ERIK SANDBERG: Contrary
September 15 – October 28, 2006
Conner Contemporary Art is pleased to present Contrary, an extraordinary new cycle of paintings by Erik Sandberg. In Contrary, Sandberg focuses on the power of a single figure to evoke virtue or vice and dramatically narrows the gap between painting and audience.
The isolated composition, life-size scale, and double-sided format of these new paintings herald an important departure from Sandberg’s last series. In his previous small-scale paintings depicting many figures the artist inverted a traditional analogy in Netherlandish art theory in which ‘dead-color’ under painting was identified with mortal flesh and colored oil glazes were likened to the spirit. In these earlier panels the artist created ethereal figures in monochromatic preliminary paintings, then, systematically imposed layers of colored glaze upon them to describe a variety of weaknesses of the flesh.
In Contrary, Sandberg extends his investigation of the relation between monochromatic form and oil color to reframe a debate that raged amidst artists during the Renaissance and Baroque periods over the relative merit of painting and sculpture. Leonardo da Vinci, a distinguished advocate of painting, and Michelangelo, a passionate champion of sculpture, fueled the controversy. Assertions that painting’s illusionism could move the soul to desire and that sculpture’s tactile modality was conducive to venal impulses invested the argument with moral complexity.
Sandberg enriches this discourse by implementing his oil glaze technique in the style of the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens to depict models situated upon plinths and columns evocative of the display of sculptural figures. He draws upon poses of Italian Renaissance statues, such as Donatello’s David, which is recalled by his female personification of Courage. The artist arrays his statuesque figures with a combination of modern undergarments and attributes from schematic illustrations of Cesare Ripa’s Renaissance emblem book Iconologia. He thus creates unsettlingly abstract yet immediate and corporeal presences that evoke pictorial tension between the representation of solid three-dimensional form and the painterly articulation of surface qualities. This liaison between the carnality of his painting style and the idealism of his sculptural sources thematizes the psychological tension of moral disparity he symbolizes in his imagery. Rendering each figure on either side of his door-like panels as simultaneously beautiful and repulsive, Sandberg visually seduces viewers to enter a conceptual labyrinth where they must negotiate their own paths between the polarities of virtue and vice.
Also on view (gallery 2): Joe Ovelman : Post-It 3 – the latest in a series of quirky, autobiographical sharpie on paper drawings. Through October 28th.
There will be an opening night reception Friday, September 15th from 6-8pm.
The gallery is also pleased to announce the Fall 2006 series of Discuss. Going beyond the typical artist’s talk format, Discuss events pair gallery artists in conversation with their peers, outside curators and collectors concerning the current exhibit and their artistic practice.