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RALPH GIBSON | EVOCATIVE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
March 6th 2020
American artist, Ralph Gibson is a widely recognised contemporary art photographer - his influential works shaped by a curiosity of the world around him. The artist’s monochrome photographs of mysterious and dreamlike moments represent allusive thoughts and desires; carefully composed and cropped in distinctive ways. Through his unique imagery, Gibson has helped define a surreal genre in art photography where, surprisingly, many of the stories are found outside the frames. With a career already in its sixth decade, Gibson shows no sign of retiring and continues to explore photography with his loyal companion, a Leica camera. Twenty years ago, Eyestorm was privileged to collaborate with Gibson on eight photographic editions.
by Henrik Riis
PRINT EDITION RELEASE
The first flirtatious moments of Ralph Gibson’s affair with photography started in 1956 at the age of seventeen, when he was a newly enrolled young man in the U.S. Navy. At the U.S. Naval Education and Training centre in Pensacola, Florida, he began his training as a photographer. Although he initially failed the class, he was readmitted, passed the course in his second attempt and got assigned to the survey vessel, the U.S.S Tanner, the following year. With seemingly infinite time available to him at sea, Gibson spent much of it in the ship’s darkroom, refining his skills. Gibson steadily rose in the opinions of his naval superiors and found his true passion in life: photography.

With his feet back on solid ground, the artist continued his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1961. Founded in 1871, the institution is one of the oldest art schools in America and renowned for its long list of successful students including Annie Leibovitz, famous for her engaging portrait photographs of celebrities, and sculptor, Paul McCarthy. Alongside his studies, Gibson worked as assistant to Dorothea Lange, then a faculty member of the art school and a well-respected documentary photographer. Gibson admired Lange’s dedication to her work and learned her success was built on the ability to tell a great story in a single frame.

The artist’s move to New York City came about rather suddenly in the mid-sixties, when Bruce Davidson, a prominent Magnum photographer, suggested that Gibson drive his van from L.A. back to New York. Once there, Gibson’s career started to take shape. The artist would fine-comb the streets of Manhattan with his Leica camera, documenting his environment in detail, finding beauty in object and form, and exploring the interaction between light and shadow - an abstract form of expression.
RALPH GIBSON
Bastienne's Eye (1987), 2001

Edition of 500
15(w) x 23(h) cm
5.91(w) x 9.25(h) inches
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Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)
15(w) x 23(h) cm
5.91(w) x 9.25(h) inches
Silver gelatin print

Signed and numbered in pencil on verso.
Edition of 500
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Gibson had grown up in Hollywood’s golden era in the forties and fifties and regularly went to visit the film-sets, where his father worked. The heavy white light from the colossal carbon arc lamps, used in the making of black and white movies, created a stark contrast between light and shadow. Subconsciously inspired from his days in the studios, Gibson always experimented with light in his works - intensifying it, casting deeper shadows and moving closer to his subject. With light and contrast he could remove unwanted information from the image and bring into focus what he believed was most important in the composition.

Whilst in New York, Davidson introduced Gibson to Magnum Photos - the world’s most prestigious photographic co-operative. Now part of Magnum, Gibson started doing commercial work for publications such as the New York Magazine, in order to pay his bills. But his finances were always tight, and at one point Gibson had to pawn his cameras as he was nine months behind in rent. Living in room 923 at the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street - the notorious home of Rock ’n Roll stars, poets and artists - and this didn’t come cheap for an emerging artist in his twenties. In late 1967, he met Robert Frank, the acclaimed French photographer behind the book The Americans (1958); a book portraying the post-war American society. It was as an assistant to Frank that Gibson realised that documentary photography and showing “other people’s world of reality” was not his calling.
RALPH GIBSON
Exlibris - Bach Sonate, 2001

Edition of 500
28(w) x 42(h) cm
11.02(w) x 16.73(h) inches
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Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)
28(w) x 42(h) cm
11.02(w) x 16.73(h) inches
Iris print on paper

Signed and numbered in pencil on verso.
Edition of 500
PRICE
$ 375.00
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During his three years at the Chelsea Hotel, Gibson had plenty of time to look at and examine his own photography; hanging them on the walls, sometimes starring at them for hours to find the little interesting details. He started to realise that a photograph’s narrative was outside the frame, rather than inside, and what the viewer couldn’t see was often more important than what was visible. This idea developed in the artist’s mind and practice and in 1970 it materialised through the publication of his first book The Somnambulist, meaning the ‘sleepwalker’. In the book he presented a series of black and white photos: a close-up of a hand with a fountain pen held against a backdrop of a sandy dune and a fluffy sky; a naked woman floating relaxed in a quiet lake at dawn; a half-open door being closed by a ghostly silhouette of a visible hand. The photos resembled images from a dream - tightly cropped and imperfectly informed.

Gibson’s surreal photography was getting noticed. Within five years, the artist would be represented by Leo Castelli, the legendary New York art dealer behind the discovery of Jasper Johns and Rob Rauchenberg, two of the major Pop artists of the sixties and seventies. On the West Coast a young man, new to the world of fine art, also had Gibson on his radar and was looking for an established artist for the first exhibition at his gallery in West Los Angeles. Ignoring traditional chains-of-command in the art world, he phoned Ralph Gibson directly and asked him if he would be interested. The gallerist’s name was Larry Gagosian.
RALPH GIBSON
Leda (1974), 2001

Edition of 300
94(w) x 62(h) cm
37.32(w) x 24.65(h) inches
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Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)

Leda (1974) , 2001

94(w) x 62(h) cm
37.32(w) x 24.65(h) inches
Iris print

Signed and numbered in pencil on front.
Edition of 300
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In the two books that followed The Somnambulist, Gibson continued to explore his dreamlike themes - the three publications later known collectively as ‘The Black Trilogy’. Days at Sea, published in 1974, explored themes of dreams and desires, bringing together a series of photographs which referenced his erotic fantasies from his time in the Navy. Gibson’s love for women and their beauty was a life-long fascination and from his early career he had photographed women in erotic and intriguing poses. One iconic photograph featured in Days at Sea was Leda (1974) - a close-up image, shot from behind, of a woman’s marble-white and smooth bottom, gently caressing herself with a feather between her thighs. In an effort to slow down the viewer’s experience of his works and encourage their contemplation, in Days at Sea, Gibson only printed his images on the right-hand pages, leaving the left blank.

Déjà vu, published in 1972 and also part of ‘The Black Trilogy’, brought together pairs of images that Gibson felt formed stronger narratives when placed next to each other. He noticed that each individual image could fuse on the viewer’s retina, producing a third image that would connect the two subconsciously. This is a unique creative concept that Gibson would continue to explore throughout his practice.
RALPH GIBSON
Child and Woman (1988), 2001

Edition of 500
28(w) x 36(h) cm
11.02(w) x 14.17(h) inches
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Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)
28(w) x 36(h) cm
11.02(w) x 14.17(h) inches
Diptych of gelatin silver print

Signed and numbered in pencil on verso.

Image size: 15.2 x 23.5 cm (each).
Edition of 500
PRICE
$ 995.00
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One such work is Child and Woman (1988), which pairs two images from his series ‘Infanta’ (1961-2005). Here, the left image is a close-up of an infant with an intense stare into the camera lens, and the right image shows the exposed thighs of a woman. Looking at the woman and then at the child, and changing focus between the two, Gibson wants the viewer to experience a third and more diffused image. To some viewers it might be an image of giving birth, the bond between mother and child, or something entirely different. The third image or narrative we create in our mind is based on our own unique interpretation and past experiences.

In Déjà vu, Gibson not only explored the pairing of photos, but also the impact it had when the images were swapped. Our eyes tend to look first at the image placed on the right - and then look at the left image. But, what if the dominant image of the two were to be placed on the left instead, and then made smaller? Gibson found that the changes to the arrangement and proportions of the images could also transform the narrative.

The exploration of diptychs and proportions was also the subject of Gibson’s later book Overtones (1998). The pair in Overtone is comprised of a fractured ancient Greek tablet to the right, and to the left, the upper body of a marble statue, holding up his right hand in a pose which suggests he is holding something. When viewing this juxtaposition of images, what comes to mind is the similar and mirroring shape of the upheld hand and the missing piece of the tablet - it’s an abstract impulse. In many of Gibson’s diptychs he challenges the viewer to question these visual thoughts, knowing it’s an illusion created by simple shapes.
RALPH GIBSON
Overtone (1997), 2001

Edition of 25
50(w) x 40(h) cm
19.88(w) x 15.94(h) inches
MAKE AN OFFER
Art is about talking with each other and via ‘Make an Offer’ you can have a direct conversation with us and suggest a price for this artwork.
Your Offer *
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Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)
50(w) x 40(h) cm
19.88(w) x 15.94(h) inches
Gelatin silver print

Signed and numbered in pencil on verso.

Image size: 20.5 x 35.0 cm
Edition of 25
PRICE
$ 4,830.00
MAKE AN OFFER
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With a successful career stretching over sixty years, Ralph Gibson’s list of achievements are numerous and his photographic work can be found in the permanent collections of prestigious museums around the world. His work has been widely exhibited since 1962, from museum shows to more than two hundred solo exhibitions - nine of them with Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. The artist has published forty books, his latest one, an autobiography titled Self-Exposure, was released in 2018. The same year, Gibson received the order of ‘Chevalier of the Legion of Honor’ by the French president, a highlight of his impressive career. Gibson lives and works in New York.

In an exclusive collaboration, Eyestorm released eight photographic editions with Ralph Gibson in 2001. Leda, edition of 300, was printed as an Iris print - and Striped Nude and Bastienne’s Eye were released as silver gelatin prints, each in editions of 500. The series of three works on paper, titled Exlibris, were archival prints in edition of 500. The most limited work released was Overtone, a silver gelatin print in an edition of only 25.

You can find more information about the photographic editions on Ralph Gibson’s artist page here.
 
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