October 20, 2011
I follow London from afar these days, and sometimes read reviews of art exhibitions or plays even if there’s little chance of actually going. Yesterday in the Guardian I thus came across a review of an exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, featuring the Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal (b. 1972).
I’m a bit of a tourist when it comes to art, and can name only a few contemporary artists: like many people, I tend to focus on the big blockbuster shows, featuring long-dead painters. It’s not that I think there’s nothing good to see of more recent date, it’s just that I don’t know where to start.
This seemed like a good place, though: the article made me curious. He (the journalist) talked of Sasnal’s deceptively inexpressive figures and planes, and seemingly vacant spaces that invited the viewer to consider what might be missing; often, the suggested absences had the touch of something sinister. The lack of sentiment had a quality that, at least for the journalist, made the motif a starting point, rather than a full stop.
Having now browsed Sasnal’s work, online, for the moment, I get a sense of what the journalist was talking about. In ‘Clothes’, there’s not only the question of the abandoned clothes (by whom, and why?), but also what might be underneath that dark, wind-blown hill. A large chunk of it has been dug away, and a curtain of black paint makes it look as if the soil is bleeding. Shadows and shapes are glimpsed through the liquid, but what they might be we don’t know.
Sasnal’s paintings seem to do something crucial to art: they demand a viewer for their full effect, and in turn the viewer comes away with an experience not only of the paintings, but of having taken part in a creative process.
Although I doubt there will be a chance to catch the exhibition at Whitechapel, I now have the name ‘Sasnal’ lodged somewhere in my mind (and, of course, here on the blog), hoping that it might light up should I come across it again. And now I can name at least one painter still alive and well.