We Thought It Was Heaven Tomorrow
There is an ambiguity in Gideon Rubin’s title for these twin exhibitions. We thought it was heaven tomorrow is borrowed from Jane Hebbard’s collected interviews published in the wake of WWII. The implication that either earthly or divine salvation was just around the corner rested on a wistful naivety. Much like the current Covid-19 pandemic which feels utterly relentless and insurmountable, many nonetheless cling to the notion that release from its viral grip is imminent. Whilst history will demonstrate that there will have been few as sufficiently delusional as #45 to think that “one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”, there is a state between credulity and informed optimism that still allows for hope.
There is much about Rubin’s paintings themselves that carry or rather transmit something crucial about optimism. Amidst the tender introspection and melancholia that accompanies some of his images and the sheer joy and sensuality that radiates from others, Rubin’s special capacity is to remind us about longing and desire, about loss and lament – and about hope and what it means to feel.
There is a deep nostalgia for photography in Rubin’s work though it isn’t the mannered digital imagery that saturates popular media, rather the images he seeks often have a DIY romanticism, a backyard informality and reassuring comfort. Often unassuming in scale, the brushwork has a similarly undemonstrative character and yet the candour and occasional immodesty of the subjects is utterly engaging and human. The casualness he records suggests a Polaroid Instant camera moment – personal and authentic, treasured and folded in the back of a wallet. There is a pervasive sense of tenderness in the images though many are touched with a quiet melancholia, some with hardship and adversity.
Amidst this visual onslaught we live in one might rationally ask – why paint? Why would one slowly assemble a “lo-fi” image using the most unlikely of materials and an outdated, analogue process that is frankly terribly difficult and time consuming, especially when we are all armed with smartphones loaded with pictures of food, holiday destinations, pets, and poorly lit homegrown erotica? Don’t we have all the images we could ever need? Well apparently not. And if I ever wanted proof of the urgency to have images reconstituted in this archaic manner – at this political and social nexus – at this existential junction, it is the paintings of Gideon Rubin.
Looking at Gideon’s paintings one certainly has the feeling that he shared something with each of the sitters. The children, the swimmers, the Red Army soldier, the dancers, the women, the landscape, the lovers – all somehow his and through the unorthodox facial anonymity, he somehow lets them be ours too. Despite the lack of ostentation and flourish in the brushwork, these are paintings made with a great affection for the act of painting and the communicative power of tone and composition. A corner of linen may be left exposed if need be, reminding the viewer, as it did the artist, that it’s weft and weave affect the behaviour of the pigment, the range of the gesture and therefore the genesis of the image. As fine as the tooth of the linen is, as compliant as the oil paint may be in his various preparations, there is resistance and therefore unanticipated intent in his gesture. Increasingly there can be beautifully stained areas of pigment, surfaces that leaven the composition and the structure of the work.
These are paintings that seamlessly merge ideas and aesthetics. Rubin understands that painting is in itself conceptual but that our digestion of art is a profoundly sensate proposition and without this capacity to feel, in either making and indeed reception, then we are going to be left wanting. No such fate here.
– Andrew Jensen, 2021