Charles Gaines is a Los Angeles based artist and lecturer who applies systematic and rule-based methods to his unique artistic practice. Gaines’ first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom is currently on view at Hauser & Wirth in London. Due to the ongoing global crisis, Gaines’ show is limited to online viewing. However, it should not be overlooked, as it confronts ideas of race and identity, and raises questions surrounding representation. Across Hauser & Wirth’s galleries on Savile Row are continuations of two ongoing series: ’Numbers & Faces: MultiRacial/Ethnic Combination Series 1’ (1978-) and ‘Numbers & Trees: London Series 1’ (1986-). Gaines’ artistic approach sees systematic colouring combined with overlapping images within a sequenced grid.
Gaines’ ‘Numbers & Faces Series’ examines ideologies of representation, and more specifically, the political and cultural implications that mould our understanding of mixed heritage. For this series, Gaines searched for individuals who identify as multi-racial or multi-ethnic and invited them to participate as the subject of his work. Diversity, as an artistic concept, addresses misrepresentations and racial biases. The calculated and meticulous process of arranging monochrome photographs of the participants within a numbered grid system proposes an analytical understanding of individuality and the arbitrary nature of representation. Each face is assigned two colours. One for the contours of the face and the other for the space in-between these contours, which are then layered overtime. Throughout the layering process, colours of the faces begin to merge, producing different patterns and effects which dynamically and formally play out relationships between the general structure of faces, and the detailed differences of individuality. The result is a visual tension that evokes the complex conversations surrounding race. This series is intended to be both objective and subjective. Faces, as graphic icons, are identifiable and met with certainty. The titles of the works, such as ‘Face #8: Joe Lewis (Afro-Caribbean/ Scotch-Irish/ Native American)’ and ‘Face #10: Julia Bianco (Italian/ Middle-eastern/ Brazilian)’, assert mixed descent. From this, individual viewing and readings of identity turn personal. The viewer is confronted with the unique and inherent definitions of racial and biological representation, and asked to consider their own innate biases while witnessing the multifaceted layers of identification presented within Gaines’ work.
The ongoing ‘Numbers and Trees’ series is constructed with the same systematic approach. Gaines’ interest lies within the immense formation and foundation of trees as objects, which translates into the large-scale that he intended to work with. During a visit to Dorset, England in 2020, Gaines photographed the trees that he later printed as large monochrome photographs, which were placed on the back plexiglass panel of these works. The monochrome photographs reflect the individual details and formation of the trees. Gaines assigns a specific colour to each tree, arranged in a numbered grid system. Each work is then overlapped, where the specific and conflicting forms of the trees come to fruition. Gaines clarifies that the final product of these works is more clearly understood as a system, rather than images of trees: a network of evolution that is not the product of artistic intention, but the natural result of a systematic process. Gaines’ complex grid methodology serves as an organisational tool for observing the various forms and impermanence that biological randomness assigns to natural objects, such as trees and faces. The overlapping process, employed in both series, unifies the detailed and formal differences between each original photograph. What is then produced demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the systematic process, and its relationship with the object being represented—a system that parallels mutation and transience.
Gaines’ exhibition at Hauser & Wirth encompasses themes of race and identity. It underscores the notion that humans and objects are products defined by evolution, and are susceptible to transformation. Gaines utilises the grid as a constructive tool to interrogate race as an ideological construct, and demonstrates how generalised forms undergo a process of unification when met by others. His work encourages a critical observation of the entanglements of representation through a calculated system of understanding, confronting cultural shifts and their influence on political ideologies. Gaines maps out abstract concepts of self-placement through a gridded system to engage the viewer in conversation on the varying layers of identity.