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Gala Bell's 'The Emancipated Rider'


t H E I R is thrilled to present Gala Bell’s ‘The Emancipated Rider’ - a presentation that speaks to many different (things), but at its core is a reflection on self, of the points where life and artistic practice lines blur and of what it means to begin to let go.


The title of the exhibition is a word play on the Indian Deccan painting ‘The Emaciated Horse and Rider’, capturing a poignant scene of both beauty and despair, depicting a skeletal horse and rider. Their fragile bodies and protruding ribs evoke a sense of doom and inevitability, but surprisingly, the horse’s stuck out tongue points to a sense of tragi-comedy, a complexity and irony that finds humour in the midst of a potentially serious situation. 


The horse and rider’s lightened and delicate boned bodies reveal a sense of tragic beauty linked to the state of something being on the very edge of dissolution. Mystical interpretations about the yearnings of the soul and the importance of the practice of asceticism have been ascribed to such striking images of mortification, which became an established genre in Indian painting in the 17th Century.


It is a powerful image representing a path to enlightenment. The act of making is both an emancipatory experience and a trap; a daily ritual, like a cult practice, involving a deep sense of devotion to a system of beliefs and meanings attributed to objects.   


The reference to this painting within this presentation acts as a subtle yet poignant homage to the ceaseless, relentless and comically absurd ambition of the artist’s journey, in pursuit of perfection for something that is yet to be created, something that only the artist and no one else has even seen. Through this series of oil and silk paintings, the artist departs from traditional techniques by metaphorically deconstructing the layers of a painting, choosing to work in reverse. In doing so, she forces herself to submit to the unpredictability of chance and the beauty in accident.


The delicate and fragile material that is silk - tightly stretched across a wooden frame – carries a sense of peril, one wrong move or application of paint could spell its demise. By working in reverse, she applies and extrudes paint from the under-side of the canvas through the gaps in the silk fibres to the front. Stroke by wave-like stroke she begins to fill the gaps between where paint lies and where it does not, using the way daylight shines through a translucent material as a guide and instruction of where to go next. 


As the screen fills with gestures of paint, the glow from behind creates fleeting images that are soon obscured to the artist behind the screen. However, when viewed from the front, the canvas shines in technicolour. The pressing of paint unveils to us the underside of the mark, the moment of contact between the paint and the surface that we would never typically see. The wave-like motif repeats itself across the silk screen, yet tangible figures are not depicted, the traditional use of brushes is removed in place of flat edges such as varied length rulers. 


The series of compositions exist within the irreversibility of the mark, confronting the impossibility of undoing what has been done, against the unpredictable nature of the process. Through this exploration the work engages in a dialectic that dissolves the hierarchy between painting as an illusion/imitation and painting as a free and material process.


The presentation conveys the beauty and perverse power that lies in fragility, while simultaneously reflecting on the absurdity of existence and the human condition.

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