By C.J. Charbonneau

Image: Work by Nicolas Gadbois

In Semaphor, an exhibition of twenty-one 12” x 10” painted concrete tablets, Nicolas Gadbois ruminates on civilizations ancient and modern and their relationship with the built environment. Cement, a staple of construction since Roman times, forms the ground for these compositions. A layer is poured onto a wood substrate, then the base medium is stamped with a variety of found objects and washed with pigment. The resulting patterns seem oddly familiar. A mass of undulating parallel lines evokes Pre-Columbian imagery, hieroglyphs, or ancient desert etchings; others feature arrangements of rectangles and dots that recall bleak aerial views of deserted cities. Equal parts painting and sculpture, the works are often visually overwhelming in their complexity. Much of the artist’s work draws from surrealism, abstraction, and a lifelong obsession with abandoned spaces.

Semaphor is the second show mounted in Kiosk’s new space. Through his experimentation with construction materials Gadbois speaks metaphorically to the cycles of decline and renewal that dominate the urban landscape, particularly relevant given the gallery’s recent circumstances. A rent increase necessitated their relocation from Columbus Park to the West Bottoms, one of many such migrations made necessary by the proliferation of development in downtown Kansas City. As in many medium to large-size cities, efforts to combat blight have gutted the vitality of neighborhoods in a bid to attract high-end development. Gadbois’ constructed artifacts appear as fossilized recordings of decay and entropy in a society where cultural promise is defined by the next Big Thing.

Semaphor was on view at Kiosk Gallery, August 17 – September 13, 2018.

C.J. Charbonneau is a 2018-2019 Oklahoma Art Writing & Curatorial Fellow.