Ron Giii

She Was Full Of Moonlight

Curated by Wren Jackson
March 3 - March 14, 2010


She Was Full Of Moonlight

She Was Full Of Moonlight (She Was Full Of Moon), 2010

Paul Petro Contemporary Art is pleased to present a new body of work on paper by veteran Toronto-based artist Ron Giii. These latest works in pastel carry on from his "June Series" which was shown in "Slipstream", a group exhibition at our gallery in June 2009. Our thanks to Toronto-based painter, writer and curator Wren Jackson for organizing this exhibition.

Ron Gillespie was born in 1934 at New Westminster, BC. His earliest training in art took place in 1962-64 at H.S.C. Prince of Wales College, Nairobi, East Africa. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1975 and established a signifant performance art practice during the 1970's. By the early 1980s he had moved into drawing while retaining a strongly performative element in the compositions. Philosophy, geometry and the anti- modern figure prominently in the work with influences including Artaud, Darwin, Hegel and Spinoza.

His drawing has continued to this day, marked by an exhibition history that includes shows at Postmasters Gallery (1985), NY, the 49th Parallel (1986), NY, Cold City Gallery (1987), Toronto, the Evelyn Aimis Gallery (1989), Toronto, and many group exhibitions including "Heavy Mental", curated by Philip Monk at The Power Plant (1996), Toronto. A touring survey exhibition, "Hegel's Salt Man", with work from 1972-2007 was curated by Rosemary Heather for the Doris McCarthy Art Gallery, University of Toronto (2007). His work is in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada amongst many others. This is Ron Giii's seventh exhibition with Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

"She Was Full Of Moonlight" is presented in the memory of June Gillespie, Ron's mother, who passed away last year. Ron writes:

"A tight reading as each character performs it's loss of body then accelerates through time without a structure and is lost except for a small love of a woman gone from my life who filters my soul like a piano piece."


Wren Jackson writes:

"New works on paper by Ron Giii are gold-hued shadow-like figures on a black ground. Like previous drawings, these silhouettes embody both human achievement and tragedy, contrasting a philosophical eloquence with the overt physicality of human suffering. First hand experience during time spent in Africa and portrayals in the news media inform Giii's work, which has the dissonant flow of outsider art, while engaging contemporary art's socially based themes.

"These shadow figures seem to act as visualizations of the distance between our reading of events and their actuality. The news media is a filter through which we can feel that we participate in a global community, without getting our hands dirty. In these drawings, tender and fragile, each slight body establishes its definitive place, despite layer upon layer of mediating forces."


Here are a few varied writings on Giii's work:


Andrew Cecil:

"In his various bodies of work on paper, Ron Giii sometimes employs classical lines from DaVinci, the Modernist tropes of Miro, and like Picasso, he can be inspired by African tribal masks for their unique spacial metaphors. There is a sense of playfulness and childlike wonderment that also echo the later works of Picasso.

"Because of its complex aesthetic simplicity, the work is met with the persistent opinion that a child is capable of producing this imagery. This can be easily ignored by the fact that the artist has been producing a consistent stream of these images for over thirty years. While a child's drawing will change as they age, Giii's works retain their innocence and vulnerability.

"It is this sweetness that charms the viewer into developing a relationship to the work long enough for them to notice the specific titles of each piece, usually written without regard for correctness, that challenge the viewer to think about more than just aesthetics. As Giii would say, "thoughts get in the way of money making,"and it is this anti-commercial approach that critiques the contemporary trend toward Pop art. His work consistently comments upon the art bourgeois and the production of taste, the ?belt of banality,' mass production and the age of the cultural vacuum.

"While many artists are known for producing work that focus on (or from) their own identity, Giii focusses on our identities, group behaviour, the ego alone in the social world, the ?untruth of identity,' the image of man, and the world as a mirror. Giii's world mirror reflects political, artistic, scientific, and religious movements, the return of the anti-conscious, mathematics, geometry, poverty, war, genocide and apartheid. It is Giii's inherent generosity of spirit and altruism, being inspired by thinkers like Adorno, Wittgenstein, Coltrane, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Hegel, Artaud, Bacon, Baudrillard, and Heideggerfear, that illuminate a non-contemporary view on violence, difficulty, music, historical power, myth as power, sensuality, comedy, language, architecture, mental illness, and the problems with formalism.

"Looking at his drawing is like peering into the dark, a soft melancholy beyond the veil of peace, a tragic comedy born of a natural flow of knowledge. There is a non-verbal relationship between the viewer and the work that grows stronger with each glance, and as with each new body of work, he continues a fresh experimental approach that can only be fully understood by an informed audience of his practice, while enriching the established relationship. And like any strong relationship, we must have patience and imagination to appreciate it to its fullest." A.C. 2010


Gary Michael Dault:

"His figures, most of which are tiny, gaze out at you with staring, troubled eyes. Radically isolated deep within the white fields of his sheets of paper, their bodies are made up either of loopy maelstroms of pale coloured pencil or flesh-coloured crayon, or excremental smears of brown and black ? graphic agitations in which thses inescapable eyes are the only still points.

"For Ron Giii (né Gillespie), these miniscule figures are the players in an extended, ongoing drama ? or perhaps opera would be more accurate (there are bodies of work with overall titles like The Atomic Theatre and The Dictator's Opera) ? in which these strange, compelling little personages act out the Toronto-based artist's ideas and obsessions. Giii, whose writing is every bit as poetic as his art, had this to say about his drawings way back in 1986, for an exhibition in New York: "The power in drawing is like a magnetic cloud that floats just above your head as you search for that magical smile or attractive colour that meets the needs of the picture. Each close shave with disaster is like walking a tightrope: the end is in sight yet you are walking in the dark and you cannot see where you have come from.?

"Giii's drawings are, in a sense, extensions of the work he did as a performance artist in the 1970's and 80's. As such, they act out in the way Giii himself has. "The sense of timing [in drawing] was so different from what I had experienced in performance work,"the artist has written, "that it was like entering a new dimension where a field of golden eyes could become a vapour or a gas with no earthly connection?

"This kind of explication may not be very helpful in unlocking Giii's meaning, but it does get you into the man's sensibility ? which is rare, strange, and deeply original.

"Giii's figures all seem initially to be trying to escape, to fly their bonds. Their failure to do so, and their apparent resignation in the face of entrapment, is both mordantly funny and, in the end, deeply and distressingly touching.

(from The Globe and Mail, 2001)


Oliver Girling:

Rauschenberg once said of his "Combine"pieces that they were invitations to look away from the artwork, at something or anything in the gallery other than the wild chaos of his assemblage. Gillespie invites us to think away, using an opposite strategy: all his heads are stylized and simplified, so that the artist gains access to a wide range of subjects under the imprint of this hierarchic human presence. Zoological, geometric, pathological, the faces are sometimes those of Gericault's asylum inmates, but also by turns eager and gormless, idiots savant and Savonarola. (2006)


Rosemary Heather:

"Things change. A banal metaphysical statement worth reflecting on. This is especially true if you have the materials at hand to give substance to the idea. The work Ron Giii has made over the course of thirty-five years provides the perfect vessel for these considerations; in Giii's oeuvre you can see what changes and what stays the same, much as you can in a biological body over time. This is also to say that art provides an excellent answer to the question, Where are we?

"If you ask Giii, the continuities that both defy and define the present are "the antimatter of materials that exist in an unknown dimension called invisibility."Even in this fragment from the artist's writings there is so much to discuss, as in his work as a whole: mine deep and you will discover riches."

(from the catalogue "Ron Giii: Hegel's Salt Man", a survey exhibition, The Doris McCarthy Art Gallery, U of T, Toronto, 2007)


Eli Langer:

"The drawn figure looks like a gas, a cloudy atomic substance without solids or a body as a diffusion of particles; anyway, it is all light. Hovering there, a gently grinning and benevolent face in pencil and paint-fuzz and blur laughing laughter, a character performing his atomic theatre.

"The art of Ron Giii in its invisibility assumes the invisibility of the mental patient, whom capitalism judges to be non-contributive to the accumulation of society's wealth. The artist and the person who is not performing in the marketplace are floating unconnected, while judicial law, commodity and capital gain are stuck recycling the value-based economy of gross consumption and acquisitions and getting Darwin wrong. On Ron Giii street, word is Darwin was not about the survival of the fittest. Darwin illuminated the unity of life's origin and the branching connectivity and continuity of all life, but the church and its division cannot agree.

"The tranquility of the peaceful human face in art is sublime and perverse. It is an ironic social action when Giii creates a composition with living eyes."

(from the catalogue "Ron Giii: Hegel's Salt Man", a survey exhibition, The Doris McCarthy Art Gallery, U of T, Toronto, 2007)


Ann MacDonald:

"In performance, film, drawing and written word, Giii sets up interactions that are at once contemplative and dynamic. Giii'sworks, though often delicately rendered, assert their presence and offer the viewer an opportunity to engage with brave otherworldly characters that live out the drama of the human condition in a land of phantasmic abstraction.

"...Ron Giii, a brilliant and gentle man whose works continue to invite viewers into a realm that liberates imagination and broadens perception."

(from the preface to "Ron Giii: Hegel's Salt Man", a survey exhibition, The Doris McCarthy Art Gallery, U of T, Toronto, 2007)


Amerigo Marras:

Ron Giii is always preoccupied with the ontological problem of evolution and with its immediacy. The evolution of the scientific paradigm assumes a central position in his thinking, as a complete fusion of the discoveries in biology, natural science, chemistry, physics, classical philosophy, and religion. His main points support a theoretical framework whose biological-cultural character takes its cue in the evolution theories elaborated by O. Wilson or C. Darwin, but develop according to his own totally original and personal articulation.

"Joseph Beuys and Ron Giii, two parallel personages, who met in 1977 at Kassel during the season of the Free International University at Documenta, and due too distance separated by the time and activities of their varied generations and histories, spoke both of the modern ?Lichtung', and of the crossroads where new cultures take shape. In Beuys is to be found a well known and developed didactic in the sphere of self-actualisation, while in Ron Giii it is more anomalous and seemingly violent. The radical Beuys exploits the exalted dimension of the symbolist aesthetics of "gesture and action?. Bachelard has already explained the difference between "act"and "action"and their varying degrees of value. For Ron Giii it is the "act"that has value as a possible modifying critique. During that self exalted stage at the Free International University, the exchange of saliva across the mouth in the kiss that Beuys gave as a biological "souvenir"to each of us, individually hostile but united as a group, connect well with the genetic exchanges, the bodily fluids that were offered during the performance of Ron Giii and the CEAC on other occasions, anticipating in his millenary evolving dimension the contemporary preoccupation with the epidemiological perils.

"If both these artists share the anthropological and biological concept as a political force, it is Ron Giii who is closer to the state of nature in his works. If the first speaks of behaviour and violence, it is Ron Giii in following the exalted model, which cancels out the difference between cultural product and subject that he has carried out: work and personage are equivalents."

(from "The Speed of the Univerise", 1999)


Andrew James Paterson:

"Hegel's Salt Man"may or may not be a skeletal little man who resembles a salt shaker with pointy arms and legs. Ron Giii's drawings and oil-stick paintings do their fair share of shaking, as well as pointing and other manifestations of gesturing.

But "Hegel's Salt Man"is definitely the title of a wonderful survey of the artist's 35 years of drawing, painting, writing and performance. In the excellent catalogue curator Rosemary Heather observes that "Giii's work presents itself at the place where the invisible meets the visible."Frontal-figurative drawings are one such meeting place, and another site is theatre and/or the theatrical. The exhibition runs the gamut from Giii's art school drawings, in which a performative body is twisting and being twisted by geometric patterns and obstacles, through his Atomic Theatre drawings of the 1980s, and up to recent works essaying the war in Afghanistan, the political theatre of the Middle East and the 21st century in which Frankfurt School dialectics have long become a ghost in the machine of an ongoing, mind-numbing spectacle.

His proto-geometric drawing of the 1970s aside, Giii was primarily a performance artist during that decade. He was a principal player with the Kensington Arts Association, which evolved into the Centre for Experimental Arts and Communications or CEAC. He was the ringleader of a performance ensemble calling itself SHITBANDIT. This exhibition displays a considerable collection of performance-related ephemera, although performance documentation is largely missing in action. (That would constitute another fascinating exhibition.) Giii's performances confronted rather then conventionally entertained or placated audiences. Although Giii subsequently moved away from performing with his body in the 1980s, a performative focus remains central to his drawings and paintings. So does confrontation, although it has become less aggressive and more playful.

A typical Giii drawing features a stick-like figure (an animation?) either literally negotiating geometrically defined space or centred on pure, abstract paper. Utilizing this template, Giii nevertheless achieves a considerable variety of proscenium bodies admonishing and cajoling viewers. An untitled grouping of drawings on one of the gallery's walls showcases this versatility. Masters of ceremonies, with slight but significant facial or costume variations, form a chorus line. Benjamin and Adorno goose-step side by side. Precariously installed Afghan president Hamid Karzai is precariously balanced?his headgear could be removed or fall off at any moment. These letter-sized drawings present the figure on and against plain paper, but the background is still geometric. When Ron Gillespie became General Giii, the three vowels of his adopted name were intended to represent Iran, Iraq and Israel. That is an all-pervading and non-negotiable triangle if ever there was one.

Another key inclusion in this captivating survey is a selection of Giii's writings, as writing has always been a core element of the artist's practice. The writings are another example of the visible meeting the invisible or the impenetrably abstract. Ron Giii has never been afraid of oratory or anything declarative. "Hegel's Salt Man"is a well-installed interdisciplinary exhibition by an intriguing transdisciplinary artist.

(review of "Ron Giii: Hegel's Salt Man" for Canadian Art magazine, 2007)


Paul Petro:

"I remember when Richard Rhodes organized an exhibition of Ron Giii's works on paper in 1987 at the Cold City Gallery in Toronto. He had seen "The Atomic Theatre" and "The Dictator's Opera" in New York at the 49th Parallel in a show organized by France Morin in 1986. Some of these works had been shown the year before at Postmasters, also in New York. Following the Cold City show I acquired "Mathematicus" from The Dictator's Opera (included in the current show) at their annual Christmas group exhibition. It was my first acquisition that resulted from a purchase rather than a trade or a gift and brought the stake in my personal art collecting to a new level.

"At the same time I was working in Yorkville as director of the Evelyn Aimis Gallery. Mimmo Paladino was on the roster of international artists showing at the time. Works by Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi and Sandro Chia also passed through the gallery and a keen familiarity with their material properties, in addition to an understanding of their connections with Achille Bonito Oliva's "Transavantgardia" (1980), ensued. It had been three or four years since "The European Iceberg" group exhibition had been mounted at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This show included many Italian and German artists, Paladino being among them.

"I searched out Ron and his work in the following year, 1988. He had just completed a body of work that he called "The Gas Works" and invited me over to meet him and have a look. Back from New York, he was house-sitting a friend's townhome nearby at Adelaide St West and Strachan. He unrolled the works and they emitted an acrid plume of I-don't-know-what that caused my eyes to tear. The works were made up of a combination of materials including varsol, shoe polish, molasses and oil. They were 43 x 29 inch vertical works each with a single floating head in the upper middle section of the paper on an amorphous cloud-like ground. He had saturated the paper with vegetable oil before the application and dispersion of the other media. They were portraits of the artist's friend after forty shock therapy treatments. I selected a few of the works for a group exhibition I was organizing and calling "Body Is A Loaded Word".

"Over the next few years I would show four additional bodies of work, including a full presentation of "The Gas Works", "The Bourgeois Opera", "The Anti-Conscious" and "The Geometry Shop". I became Leo Castelli to his Uncle Ron (or Johnny Pizza, as the case would be) and our conversations were unlike any other. The war in the Gulf Islands happened some months after the making of "The Gas Works" and became a post-script to the Persian titles he had given the works. I discovered a level of prescience to so much of his work and this idea became manifest in the words he associated with them, in many cases written down on the work itself as a title.

"Ron's performance work in the 1970's, during and following his schooling at the Ontario College of Art (1972-75) set the stage for his drawing. Ron talks about the "transparent laws of geometry" which inform the compositions his figures inhabit. This architecture finds its roots in the spontaneous activity of theatre, in the false prosceniums which frame the figures in his current work, and in the sets his figures inhabit in "The Atomic Theatre". Ron offers the following equation, " geometry and theatre equals time and chemical space"." An interest in developmental biology further informs the work ? DNA theories and genetic evolution. Ron says that "at a cellular level there are molecules which behave in a very specific way, and this behavior became better understood when gene theory reached a certain level. And with AIDS it became politicized." He refers to the lone figure in his work and the predicament of the outsider, who "has no way of speaking out in his or her language without causing problems with the State", at which point he mentions China, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and totalitarian fundamentalism. He states that in 1984 "we were looking at the antics, the shape of terrorism" and he mentions the group exhibition at Postmasters in 1985 where "The Atomic Theatre" works were first shown. He also mentions the return to fascism and the rise of Reagan. It was in the early 1980's that he adopted the surname Giii, to replace the last name Gillespie, explaining that the three i's stood for Iran, Iraq and Israel.

"Born in 1944 in Westminster, BC, Ron received his earliest schooling in art in Nairobi (1960-62) where his father, a member of the diplomatic core, was then stationed. The influence of African tribal art is a good starting point when exploring the connections between Ron Giii and Mimmo Paladino's work and is apparent in the faces that proliferate in their respective works. In the case of each of these artists the faces are mask-like and the impulse is to find out what is behind these formal surfaces.

"With Paladino we encounter imagery steeped in Christianity and Classical mythology, figurative and allegorical, with dominant themes of death and sacrifice. Rather than articulating a theological, mystical or spiritual position Ron's works are deeply philosophical and humanistic. Ron cites influences which include Artaud, Darwin, Hegel, Schwarzkogler, Spinoza and the Frankfurt School, in particular Walter Benjamin. Ron reads the London Economist and the New York Times. The work is non-gendered, existing outside of meaning and representation. Ron says that "getting involved with meaning" is trouble. The simplicity in his work portrays the artist as looking to simplify himself.

"The formal attributes that Ron Giii and Mimmo Paladino share in their work ultimately reveal the vast extent to which they differ. The differences become amplified upon extended viewing. The three years between Ron's performance work and the arrival at "The Atomic Theatre" was a period of experimental drawing that landed him in a "journey through space and time with no beginning and no end." His reading of Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols at this time led Ron to "(feel) for the first time that notion of the 'eternal recurrence' which had evaded my art thus far. The faces in "The Atomic Theatre" smiled like human beings yet they would disappear just when I was on the verge of understanding their emotions. I realized that my drawings were laughing and hiding from me as if they had their own reality. This discovery became the central focus of the work; as each drawing possessed another layer which extended beyond my normal perception of reality. This key moment, when a sign becomes both real and unreal in the same split second, was my introduction to the world of the 'eternal recurrence'."

"These words, originally published to accompany the exhibition of "The Atomic Theatre" in 1986 at the 49th Parallel in New York, have carried forward with each consecutive body of drawing that Ron has produced over the last twenty-two years. They stand as some of the most significant words on drawing by an artist. In a separate room to the current exhibition twelve new works have been installed. Following the Evelyn Aimis years and a group exhibition called Heavy Mental, curated by Philip Monk in 1993 at the Power Plant, Toronto, Ron's work has appeared in many group shows and has shown four times in recent years at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. In 1996 the National Gallery of Canada acquired and exhibited fifteen works from The Atomic Theatre.

In 2003 Ron produced and exhibited a body of new work he called "The Dreamer". When asked why he chose that title he said, simply, that "dreamers never give up".

He telephoned the other day and said, with excitement, that he had "finished another one", at which point he hopped on a bus and headed to the gallery. Labour was rewarded, the years fell away and, well, the feeling was atomic.

Paul Petro, January 10, 2006