Deep in the heart of East London’s docklands there’s a bespectacled Italian man with only one name: Gabo. It’s a word that rolls off the tongue with the heraldic echoes of ‘Matisse’ or ‘Picasso,’ or the logo-ized simplicity of ‘Nike’ or ‘i-pod’: the dualities of creative genius and mass consumerism colliding with a stroke of destiny.
Despite this weight of fortune, Gabo is a rather humble executive of a most unusual atelier. (I say atelier, because painters’ studios are invariably garrets of slopped paint held together by turpentine fumes.) Gabo HQ is something of a designer’s office complex. Except for fifty or so massive canvases, some spanning over four meters, there’s no evidence that work takes place there at all. Gabo’s studio is more of a laboratory, a place for the scrutiny of ideas. Through his paintings Gabo distills the essence of desire.
Branding is a tool for packaging ideals: the creation of image as lifestyle aspiration, posing the impossible as attainable, tantalizing with the promise of love, luxury, beauty, perfection. It’s a territory of airbrushed photos and emotional manipulation. This, however, is just a mere beginning for Gabo, who starts each painting by ink-jetting photographic images, which he takes himself, directly onto his canvases. They’re idyllic scenes, each more generic than the next: a romantic piazza, a row of designer Scando-housing, children playing in a field. A plethora of unclaimed references merging personal memory with the stream of media consciousness.
Little, if anything, is seen of these pictures, but they are there nonetheless, lurking under the surfaces like schizophrenic alter ego beneath the chaos of Gabo’s paint. Though you’d never guess it from his demeanor, the quiet guy with the specs paints like a man possessed: fields of bright colors engulf his canvases with edgy aggression, interrupted with hurried swipes, obsessive gestures and globular splotches. Unwieldy, messy, clumsy, awkward and entirely unpredictable, they regurgitate the stuff of everyday experience with a raw naïve energy, as if trying to comprehend the world for the first time.
Like his close friend Tal R, Gabo adopts a playfully sophisticated approach to abstraction, embracing the rudiments of composition, color and form as a matter of instinctual knowingness. However, rather than conveying suburban narrative, Gabo’s canvases regress even further into fantasy, etching out the topsy-turvy terrain of subconscious experience. Bypassing Ego and Superego, Gabo’s paintings exist entirely in the realm of the Id, shamelessly celebrating the whimsies of self-indulgence.
Every painting is titled I Need A…, willfully supplanting desire with the exigency of necessity, embracing confused signifiers with gleeful over-identification. I Need The Springtime poignantly captures a bleak winter daydream; I Need A Chicken humorously combines the voodoo urgency of hunger and ritual violence, while I Need The Explosive Nature of Gas pits innocence and beauty against something much more terrifying. Between his gestures, bits of advertising-like billboards emerge in the voids, mementos of wrongly interpreted messages, hijacked in Gabo’s endless pursuit of more. The concept of greed resounds throughout Gabo’s paintings, less a moral message than a glorification of the self unchecked. Capitalism, commodity and social anxiety are co-opted as platform for imagination, a prospect of fulfillment through acquisition, invention and control. Gabo’s is a vision of endless possibility. More lambs, more virgins, flowers, sex and roadmaps. More color, more passion, more emotion and silliness. An infinite abundance of everything that’s really good, packaged as ultimate luxury. Coaxing us in their quixotic forms, Gabo’s paintings reinforce the need for more Gabo.
Patricia Ellis is a writer based in London.
Gabo was born in Reggio Calabria, Italy, in 1968. He lives and works in Prague and London.