Cy Gavin | David Zwirner
A detail from a red painting by Cy Gavin title to be confirmed, dated 2021

Cy Gavin

Essay by Hilton Als


Some time ago, I would read and reread Barbara Novak. Novak is, of course, the great Americanist, author of a number of seminal books on nineteenth-century art with a special focus on American landscape painting. In works such as 1980’s Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875, Novak introduced me to transcendental masters such as Thomas Cole, and Frederic Edwin Church, and Fitz H. Lane—artists who hadn’t had much critical exposure before Novak gave them a frame.

 


Prior to that, American landscape painting was largely marginalized; indeed, even as late as 2000, few European collections contained works by nineteenth-century American artists, let alone the transcendentalists; there was always Caspar David Friedrich, but next to no Albert Bierstadt. Presumably The Earth and its surrounding energy and force was different in the former colonies. Standing in front of great works with Novak’s book in hand (or in my head), I studied the Hudson River School and read transcendentalist writers such as Emerson and Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, too—creators who all shared a common belief: that God was nature, and nature, God.

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Image: Cy Gavin, Untitled (Beaver Dam), 2021 (detail)

Dates
November 23December 17, 2021
Artist
Cy Gavin
An installation view of an exhibition titled Cy Gavin at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled Cy Gavin at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled Cy Gavin at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

“Gavin’s canvases reimagine the encounter with the sublime as a transhistorical reckoning; here, the links between scenic possession, vision and progress are dimmed. What emerges within the shadows is the whole alluvium deposited by a colonial past that we, in its presence, are incapable of not seeing.”

—Shiv Kotecha, Frieze Magazine, 2019

A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Beaver Dam), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Beaver Dam), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
86 5/8 x 180 3/8 inches (220 x 458 cm)

Cy Gavin’s monumental paintings feature potent landscapes that serve as conduits for larger themes, including race, memory, and the possibilities of the medium of painting itself.

Made during the period of lockdown and civil unrest in America, the paintings in this exhibition largely depict Gavin’s immediate surroundings and his property in upstate New York.

A detail from a painting by Cy Gavin titled Untitled (Small Island), dated 2021
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Small Island), 2021 (detail)
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Small Island), 2021 (detail)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Small Island), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Small Island), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
90 1/8 x 78 7/8 inches (229 x 200.5 cm)
A detail from a painting by Cy Gavin titled Untitled (Roadside trees, brush-hogged), dated 2021
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Roadside trees, brush-hogged), 2021 (detail)
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Roadside trees, brush-hogged), 2021 (detail)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Roadside trees, brush-hogged), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Roadside trees, brush-hogged), 2021
Acrylic and vinyl on canvas
88 1/4 x 88 7/8 inches (224 x 226 cm)

“I consider these towering masterworks to be what one might call contemporary transcendentalism, which is to say the tumult of the world, of the skies, is part of the energy of the pieces, an energy that propels us forward, toward the paintings, and as we’re pulled toward them, we find—delight in—how we can’t push back against them, no matter how far we stand away from them.”

—Hilton Als, “Cy Gavin’s River of Transcendence,” 2021

A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Clove), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Clove), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
88 5/8 x 135 5/8 inches (225 x 344.5 cm)

“[Gavin] has been consumed with all of the vexing questions that have arisen during the pandemic urban exodus to rural spaces like Upstate New York.… These paintings emerged as he’s wrestled personally with fundamental questions about land ownership and citizenship.”

—Andrew Travers, 2021

A detail from a painting by Cy Gavin titled Untitled (Clove), dated 2021
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Clove), 2021 (detail)
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Clove), 2021 (detail)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Wave, blue), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Wave, blue), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
91 1/2 x 90 1/2 inches (232.5 x 230 cm)
A detail from a painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Wave, blue), dated 2021
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Wave, blue), 2021 (detail)
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Wave, blue), 2021 (detail)
An installation view of a painting by Cy Gavin titled Untitled , dated 2021

Cy Gavin

Untitled, 2021
Acrylic on canvas
89 1/8 x 88 1/4 inches (226.5 x 224 cm)
An installation view of an exhibition titled Cy Gavin at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

“Gavin paints ragged landscapes in saturated colors, terrains that seem scarred by craters and fissures, and which often have a vaguely industrial feel. The earth appears open, evoking layers of the past, as if dense with data of local and global history.”

—Sabine Russ, BOMB Magazine, 2018

A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Stars), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Stars), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and ink on canvas
134 1/4 x 371 1/8 inches (341 x 942.5 cm)

In one group of paintings, Gavin expands upon his long-standing interest in the illusory nature of color. Working upstate, he began to notice how at dusk certain colors would intensify and others would recede and wanted to replicate in his paintings the way in which the eye receives and mixes color.

A detail from a painting by Cy Gavin, called Untitled (Stars), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin, Untitled (Stars), 2021 (detail)

Cy Gavin, Untitled (Stars), 2021 (detail)

A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Border: blackhaw viburnum & multiflora rose), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Border: blackhaw viburnum & multiflora rose), 2021
Acrylic and vinyl on canvas
93 1/8 x 139 1/8 inches (236.5 x 353.5 cm)

“In the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly fascinated by an optical phenomenon called the Purkinje Shift.… As light levels decrease, the human eye shifts in dominance to the blue end of the visible spectrum.… The lack of color information making its way to our brains should not be mistaken for a lack of color in our darkened environment.”

—Cy Gavin, “A New Way of Seeing,” 2020

A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Moon), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Moon), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and gesso on canvas
90 1/8 x 82 5/8 inches (229 x 210 cm)

“The changing political landscapes that redefine citizenship underlie the exhibition. By connecting concepts of land ownership with the articulation of power within societies, Gavin questions how our surroundings are subject to definition or privatization, ultimately leading to the problematics of identifying a unilateral history in the present.”

—Saim Demircan, Aspen Art Museum, 2021

A detail from a painting by Cy Gavin titled Untitled (Moon), 2021
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Moon), 2021 (detail)
Cy Gavin, Untitled (Moon), 2021 (detail)

“Gavin’s flowers, his trees along with his stars and sky: all are elements in our increasingly science fiction world where, despite the ultimately crippling and alienating effects of global warming and splinter, flowers still continue to grow and grow, especially in the light of the artist’s view toward transcendence.”

—Hilton Als, “Cy Gavin’s River of Transcendence,” 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled Cy Gavin at David Zwirner, London, in 2021.

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Installation view, Cy Gavin, David Zwirner, London, 2021

Inquire about works by Cy Gavin

A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Beaver Dam), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Beaver Dam), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
86 5/8 x 180 3/8 inches (220 x 458 cm)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Small Island), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Small Island), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
90 1/8 x 78 7/8 inches (229 x 200.5 cm)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Roadside trees, brush-hogged), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Roadside trees, brush-hogged), 2021
Acrylic and vinyl on canvas
88 1/4 x 88 7/8 inches (224 x 226 cm)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Clove), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Clove), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
88 5/8 x 135 5/8 inches (225 x 344.5 cm)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Wave, blue), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Wave, blue), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and chalk on canvas
91 1/2 x 90 1/2 inches (232.5 x 230 cm)
An installation view of a painting by Cy Gavin titled Untitled , dated 2021

Cy Gavin

Untitled, 2021
Acrylic on canvas
89 1/8 x 88 1/4 inches (226.5 x 224 cm)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Stars), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Stars), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and ink on canvas
134 1/4 x 371 1/8 inches (341 x 942.5 cm)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Border: blackhaw viburnum & multiflora rose), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Border: blackhaw viburnum & multiflora rose), 2021
Acrylic and vinyl on canvas
93 1/8 x 139 1/8 inches (236.5 x 353.5 cm)
A painting by Cy Gavin, titled Untitled (Moon), dated 2021.

Cy Gavin

Untitled (Moon), 2021
Acrylic, vinyl, and gesso on canvas
90 1/8 x 82 5/8 inches (229 x 210 cm)

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