By Christopher Harrity
Originally published on Advocate.com October 29 2011 4:00 AM ET
E. Gibbons has been working in the figurative mode since 1988, though his style moved away from a Matisse-like, pop-influenced style to his current, more neoclassical approach after a summer in Paris in 2004.
Since then, Gibbons has become known for his monochromatic oil paintings of the figure. Though he has a large portfolio of both male and female subjects, he has become more widely known and published for his classical works of male figures. His work can be seen in such books as 100 Artists of the Male Figure, Powerfully Beautiful, The Oil Paintings of E. Gibbons, and the premier edition of the quarterly journal, The Art of Man.
Gibbons is currently exhibited in six U.S. galleries, including the Artful Deposit of Bordentown N.J.; Lyman-Eyer of Provinceton, Maine; Rodger Lapelle of Philadelphia, Penn.; PHD Gallery of St. Louis, Mo.; Ellen Charapko Gallery of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and J&W Gallery of New Hope, Penn. He has been included in shows in London, Puerto Vallarta, Osaka, and Egypt’s American Conciliate of Alexandria. His work titled A New Hope was donated to the Obama White House shortly after the inauguration.
This multifaceted artist is also a certified art teacher, Staples Invention Contest finalist, author of several books, composer of works for classical piano, and considered an origami master in some circles.
Why are you an artist?
I was raised in a poor family where crayons and butcher paper were my toys. Art was encouraged and it was an area I could shine and be noticed. Their are three generations of artists in my family, including my great grandmother who painted until she was 102.
What catches your eye?
Currently, it's the male figure in fine art. My trip to Paris in 2004 cemented this love while spending hours in the Louvre and other museums. I was brought to tears on a couple occasions, and thought, My paintings need to grab people like the works of these masters. My style changed to what you see now. I have a passion for bringing balance to the genre of the male figure that is so overwhelmed by the female figure these last 100 years.
Tell us about your process or techniques.
I work from live models who visit my studio. I sketch and draw while they are there and take back up photos to complete the work in my studio. I work in black and white by accident. I use to work in acrylics, and a friend suggested I switch to oils and said I should start with black and white to learn to push the medium. I did, but I found I like how the work read like sculpture, vintage photography, and as a painting all at once. My joke to studio visitors is that "monochromatic work always goes with the couch." That said, I do work in color from time to time by adding glazes on top of my black and white work.
How do you choose your subjects?
I am happy to paint anyone or anything. I enjoy the zen-like process. I can paint for hours and not know time has passed. I must admit though, I have enjoyed painting beautiful male figures. I grew up, I feel, as an unattractive person. I paint figures that are somehow beyond my reach. I admire their natural beauty. My process is, in some way, creating a relationship I cannot consummate. I admire from afar, creating a work of art that is perhaps a kind of love poem. This subconscious feeling I have comes through the work, giving it a heightened sense of sensuality without becoming erotic.
How do you describe your work?
I would classify my work as Contemporary Neo-Classical. The work is often highly organized around geometrical principals, and have many layers of meaning.
What artists do you take inspiration from and why?
My inspirations are varied: Hokusai for composition, Matisse for loose line quality, Ingres for subject matter, Jacque L. David for drama, and maybe a pinch of Warhol for my modular approach to the figures in my Box Series.
How did you decide on the convention of the boxed figures?
The box became a tool to force organization into my figures. My first work of this series was donated to the Leslie/Lohman foundation of New York, created in 2004. I was inspired by the work I saw in the Louvre, and sculptures placed in niches throughout the building. I liked how the hard lines of the alcove contrasted with the soft flesh of the sculptures placed within them. I thought too, my work would read as both painting and relief sculpture. The boxes allow me to compose my exhibitions. The meanings of the works can change based on their proximity to neighboring works. If a sleeping figure is next to one playing music, one may assume the sleeping figure has been lulled by a song to slumber... however if paired with a crying figure, the sleeping man may appear to be dead. The works are intended to be on their own, but I like the additional nuances that can be achieved through composition.
We love the age-range of the people in the paintings. Can you comment on that?
My diversity is purposeful. I want to represent as broad a population as possible. Though many of my male figures are youthful and attractive, that is sometimes a result of economics. They sell well. But I also enjoy painting older figures, younger ones, and am considering a series based on disabled veterans and people who are physically different, to explore other themes I have in mind. As these are less "salable," I work on them as I can in the hopes my work is noticed by a museum and I can afford to spend more time on additional concepts.