The date was March 3rd, and Ted Gahl had gone to bed feeling warm. The heating at his home in rural Connecticut had withstood darker, longer, more bitterly cold nights all winter. But, with hours to go before daylight of March 4th, Gahl suddenly sensed the penetrating shock of freezing air on his skin. The artist had to endure living without heat—its presence never again to be taken for granted.
"March Pictures," Gahl's latest solo show at Halsey McKay Gallery, unveils paintings and drawings completed over six month-period ending with that March. In fall, the artist became captivated with the stark, sloping silhouette of a 19th-century Shaker-style stove. (The physical stove that initially sparked his interest had been on view in an exhibition pairing Shaker furniture with Ellsworth Kelly prints.) As a motif, the stove appears front and center in a body of work from late 2020. That the artist was already in a remote locale for the winter as he repeatedly rendered an inscrutable, long-defunct antique stove in the months before mysteriously losing heat in his own home suggests all the trappings of a Stephen King ghost story—which would not bode well for most protagonists.
But Gahl took the episode in stride. Also in "March Pictures" is a series of five "Quilt" paintings completed in 2021. Stretched over ceiling-height canvases, these pieces feature distinctly quilt-like matrices of rectangles. The muffled outlines of human figures, words, fish, among other forms, take on the nebulousness of dreamscapes—though the 2-D compositions were hardly the answer to staying warm through the night. In a statement on the show, however, Gahl reassures us: "Eventually the heat went back on."
Ted Gahl, Quilt 1, 2021. Acrylic, Moroccan pigments, graphite, colored pencil, china marker, chalk, oil pastel, paper on canvas, 84 x 60 inches.