American artist Jan Gatewood’s works expand on traditions of drawing through an amalgam of mediums and processes, probing the junctures of painting, collage and drawing. When he’s not busy in his studio, Gatewood is likely on his skateboard or on a set, modelling for the likes of Stüssy and Calvin Klein. A perceived lack of conventional drawing skills initially held the young artist back from pursuing his own practice — but thankfully, all that has changed.

Upon relocating to Los Angeles from Aurora, Colorado without any solid plans, Gatewood found work in the fashion industry before going onto secure an internship at contemporary art gallery, Morán Morán. It was here that he was first exposed to the work of Chinese Canadian artist Terence Koh, whose unconventional approach and rejection of categorisation expanded the curious Gatewood’s perspectives on what art could be.

Jan Gatewood, Children of the Projects. The sequel (Merlin Carpenter 2002/3), 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Easton, London. Photo by Jack Elliot Edwards

Fast-forward to today, Gatewood’s first solo exhibition in Europe, Group Relations, is now open at Rose Easton gallery in London, running until 2 March 2024. The show takes its title from a branch of English psychoanalytic theory that focuses on interpersonal dynamics. Gatewood tells Something Curated: “Group Relations methods were used by Andrea Fraser in an artwork she made titled This meeting is being recorded. The theory helps people unpack their biases in groups. I wanted the ideas present in my show to be catalysts for a particular kind of group discussion.”

The artist continues: “My exhibition with Rose Easton is a materialisation of several questions and concerns I have surrounding the effects and responsibilities of those who capitalise on depictions of their race via identity based figurative painting.” Expanding on his approach to creating the new suite of works in this presentation, Gatewood notes: “Typically I avoid thinking in bodies of work. I try to foster an interconnectedness with any artworks I show. However, something different I tried this time around was to be a bit more direct in terms of telling the viewers what I’m thinking about.”

Jan Gatewood, Complications of a fragmented self, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Easton, London. Photo by Jack Elliot Edwards

One of the first things you notice upon entering the exhibition is that it is almost entirely populated by rabbits. “Charismatic survivors, when depicted across fiction rabbits are crafty, clever, vain and resourceful,” Justin Chance observantly points out in Group Relations’ press release. Delving deeper, Gatewood explains to SC: “This show is primarily composed of various artists’ depictions of Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Rabbit is an anthropomorphic figure in African American folklore whose successes are a by-product of his wit and humour. These are things that I employ interpersonally and concerns that have been subtly present in my practice thus far.”

Beyond fictional depictions, many comparisons can be drawn between rabbits and humans — similarities that are not lost in Gatewood’s works. Not unlike us, rabbits come in a diverse range of shapes and colours and exhibit high efficiency in reproduction. They demonstrate remarkable adaptability to challenging terrains from an evolutionary perspective, thriving in settings one might initially assume uninhabitable. And like individuals of specific backgrounds residing in particular regions, rabbits have long been identified as vulnerable prey, serving as a crucial initial link in universal food chains. Ultimately, they too are components in networks of cultural and economic consumption.

Jan Gatewood, This meeting is being recorded. Colescott meets Beat Happening, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Easton, London. Photo by Jack Elliot Edwards

Rendered in various warm tones and presented in neat white frames, Gatewood’s new show comprises fourteen new works on paper — all featuring rabbits — which utilise graphite, coloured pencil, glue, salt, fabric dye, bleach, and oil pastel, among other materials. Alongside these sit a series of three-dimensional textile works — to be more precise, pillows. Gatewood elaborates: “The pillows have an image of Andrea Fraser on them. Several of her thoughts and practices were integral to the production of this show. I wanted the show to contain a strong call-back to that.”

Feature image: Jan Gatewood, We have ethics because we are different, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Rose Easton, London. Photo by Jack Elliot Edwards

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