40 Greg Fadell


Born Detroit, 1970 / BA, University of Michigan / Lives in Clarkston, Michigan

Greg Fadell’s work and his persona can be seen as a series of deliberate choices. The work of some artists begins and ends within the frame, but for Fadell, wall, lighting, surfaces, and gallery are just as important as the pieces he brings to hang…and all that before his attention to the forces that shape the art world itself. Every aspect of Fadell’s practice is deeply considered, even those that might read as casual or irreverent vestiges of his early pro-skater career and personal aesthetic. His body of work draws in the viewer with its ostensible simplicity, but ask an informed question and be astonished by the volubility and the substance of his answer.

For example, his 2012 show Nothingness at Simone DeSousa Gallery (then Re:View) presented large-scale paintings in stark black and white that resemble an attempt to vigorously scrub washes of paint in random, vaguely geometric directions. While the content of each canvas would seem to suggest its eponymous “nothing”—see, for example, Nothing (1)—Fadell is drawing upon the philosophy laid out by Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1943 book-length essay on ontology, Being and Nothingness. Fadell rightly identifies the art world as the perfect system within which to exploit ideas of expectation and negation, and effectively does so with these simple forms that he presents repeatedly, having revisited the aesthetics of this body for a 2013 installation on windows at UICA in Grand Rapids, as well as his 2015 contribution to the Lille 3000 cultural expo in France.

With his 2015 solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Fadell takes on the art canon en masse, displaying museum-issued posters of iconic works of art, altered by application of chemicals to become compromised versions of the image. Fadell shies away from the term “erasure” here, pointing out that none of the pigment is removed, just relocated around the canvas. The larger works, such as Untitled (Dots), derived from a piece originally by Damien Hirst, come from initial explorations in alteration that Fadell made to the art history textbooks assigned to him in art school, and exemplify his pointed questioning of the hierarchy of value in the art world. Fadell is a complex character, and the uncompromising seriousness he invests in his work is mitigated by a playful detachment from the system that determines the success or failure of any given artist. Though he is quick to emphasize that the work must initially fulfill an inherent sense of purpose within him as a maker, it is also the price of entry into the wider system of the art market—one with which Fadell is driven to engage with the fervor of a day-trader on the stock market. Art is his business, and he conducts it with focus that might be considered mercenary by those unaware of the role strategy plays in an artist’s relative success.

But the art does come first—Fadell’s work is composed primarily of ideas, and the processes he employs to refine objects in space hold value inasmuch as they present these ideas in a way that invites interaction. Fadell has not forgotten to paint the sides of his canvases—he has chosen to leave them as a keyhole into the laborious method by which, for example, he transformed what appears to be a thick buildup of paint, in the Nothingness series, into a very thin, smooth surface. In a sense, Fadell is an illusionist, but the effects of his tricks are slow-dawning; the immediate impulse to dismiss a given body of work as simple gives way to an awareness of the effort, followed by wonder at exactly how it was accomplished. In this, Fadell’s roots as a skater prone to long-form negotiation of streets and high half-pipes, rather than one-off tricks, show. His is a culture based on discipline, repetition, and practice, which make astonishingly hard things look easy, sometimes even effortless.

Fadell changes tactics and media with fluidity. His most recent show, Agalma, derives its nomenclature from the Greek word for ornamentation left in sacrifice to the gods, and features decorative duct tape, meticulously applied to canvas and distressed. The care he has taken to account for the gallery’s skylights and architectural details betrays Fadell’s obsessive attention to the big picture, and the conceptual basis of the work combines accessible materials with Lacanian philosophy, and a sly poke at the “gods” of the art world, for good measure. Fadell has launched himself into an ambitious orbit, and spectators are watching to see if he can nail the landing.

Rosie Sharp, December 2015

Copyright Essay’d 2015