If you look at Peter Gallo’s paintings, he does everything they teach you NOT to do in art school; the colors are so chromatically light, one can hardly see what’s there, the brush strokes so weak, so lacking in conviction that they look like child’s play, canvases with staples showing on the front of the canvases and in some cases, canvases that aren’t even tucked in properly, are just some of the ‘issues’ surrounding his artwork.
While there are those who can’t paint and then try to pretend its their style, Gallo does the opposite and pretends to not be able to paint, when he actually does. However art is not just about painting; in other words, you do not have to paint well to be an artist. One can be a sculptor, installation artist etc.. but one can be sure that any painting shown on this website, that I talk about, is going to be done by someone who can paint, even if first impressions say otherwise.
How I separate those who can and can’t paint, the sheep from the goats, is whether they have ‘it’. And this ‘it’ is a visible but indescribable quality in their brush strokes. Its either there or its not. Gallo also touches on ‘it’ in his Doctorate level thesis with his depiction of the art ‘genius’ and his/her ‘privileged’, ‘symbiotic’ relationship with nature. Perhaps this ‘it’ has the ability of transporting one to another place and/or time.
Central to Gallo’s paintings are a series of binary opposites, heavily influenced by his thesis, such as the notion of the artist as a degenerate (sometimes), how someone can be a genius and a degenerate at the same time, the notion of beauty and ugliness, childishness and maturity, propriety and impropriety, worthless and expensive materials, right and wrong etc..
Much of the materials he uses are of the ‘pop’ vernacular and he mixes these with traditional painting materials; dental floss, tooth picks or animal bones on canvas and bits of found wood, oil paints on photos or t-shirts etc.. The words or messages he paints on these canvases have a dreamy or at times nightmarish quality originating from his sub-consciousness, like he did them whilst asleep. Their abject and childish appearance belies the prophetic nature of some of these messages.
One of his most disseminated paintings, The Ship Of Fools (2011) is based on the ancient allegory originating from Plato, about a ship of ‘foolish’ or deranged people, who have taken over controls presumably by force, and have incapacitated the captain, the only one on board who knows how to navigate the ship to its intended destination. A subsequent rendition of it in the 15th century book by Sebastian Brant is the subject of philosopher Michel Foucault’s essay Madness And Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1961) in which Foucault questions how ‘enlightened’ the people of Renaissance really are, in casting these deranged people off on a boat as a way of dealing with the mentally ill in society, and how sane they are by having a freak show whenever these ships come to port.
The question is why did Gallo use this as a subject? If one looks at the ship that he painted, it looks like a 17th century one, and the only ship or event of significance in Gallo’s context, is the Boston Tea Party of 1773. But why? Who’s the fool? It is unclear as to what he was referring to in this painting. Its opposite number, The Ship Of Health (2011) depicts the same boat, except this time its framed itself in a loosely painted rectangle, and partially destroyed with paint jabbed onto the canvas in a grid-like pattern. So the Ship Of Fools was all sane, but the Ship Of Health is under threat of being dissolved out of existence, by the all-encompassing structures that pervade our lives. Together with Stultifera Navis (2011) which means Ship of Fools in Latin, again shows this vessel, faded to the point where it is hardly visible.
If I’m not mistaken, I believe Gallo has ‘it’, but perhaps he just doesn’t want to flaunt ‘it’, or show it too often, lest he succumbs to the classical or modern interpretation of whats considered ‘beautiful’, but to more importantly express his inner feelings, going back to his thesis on ‘Bio-Aesthetics And The Artist As Case Study’, with source of artistic creation coming from within the body of the artist himself. This, together with the observations gained as a psychiatric social worker in his day job, where people with mental deficiencies in one context can be a genius in another, (which is the case for some autistic people) forms the core of his views.