Freight + Volume presents Balla Balla, an exhibition of recent paintings by Andalusia-based
artist Gabrielle Graessle. Balla Balla will be on view at 39 Lispenard St. June 9 – July 8, 2023.
The paintings of Swiss-born artist Gabrielle Graessle depict complex emotional and social
realities with an almost hieroglyphic directness. Reveling in color and the use of spectacular, or
otherwise unconventional materials (such as glitter), her wilding use of paint and pigment is
tempered by a sense of minimalism which might be called austere—if not for the fact that her
paintings are so childlike and fun
Graessle’s work generally tends towards a formalism which generates its own symbology. Her
allusions to themes like war, feminism, sexuality and love, are all expressed in ways that verge
on abstraction. But this movement away from the particulars of experience to universal
representations isn't navigated arbitrarily. A continuous sense of lightness, play, exuberance
radiates from her figures—even when the themes she's working around might otherwise appear
Wielding riotous colors and graffiti-like language to communicate her singular vision, one of
Graessle’s untitled pieces—composed of acrylics, spray paint and glitter—especially stands out
for its quasi-mythic character. An off-centered horse constitutes the theme of the picture: as a
figure, this horse almost seems on the brink of escaping from the dimensions of the frame. With
an engorged head lolling against its leftmost edge, his overtly large presence lends the painting
an almost comical aspect, while also suggesting the impossibility of escaping the illusive realm
of paint and pigment into the spatial possibilities afforded by our everyday reality.
Many of Graessle’s paintings portray women in various states of dishabille; but the sitters in her
portraits never feel objectified or exposed. Rather than being lewds, in each painting of a
woman’s body her face is emphasized—often arranged into an expression that resembles a
hieratic eye gazing back at the viewer who gazes at her.
In one particular work—also untitled, yet dating from 2022—a reclining woman seems to look
out of the painting towards the viewer. More confident than coy, the elliptical curve which
constitutes her mouth, like a Cheshire Cat’s smile, is set against a horizon neatly divided
between earth and sky, the tellurian and the cosmic. This supple division works to foreground
the winsome character of the figure’s face, adding a heightened significance to the elements
composing the picture.
Graessle’s canvases distinguish themselves from traditional abstraction by bringing every
shape, every suggestion of color, towards the convergence of a decentralized theme. Her
reliance on natural form never fails to engage with socially astute insights. Emerging from the
serrated edges of her craftsman-like abstraction, nature itself, in all its spontaneity, seems to
glaze the surface of each work like a spectral amber. Within this glow, Graessle gives expression
to the nature of happiness and the meaning of revolt, all the while mimicking a child’s naivety.