Book Review: Max Gimblett Workspace Photography

By Peter Simpson

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Max Gimblett Workspace Photography by John Savage, essay by Jenni Quilter
Charta Books $49.95

Artist Max Gimblett was wise to allow Savage and Quilter into his workspace. Photo / Supplied
Artist Max Gimblett was wise to allow Savage and Quilter into his workspace. Photo / Supplied

The literature on Max Gimblett and his art is already quite extensive but this elegant book, printed in Italy, is a welcome addition, focussing as it does on the artist in his studio as documented in word and image by photographer John Savage and writer Jenni Quilter.

Both, like Gimblett himself, are New Zealanders with US connections. Savage is Auckland-based but several of his photographic projects have involved America, including "Long Live the King", which celebrates the Elvis Presley "Death Week" in Memphis, and "Land of the Free" which documents journeys through the States. Jenni Quilter, a graduate of the University of Auckland, teaches writing at New York University where she also writes and prints limited edition books under the imprint: (picnic, lightning) press.

Since 1974 Max Gimblett has lived and worked on the street known as The Bowery on the Lower East Side of New York City, an area once famous for its down-and-outs ("the Bowery bums") but which now is dominated by establishments selling restaurant equipment.

Gimblett's studio (and apartment) occupies the third floor of a five-storey industrial building next door to The New Museum, an architecturally spectacular building which climbs into the sky like a crazy tower of children's blocks.

Apart from one outdoor shot (and a few which connect with Gimblett's activities in New Zealand, such as a visit to his old prep school), Savage's excellent colour photographs focus on what goes on inside the studio - everything from colourful splatters of paint on the floor, to buckets of paint piled up and drawers of Chinese brushes, to the little Buddhist shrine which overlooks all.

There are plenty of shots of Gimblett at work - contemplating a giant white quatrefoil (his signature support) with a long-handled roller, pouring gold paint from pail to pail, or poised before a blank sheet of white paper, ink-laden brush in hand, about to execute one of his instantaneous Sumi drawings - but the studio itself, the "workspace", its walls, windows, racks, cabinets, unfinished paintings, ever-changing light, is the real star of the show.

Quilter's essay is one of the best things ever written about Gimblett and his work. She is extraordinarily informative about his routines and practices - how he organises his day, how he manages his staff of helpers, how the complexly layered paintings actually get made, how the big open studio works - and she writes exceptionally well, as the following random sample suggests: "I need to sit until I relax, until it's not a task or test. Then the world narrows and deepens and whatever I did that day is put aside in order to pick up what is in front of me. It all feels simpler. The colour becomes emotional. My own mind quietens, and slowly I have the sensation that I have stepped out on to a plain..."

The faith Gimblett showed in admitting Savage and Quilter into his inner sanctum is well justified by the absorbing and lovely outcome.

- NZ Herald

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