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Gandolf’s work is…intuitive and open-ended. It has a surprisingly casual relationship to abstraction. Gandolf’s small paintings are tight and beautifully controlled, but it’s clear she doesn’t have a set plan when she begins, and doesn’t seek to limit herself.
The oddness of the image brings the picture back from the edge of allegory, as does its size. Babies do sit in bathwater, but tiny bathtubs are rarely seen floating on the sea. Gandolf lets the many symbolic uses of water stack up with each other, sometimes with poetic ambiguity and other times with almost documentary directness.
Jessica Gandolf’s paintings exert a fascination out of proportion to their size. Their jewel-like presence, their superficially popular subject matter, their photographic yet painterly delineation…their intimate depictions of solely men in repose or celebration or quiet communication – all these elements conspire in a fascinating mix of contradictory impulses. It is as if she were trying to catch her viewers off guard by deliberately shifting historical expectations. Many of her paintings are on the scale of books, resembling medieval illuminations of portraits of saints.
Reminiscent of the portraits of the 15th-century Northern Gothic masters, such as Holbein, Hans Memling and Rogier van der Weyden, Gandolf relishes the detail that reveals her subject’s interior life. Zack Wheat may have led the Brooklyn Robins to the World Series in 1920, but in Gandolf’s portrayal, his knitted brow suggests that he has just taken a third strike in the ninth with the bases loaded, the night after his wife threw him out of the house.