Meet Jeff Gabel’s Sad-Sack Antiheros


It comes as no surprise to discover that Jeff Gabel is both an animated conversationalist and a card-carrying Proustian—his canvases, works on paper, rangy wall drawings, and chunky wood panels are built around lengthy handwritten texts that make up exacting and hilariously tart studies of some all-too-familiar personalities and situations. Casting a withering eye over his reliably dysfunctional milieu (in which art-world types rub up against regular Joes), the Brooklyn-based artist details a world at odds with itself: often awkward, routinely alienating, never less than a disappointment. Gabel characteristically introduces his fictional sad-sack antiheroes as “some guy” or “some other fucker,” leaving us to fill in the names of equivalents from our own lives. Such is the mortifying precision of his observation that we needn’t look far to find them.

Gabel draws mostly in pencil, illustrating his words in a hovering, anxious line. Worried-looking figures hover around the edges of his compositions, pushed to the sidelines by exhaustive accounts of their mundane but inescapable predicaments. And even when these folk occupy large swaths of white wall, their silver-gray cast lends them an abject pallor. The looming head and shoulders in Leaving Home Tomorrow (2008), for example, are thoroughly unmonumental, belonging to “some fucker who, by chance, after the scattering of his group due to impromptu and erratic drunken changes to their already aimless plans, is sitting together in a car at night drinking the last 6 beers with another fucker from the same group. . . .” And so it goes on, evolving (across three walls) into a merciless dissection of social inadequacy.

In this show, Gabel also takes a break from overt analysis to indulge in a little Web-surfing—though, predictably, the works that result also exhibit a psychological acuity. The Internet has become a near-ubiquitous artistic tool of late, functioning most often as a kind of conceptual or visual randomizer; just plug in a search term and allow the results to steer the project. The strategy can yield some fascinating oddities but tends to render the artist a near-irrelevance, so efficiently does it excise personality from the creative equation. Gabel narrowly avoids this pitfall/opportunity, injecting just enough idiosyncrasy to avoid a too-cool outcome. Hunting for his own name on Google and, he sketches the listings in fuzzy colored pencil, seeming to emulate in his own obsessive behavior the egoism and insecurity of his imaginary “fuckers.”