Cy Gavin: Devils’ Isle

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108 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003, Paris, France
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Cy Gavin: Devils’ Isle

Cy Gavin: Devils’ Isle
to Sat 24 Feb 2018

VNH Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in France of the American artist Cy Gavin, titled «Devils’ Isle.»

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For this exhibition in Paris, Gavin presents a group of ten new paintings. The title of the exhibition, «Devils’ Isle», is taken from the name mariners once bestowed upon Bermuda prior to the founding of the island. Sailors attributed the archipelago’s perilous reef system, mercurial weather phenomena and the whirling ocean currents of the adjacent Sargasso Sea to diabolical influence. Indeed, by 1600, more than thirty doomed European merchant vessels, bearing goods and enslaved people, lay wrecked in the clear waters surrounding Bermuda.

The homeland of Gavin’s father, Bermuda has previously served as a lens through which the artist has considered the African Diaspora at large and the colonial development of the Americas. England’s first two permanent colonies were Jamestown, Virginia and Bermuda, with both colonies developing in parallel. Bermuda’s advantageously far-flung position in the North Atlantic would serve it well as a prismatic way-station for European ships bearing enslaved people to the West Indies, Mexico and the American colonies. It would have been the first land many surviving African people encountered in the Middle Passage. Where encroaching empires met resistance at the hands of indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean, in Bermuda the land itself resisted human occupancy.

In the ten paintings on view, Gavin draws upon this history; from volcanic reefs that prevented the mooring of ships, to poisonous coastal vegetation and a blight that halted Bermuda’s primary export (native cedar trees), the paintings on view consider how over time, the island group rejected Colonialism. Manchineel Tree, shows the world’s most poisonous tree, the roots of which were allegedly used in 1729 by insurgent slave, Sally Bassett, in a widespread poisoning campaign that targeted slave-owners. Blighted Cedar, shows a deforested wasteland, where four denuded tree trunks cage in a dystopic scene. Gavin’s canvases conjure images of the human body: muscle tissue, mucous membranes, bones, and organs: sober reminders that chemically, the matter that composes the island’s exquisite beaches, invariably contains the genetic material of the trees that built slave ships, the bodies of those damned to a watery grave, and the pillaged bounties so desperately sought by insatiable empires.

The one monumental panoramic work on view, Clarence Cove, re-envisions a notorious site where American and European tourists once gathered by boat to cast coins into the crystalline waters of Bermuda’s Deep Bay. Local children were encouraged to jump from the sheer cliffs and retrieve the coins from the seafloor as payment for the entertainment their endangerment had provided. Gavin envisions Bermuda as more than a quaint British colony turned premier twentieth-century travel destination. He portrays it as both a witness to provisional human occupancy and as sentient agent with baleful, anti-colonial designs.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1985 (USA), he currently lives and works in New York. He received his BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 and his MFA from Columbia University in 2016. Gavin will be part of two major exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), both opening in March 2018. The exhibition titled « Between the Waters », curated by Elisabeth Sherman and Margaret Kross at The Whitney, will present works from six emerging artists that address the inseparability of the natural and social worlds through a subjective or autobiographical lens. « The Lure of the Dark », curated by Susan Cross of MASS MoCA, will present the work of a dozen contemporary painters working around the theme of night. VNH Gallery will also be presenting in March a solo booth with his recent works at Independent Art Fair in New York.

Photo: Claire Dorn. Courtesy of the artist and VNH Gallery, Paris
Photo: Claire Dorn. Courtesy of the artist and VNH Gallery, Paris
 
 

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