In his exhibition
of new oil paintings at Gallery 1261
, the largely self-taught Gregory Block
offers a lesson in the faceted possibilities of the still life. While
Block focused his formal education on biology, he built his painterly skill on
the side through extensive observation and experimentation. Now, at the age of
28, Block’s concentration has shifted to painting.
Animated by a scientist’s enthusiasm for micro
and macro perspectives, the more than 20 works in the show depict everything
from small objects to all-inclusive vistas. Like moving a telescope in and out
of focus, Block’s canvases range from a tiny 8 by 10 inches to a massive 48 by
144 inches. Not only do the paintings engage a range of scale and subject, but
also of different stylistic approaches to still life painting—photorealistic,
metaphysical, and surrealistic.
Block’s largest canvases are also his most
photorealistic. In both natural and interior scenes, he models forms so
precisely that they might be mistaken for a photograph or a window into a
sharpened alter world. The shiny surfaces of water and silver in Concerto in E (Spring) (2014)and Americana
(2014)feel realistic enough to gaze into and expect a reflection.
similar works that portray cabinets of curiosity, introduce more esoteric elements
to Block’s figurative pastiche. Employing the symbolic tradition of Vanitas
championed by Dutch and Flemish masters like Rembrandt
and Clara Peeters
, Block incorporates macabre innuendo into his brimming arrangements of
objects. Skulls, moldy books, and shattered glass allude to the promise of
decay and, more potently, the fear of death.
Block’s smaller paintings hone in on sparse
groupings and single items and further his engagement with the metaphysical and
psychological power of objects, a pursuit pioneered and defined by Giorgio de
and Giorgio Morandi
as Pittura Metafisica
. By hovering
seashells, books, and jars of pickles in undefined space or on decontextualized
tabletops, Block edges his still lifes with a surreal quality. Here, Block’s
object-subjects become more than something set on a shelf or happened upon in
nature – they are talismans that serve as a reminder of how small impressions
affect our overarching experience.