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Studio Visit: Greg Fadell

Phenomenological art from a Detroit native

by James Thorne
on 16 July 2012

Discovered on our recent trip to Re:view Gallery in Detroit, Greg Fadell is an abstract artist hell-bent on taking messaging out of art. His massive grayscale aesthetic channels the rawness of abstraction and makes for a piece that is nothing if not experiential. The brother of Tony Fadell—former iPod designer and inventor of the Nest Learning Thermostat—Greg Fadell seems to share his brother's desire to innovate and change. We recently caught up with Fadell in his Detroit studio, situated in an old public school building that has been converted—in that patently Detroit sort of way—into a movie theater, Montessori school and studio space.


The concept for Fadell's current series, "Nothing", came during a Parisian sojourn. Walking down the street, he came across a building undergoing renovation. The windows had been whitewashed for protection, and Fadell became obsessed with the spectral quality of the material. With his elementary command of French, he was able to ask the owner, "Qu'est-ce que c'est le blanc?" or "What is the white?"

Fadell went on to buy the substance, a fine powder, and develop his own paint using polymers and an acrylic base. Applying the paint with homemade brushes, Fadell quickly realized that the paintings lost depth from layering day after day. "I have to work wet, so once I start I cant stop," he explains. With nearly two gallons of paint used for each work, it's surprising that the works dry perfectly flat. The difference between white-on-black and black-on-white pieces is vast—white produces a cold color temperature while black is notably warmer.


The result of his effort is a painting that has a great degree of perceived depth, yet on close inspection appears to be a digital print. The sharpness disappears and the lines becomes noisy and indistinct. The effect is so convincing that a New York gallerist once accused Fadell of photoshopping his work. Her mind was changed when the piece was reversed and the paint-covered edges could be seen through the floating frame. Following this, Fadell learned the importance of showing his hand, and now exhibits the series unframed.

There is a lot of theory behind Fadell's work, mostly surrounding the phenomenological notion of art as experiential and viewer-informed. This makes the work essentially irreproducible online, where the enveloping effect of his floor-to-cieling works is lost. Fadell is adamantly opposed to cleverness, and the title "Nothing" is more of an invitation to viewers rather than an artist's statement. "There's all this issue art," says Fadell. "I have enough issues. I don't need to create any more. I wanted to create something that allowed the viewer to bring their own impressions to it."


An artist like Fadell is a rare phenomenon in the art world. Painters are increasingly a dying breed as concept art moves from the fringe into the mainstream. Mostly, his point of differentiation goes back to his years of skateboarding before skate culture had developed. Back when the sport was new, Fadell explains that there was nothing preset, no sense of what he was doing or why. "It's like detroit," he says. "I saw opportunity and potential in skateboarding." That spirit eeks into his works, which have a spirit and energy that extend outside of time and place.

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