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Symbolize this: Marc Sapir’s Figure 1.

I Want Your Text
By David Brickman

Manuscript: Recent work by Marc Sapir
Lake George Arts Project, through April 30

You can always count on the Lake George Arts Project, that little gem to the north, to come up with intriguing artists you’ve never seen before in crisp, current presentations. This year’s choice revelation at the Courthouse Gallery is Brooklyn painter Marc Sapir, whose collection of recent work is aptly titled Manuscript.

By delving into mysterious, foreign texts, then dishing up the results radically transformed in his paintings and drawings, Sapir confounds the viewer’s desire for understanding, replacing it instead with indecipherable systems made up of layers of color, shape, semi-legible language and vague symbols. The trick to enjoying this work is not to care about any particular “meaning” coming from it, and to just dive in and savor the physical pleasures it offers.

In the hands of a less able craftsman, this pretense would fall flat on its face—but Sapir has a master’s touch with the brush and the necessary stamina to see his ideas through to their completion. Two series in the show are evidence of this type of followthrough: Red Letter Days, a four-part black-and-white ink study; and four from a group of 100 small panels with particularly evocative titles drawn from their textual contents.

These latter, called Martyr/Your Feet, January Dawn/Favorite Restaurant, St. Lucy/Trimorphic Protennoia and Wild Geese/Almost Shadow, combine inkjet prints of two sets of superimposed texts with painted panels. The printed sheets of words have been punched full of round holes in carefully symmetrical patterns and then mounted to the panels, letting through some of the color underneath. They are unreadable—but the titles, by revealing the first words in each set, decode those words, thus providing tantalizing evidence that you could read them, if only you knew first what they said.

Meanwhile, the delicate colors of the printed text and the stronger colors peeking through from underneath playfully tease the eye.

In Red Letter Days, Sapir appears to have blown up several pages of an illuminated manuscript—but the letters he draws, while calligraphically beautiful, have no recognizable form. One ends up just relishing the creamy texture of the white paper and the sweet softness of the gray ink washes that make the “letters.”

Another piece in the show mirrors the subtlety and combines the technique of the two series. Column a—Column b takes two sets of three layered sheets of typewritten text (in English) and presents them side by side. Each page has rows and rows of black text punched through with rows of holes, which allow the text from the second and third layers to show. Though there are legible bits, the whole is impossible to read or interpret—again, more tantalizing than frustrating, and almost sculptural in its physicality.

The rest of the work in the gallery is much more brightly colored, and this is where Sapir seems to be at his most comfortable. Though texts of various alphabets and languages are the sources, the real language of this work is color itself. Sapir layers rich, pure hues of red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow onto wood panels that nevertheless retain their particular textures, making for vivid compositional arrangements.

His four 19-inch-by-19-inch panels titled Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3 and Unit 4 are packed with the intensity of the colors and the relentless rows of script, some of which can be discerned as Latin, some of which break down into dots and dashes almost like Morse code. Here and there are snippets of what looks like handwritten Arabic but, again, very few of the marks can even be assigned to a known alphabet (particularly, there is none that appears to be Chinese calligraphy, a relief considering what a fashion cliché that’s become).

Two larger panels, titled Figure 1 and Little Office, each dominate a single wall. Both involve more figurative material than the others—i.e., there are recognizable shapes such as spreading leaves, knotholes and digital symbols in Figure 1, and large, stylized woman’s hips in Little Office. Still, Figure 1 is mostly about the saturated, contrasting color relationships it employs, and Little Office is too—unless you understand Latin (and I don’t quite). The part I could figure out, however, refers to parted lips, so you know it’s probably not from scripture.

In fact, Sapir’s sources include digital data, scientific captions, Hindi astrological writings and religious manuscripts as well as poetic writings. In his own words, the work uses texts “as abstract images in order to get at the notion of language as a shifting and fluid entity. Imperfection, transformation, reinvention and instability are central themes” in the work. Just as they are in everyday life.

Sapir, by the way, has a local connection in that he has received residency fellowships for several years (including 2004) at Yaddo, and was also in residence at the Blue Mountain Center for the Arts in 2001.


Peripheral Vision

D. Jack Solomon: Recent Work
Albany Center Galleries, through April 17

D. Jack Solomon is a remarkably skilled painter who blends styles from sources as diverse as Fernand Leger and Jiggs and Maggie to create a style all his own. Working from a collage process, Solomon paints in acrylics either directly on the collage materials and paper support or on canvas, where he so accurately renders the cut-and-paste aesthetic as to nearly fool the eye.

Sometimes he plays with color as an expressive element, as in a series from 2002 titled Random Order, where blue, yellow or green will be a dominant color in a given piece. While his mastery of the acrylic medium is such that these works begin to look more like encaustic, there is the danger of being taken as merely decorative or criticized for being almost too facile.

More challenging are the bulk of the works in the show, where a tasty black-white-red color scheme dominates, and the almost constructivist look of the work becomes more apparent. Best of all, Solomon in these more ambitious paintings creates an almost hallucinogenic amalgamation of images—referencing pop, suprematism, Picasso and more—so as to baffle and bewitch the viewer. Overall, a very strong show.

—David Brickman

Shahzia Sikander: Nemesis
Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Through April 11

Shahzia Sikander is an artist with a truly complex consciousness whose work deftly blends the traditional eastern themes and techniques of her native Pakistan with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. Nemesis, her current exhibit at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga, offers numerous manifestations of her multicultural approach. Sikander’s work ranges from small-scale, (seemingly) traditional miniature paintings, to a giant modular installation covering the 30-foot window of the gallery. In between, in scale and approach, are a couple of computer- animation installations, and a wall piece consisting of gridded watercolors on clay-coated paper.

Sikander’s training in the ancient art of miniature painting serves as a framework on which she builds her vivid, surreal worlds. In each medium, she uses a rich palette and imaginative detail to depict creatures of compiled human and animal forms in a seeming state of flux or evolution. The audio tracks that accompany the computer animation not only help to transport you into the psychedelic world she portrays on the screen, but also serve the surrounding work in the same way.

Sikander presents expansive possibilities for her traditional training, honoring her cultural and artistic roots without deference to their limitations.

In a culminating event tonight (Thursday, April 8) at 7 PM, the artist will discuss her work with Skidmore College’s visiting assistant professor Deborah Hutton. Nemesis closes April 11.

—Pam Barrett-Fender


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