oeuvre. Each face depicted in this new series is assigned two colours: one for the contour lines of the face and the other for the space in between the lines. The faces are sequentially mapped out and overlaid one-by-one. According to Gaines, “When the image is overlaid, the colours of the faces merge in areas and remain unaltered in other areas; over the course of the series the merging of contours produces different patterns and colour effects that dynamically and formally play out a binary relationship; the generalised structure of a face and the differences between faces.” Formal black and white photographs of every successive sitter appear on the back panel of each work.
Elsewhere on view, Numbers and Trees: London Series 1 provides a new format of Gaines’ celebrated Numbers and Trees Plexiglas works, which began in 1986 and continues to evolve. The image of the tree has been central to the artist’s work since the mid-1970s and his methodical examination of their form is continued in the newest iteration. These most recent works are larger in scale than previous counterparts and are inspired by the vast English trees Gaines examined and photographed during a visit to Melbury in Dorset last year.
Gaines allocates a unique colour and a numbered grid for each London tree documented, reflecting the full form of the tree depicted in the detail photograph on the back panel of the work. Each piece is realised by overlaying the forms of trees one at a time and in progression, following the artist’s systematic sequencing method. Gaines reflects on his process, “As I watch the systems and works evolve, and images being produced, I’m totally reminded that what I’m seeing is not a product of my intention but is a product of a system, and the system has a completely arbitrary relationship with the object that’s being represented.” These works call into question both the objective nature of the trees within them, and the subjective natural and material human actions that surround them.
Charles Gaines: Multiples of Nature, Trees and Faces at Hauser & Wirth London launches online from 29 January – 1 May 2021. In accordance with government guidance, the gallery’s London outposts are temporarily closed until further notice.
Feature image: Charles Gaines in his Los Angeles studio, 2020. © Charles Gaines. Photo: Fredrik Nilse. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.