this: Marc Sapirs Figure 1.
Want Your Text
By David Brickman
Recent work by Marc Sapir
Lake George Arts Project, through April
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
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.
Jack Solomon: Recent Work
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.
Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Through April
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
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.