Symposium on Marvin Gates

Introduced by Dushko Petrovich

You have never heard of Marvin Gates. But then, few people have. He is that art world myth: a painter who develops in hiding and emerges late, fully formed. I first met him in my studio in Boston, where he told me, after observing that I was the kind of person he would enjoy talking to at a cocktail party, that when it came to painting I should just “tack my balls to the wall and face ridicule.” His shirt was buttoned to the top button.

In graduate school, Gates was known for engineering pulley systems to make paintings too big for the gallery space (they scrolled down onto the floor), and basically not acting like any kind of student. Upon receiving his MFA, he said he had “some questions.” He spent the next decade asking them, and they resulted in a group of pictures now on display at the Dolphin Gallery in Kansas City.

The four pictures that constitute the centerpiece of the show are identical in size and tell a single story, so Gates considers them one piece. He spent a year on each, and told me that one of his questions is why he would do such a particular thing over such a long period of time. When you see the paintings (we’ll bring you one each day this week; click here for The Blue Bag, Head of the Driver, and Forwards), it becomes pretty clear. They are keen, fierce, and strange—and clearly a labor of love.

12 July 2006

We could look all day at the way form negotiates space in Marvin Gates’s Forwards and find in this a profound cerebral pleasure—but the moment we identify Death as such, our brains begin labeling the consequences of his arrival. The populace surrounding him takes on a meaning in this frozen moment, and we struggle to decipher it. More…

11 July 2006

The New York City street scene seems too demanding a subject for a contemporary painting. One hardly sees it anymore. There is something about its profusion of characteristic details—the taxis, hydrants, and kiosks, the carts and vendors, the small bits of trash—that embarrasses the painter seeking a sense of new ideas and visions. More…

10 July 2006

If the Grim Reaper were alive today, it seems he would be wearing sneakers. As the faceless city waits for cabs and hops in cars, he’s busy. He’s running around, jaw dropped—is he about to speak? Both his fists are clenched: one swings up in an even-paced trot, while the other grips a baby-blue case with fingerless gloves. What does he keep in there? More…

13 June 2006

All but a handful of stray citizens have given up on the City in On Things to Come. No buses, no dogs, no jackhammers, no hustle, no cramps, no squeezes. It is silent, Gates cranked the volume down. More…