Scaling Up in Winsted
Seven Years of Studio Visits with Contemporary Artist Ted Gahl
Ted Gahl’s personal inquiry pushes the boundaries of contemporary painting. Needing more space, he moved his studio from NYC to Winsted.
Photo by Adam Lerner
When I first met Ted Gahl it was in my own art studio. It was 2011, he was a year out of grad school at RISD, fresh off a sold out solo show on the Lower East Side, and he’d come to check out my studio space because he was looking to move back to Litchfield, his hometown. He’d been living and working in New York since his undergrad years, where he attended Pratt Institute. Working as a studio assistant to a prominent contemporary artist in New York, he was tired of the cost of living and tiny studio spaces in Brooklyn. For a working artist selling in today’s contemporary art market, more space is not simply a matter of comfort, it determines the scale of the work you create. Ted was going big.
Most artists stick it out in overpriced work spaces because despite the increasing digitization and decentralization of the art market, New York City remains an important center of the art world. Having “boots on the ground” enables face to face interaction with your peers and their paintings, as well as career-making studio visits from dealers and gallerists. So Ted’s choice to move his life back to Litchfield and studio space to the Whiting Mills building in Winsted was a calculated risk. Able to paint at a much larger scale, he began stacking up a series of work on seven-by-five-foot aluminum framed canvases. He paints daily, and prolifically, sending work to a long list of solo and group shows on the Lower East Side, Chelsea, the Hamptons, San Francisco, Canada, Denmark, among others.
In the seven years I’ve been visiting Ted in his studio, I have felt privileged to watch an ever-evolving body of work engaged simultaneously with deep personal inquiry and with pushing the boundaries of contemporary painting. Making work at a range of scales and in both abstract and representational modes, he works primarily in acrylic on canvas, mining imagery from his own napkin sketches and childhood drawings, as well as the visual imagery of popular culture. During a recent visit, the perimeter of the studio floor is covered with tiny odd-shaped paintings painstakingly, awkwardly stretched with canvas. In the center of the space, lay two enormous nine-by-six-foot unprimed, unstretched canvases saturated with colorful elongated triangular shapes recalling cloaked figures. On the walls he works on a series of singular circles on square canvases, and as we talk, he mixes paints and traces more circles using the bottom of a Home Depot paint bucket. Long narrow Home Depot paint-stirrer sticks lean against the wall at his feet, painted in multiples with forms looking vaguely like landscapes.
A few years ago, moving amid swathes of red, grays, greens, earthy browns, and oranges, there appeared the recurring figure of a house painter. Always the same line drawing, a huge projection of a childhood rendering, the house painter (and associated tools) is a recurring motif. While he would never admit to an interpretation as literal as this, it’s not a stretch to understand that the house painter is an amusing ego, as the painter himself, humbly toiling at his craft. Coming and going in this cast of reappearing figures, there is also the man with the pipe (the father), the female nude (the lover), the commuter, houses, towers, windows, triangles, rectangles, and a menacing mosquito. The meanings are always unspecific, shrouded, multiple. He will go so far as to say, “paintings to me are the biography of a painter—a clear and tangible indication of what they were doing and seeing, suspended in time. You’re looking at a performance that you weren’t there to witness yourself. What is more biographical than that?