I wanted to focus here on a work by Neil Gall, ‘Unable to Separate their Identities’ (2008), because it probes the dichotomy between different types of making. It appeared in an exhibition I co-curated with Stephen Feeke, ‘Undone: Making and Un-making in Contemporary Sculpture’ (Henry Moore Institute, 30th September 2010 – 2nd January 2011), which examined sculpture through the prism of making and materials. The show looked at works which were made by hand using everyday materials and ad-hoc craft techniques. The works retained an air of spontaneity and improvisation – an elusive, intoxicating freshness, contingent on provisionality – but, as a corollary, they were not predicated generally on specialist technical skill.
Amongst these objects, Neil Gall’s ‘Unable to Separate their Identities’ was something of an imposter. It appears as an assemblage of ping pong balls bound together with yellow duck tape. In fact, it is a detailed resin cast of such an assemblage, painted meticulously by the artist. Gall identifies himself primarily as a painter. He makes sculptural constructions from discarded rubbish at his kitchen table in a swift, experimental and spontaneous way. He then uses them as models for his paintings, photographing them, and recreating them with extraordinary accuracy over the course of several months. ‘Unable to separate….’ is a development of this process: it is a highly-detailed model, cast in resin and coloured in minute detail by the artist, which serves as a three-dimensional painting. It is almost indistinguishable from the original construction – unless you were able to pick it up when its substantial weight would come as a surprise.
Gall regards the original constructive process as highly creative – ‘the object being made in the everyday rather than the rarefied atmosphere of the studio somehow releases the unconscious, it frees me up, gives me the ability to make something nonsensical’ – but he has never, to this point, considered or shown his ad-hoc objects as finished works. The planning, the patience, the hard labour and not least the professional, technical skill required to translate them into paintings (whether in two or three dimensions) seem to be equally necessary to his practice. By these means, he transforms playful constructions into something heavier both physically and conceptually. Like an ambitious alchemist, a master of the dark arts, he attempts to capture and make permanent a provisional act. He embraces the sinister undertones of such petrification, creating an ‘unnatural’ object which is the exact opposite of what it seems.