Grant Gill: Glowing Images
“As a terrifying cosmic object, both capable of awe and destruction, I am drawn to trace its presence like I would touch the body of a lover. I want to forever remember the way its warmth felt on my hand, how its blinding presence marked me as I deeply stared into its white hotness, or even how its colors would illuminate across a space, a landscape, or a fold in a bedsheet.” – Grant Gill
This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of visiting The Alice Wilds, an art gallery located in Milwaukee, WI, to view Glowing Images– the second solo exhibition of fellow Milwaukee-based artist, image maker, and educator, Grant Gill. Glowing Images showcases a collection of warm, tender, and alluring photographs that delve into the realms of light, magic, queerness, and the sublime. Included in the show is a compilation of thirty newly constructed, recreated, and formerly created works that have either been publicly seen or exhumed from his archive of work dating back to 2013.
As written in Gill’s artist statement:
My practice depends on photographs to be more than just one thing—a truth or a lie, a memory or fantasy, both possible and impossible. I am interested in wrapping up the language of photography in a way that produces a moment of magic; to visualize the struggle of desperately wanting the impossible to be real. Glowing Images is a collection of photographic work that unknowingly began in 2013 and consists of this practice of manipulating light as magic.
As my longest relationship, this body of work is a display of evolving sight, fueled by love and desire, warmth and color. Photographs see romantic thoughts settle among representations of light. This is situated by light as a participant through the personification of its haptic qualities, while also exploring how light can affect the surface of things through both play and pause. It is my attempt to physically touch and assemble what is ultimately bodiless in form.
Images center around my attraction to the Sun and its complexity. As a terrifying cosmic object, both capable of awe and destruction, I am drawn to trace its presence like I would touch the body of a lover. I want to forever remember the way its warmth felt on my hand, how its blinding presence marked me as I deeply stared into its white hotness, or even how its colors would illuminate across a space, a landscape, or a fold in a bedsheet. Over time, the intensity of the Sun’s pervasiveness became paralleled to my love for my partner. I have learned to love deeper through the hummed glows and pierced spotlights the Sun has presented. Glowing Images is equally the illumination of my partner’s ear backlit by a setting sun, as it is the painted heavens transformed by an aurora. It is both the gentle note of a discarded joke thumb, and dewed skin glistening in summer heat. It is found in intense desire and tender impressions.
At the time that I went to view the exhibition, the photographs, all adorned in white frames, and the space itself were brightened by the morning sun. The photographs were strategically placed throughout the space either placed with another image or multiple images, or singularly placed by itself. The front of the space gave breath to images that were new in construction or recreated, while the images towards the back of the space gave homage to Gill’s past work as a blossoming image maker. While this was invigorating to witness, it was an easy mental note to self that the images do not exactly rely on this activation. Without the encouragement of the sun on the physical photographs, there still exists a warmth to the work that was inviting within itself. Serene and in many ways romanticized in their nature, the photographs held a magnetism to them that drew me into the captured light once viewed by Grant himself while making the photographs. As described by Gill himself, this work is “…celebrating a way of seeing”, a statement quite felt through my own viewing experience.
The exhibition’s primary focus on Gill’s relationship with light and the magic that spawns from it serves as a metaphorical and literal thread that weaves through each of the photographs on display. Through his image-making, he uses the camera as a tool to manipulate light, an act that subsequently transcends boundaries and explores the ineffable in his visual storytelling. The radiant glow emanating from each piece creates an immersive experience, drawing the viewer into a realm where fantasy and reality intersect. As I navigated through the space, I began to see the light as more than a literal source. The light is also used as a bridge connecting him to the objects and loved ones he photographs as well.
While the star of Glowing Images is light, what I also found fascinating was the various undertones that existed in the work related to relationships, queerness, and play. They are a testament to Gill’s ever-evolving relationship with light and his continuous exploration of what it means to see as a queer person. There are several moments through the exhibition where the passionate relationship with his friends and his partner seep through. This is most notably shown through works such as Sam on Our Tenth Sun (2023), depicting his partner standing in a tub clothed in frothy bubbles and warm light; and Untitled (Shell) (2023), which displays his partner vulnerably lying in a sun-raked bed with a shell on his torso that is being lightly touched by an interjected hand.
Even with fragmented works, such as Suncatcher II (me)(2023) and Suncatcher II (Kyle) (2023), the connection between Gill’s love for the sun and his cherished companions is made apparent through the literal thread creating a comfortable tension between the two images. While not the primary focal point of the work, the act of falling in love with light and experiencing it with and through other people does lie beneath the surface.
There is also a playfulness to the work that is subtle and simultaneously effective. The photographs where I saw this playfulness the most are in Peacock Stage (2023), and Glowing Note VII (2023). Both images, as echoed in the other photographs present in the space, are washed in warm, glowing light in varying degrees. In Peacock Stage, the eye is guided to focus on a minuscule bottle placed on a thick, orange book that holds a singular trapped, blown bubble on the inside. In a similarly eye-directing way, a spliced partial toy thumb lies in solitude on a wooden surface. While not as overt, the subtlety in play in Suncatcher IX (Wand II) (2023) comes through its title, suggesting the dandelion is a wand. In this case, language is used as a nod to the magic that exists throughout Gill’s thinking and making. While different in their own ways, they all highlight different subjects that are challenging to not associate with childhood and the joys that may exist therein.
Upon my completion of viewing the work, I was left with immense gratitude for Grant Gill’s practice as an artist and the amount of care and passion he puts into his work which exuded through each photograph. If you are in the Milwaukee area between now and August 12, 2023, I encourage visiting the space and experience the magic of this phenomenal exhibition and join in on this celebration of seeing for yourself.
Grant Gill (b. 1990) is a Milwaukee-based artist, image maker, and educator. As an image maker, he is enticed by the possibility of limitless structures—objects that change state, become flexible, disappear and then return. These properties formally align with a general understanding of magic, both in secular and spiritual forms, and further can be found in queerness. Gill’s work derives from this affinity to magic as a queered perspective, and he displays this through play of photographic production. Photography, in its construction, defines the possibility of a limitless structure, as it is manipulated light fractured in both time and space.
Gill received an MFA in Studio Art from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati and a BFA in Photography from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. He has exhibited both nationally and internationally at institutions including The Alice Wilds, Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Filter Space, The Neon Heater, Osnova Gallery, SÍM Gallery, and has worked with the Brussels Royal Opera House. He continues to show work within Milwaukee exhibiting at Usable Space, Var, MIAD Gallery at the Ave, and previously Chamber and After School Special.
He was a previous recipient of the Mary L. Nohl Suitcase Export Fund and has been a recognized finalist for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowship, NöStudios fellowship, and the gener8tor Art. Gill has contributed to various arts related programming in Milwaukee including organizing a Hunger Task Force print benefit at The Portrait Society Gallery, facilitating a panel discussion with FXG Church, and co-organized the Pitch Project Artist Book Fair.
Alayna N. Pernell (b. 1996) is a visual artist, writer, and educator from Heflin, Alabama. Her practice considers the gravity of the mental well-being of Black people in relation to the spaces they inhabit, whether physically or metaphorically. Throughout her research and making, using a compilation of photography, text, and found materials, she unearths and examines the harsh realities and complexities of being a Black American woman.
In May 2019, she graduated from The University of Alabama where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art with a concentration in Photography and a minor in African American Studies. She received her MFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2021. Her work has been exhibited in various cities across the United States, including FLXST Contemporary (Chicago, IL), Refraction Gallery (Milwaukee, WI), JKC Gallery (Trenton, NJ), RUSCHWOMAN Gallery (Chicago, IL), Colorado Photographic Arts Center (Denver, CO), Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA) and more. Pernell was named a 2023 Mary L. Nohl Fellow; in 2020-2021 she was the recipient of the James Weinstein Memorial Award by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Photography and the 2021 Snider Prize award recipient by the Museum of Contemporary Photography. She was also recognized on the Silver Eye Center of Photography 2022 Silver List, Photolucida’s 2021 Critical Mass Top 50, 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention, and more.
She is currently the Associate Lecture of Photography and Imaging at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Follow Alayna Pernell on Instagram: @alaynapernell
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