by Jonathan Griffin
Analia Saban’s exhibition strives to entertain, despite its obvious handicap: all the paintings are grey. Within this austere limitation, Saban finds diverse and ingenious ways of dismantling the procedure of painting. By dispensing with colour (unless you insist that grey is a colour too), she directs our attention to paint’s constructive rather than representational qualities. Sometimes she uses it like glue; elsewhere she applies it in a thick skin that seems principally designed to hold together when she peels it off again. One such painting,Cover (all works 2011), is almost indecent in the coquettish way it exposes a corner of bare canvas, showing the imprint of its weave on the unfurling paint. It’s a neat conceit. So is Representation of an Apple – a three-dimensional apple (apparently made entirely of grey paint) stuck to the canvas with untidy daubs of the same substance. Modern masters from Robert Ryman to Paul Cézanne are summoned, but this isn’t what makes the paintings interesting; rather, it’s their material contortions that are revelatory. None of which would be possible in oils; Saban’s medium is acrylic mixed with waxy encaustic, beloved of Jasper Johns (an artist also partial to grey).
Some of the most exciting paintings in the exhibition are those shaped by chance. Two works, called ‘decants’ by the artist, are indexical records of the artist pouring unevenly mixed paint down the front of the canvas and collecting it in a plastic bag fastened around the bottom. When the paint dries, she peels off the bag and leaves a hard grey reservoir at the base of the pour. In Diamond Decant (Black and White Pigments) with Three Brushstrokes, Saban saw the need to add three extra marks; in doing so, she signals that this painting is more than just process. Either that, or she’s mocking both the artwork and the viewer.
I think that’s unlikely. Despite her cleverness, Saban seems genuinely to be enraptured by the histories to which her work defers: small, charred works that use a computer-guided laser to etch images into canvas evoke all the alchemy and pathos of early photography; nearby, Representation of a Chair tips its hat to Joseph Kosuth for effecting philosophical alchemy with a hitherto simple piece of furniture. Saban’s homage, an unpeeled, flattened cast of a chair in paint, reminded me of a bug mashed by a windscreen. The comparison might not be as facile as it seems; in paintings stranded somewhere between wet and dry, soft and hard, finished and in-process, Saban approaches such grand themes as life and death in the way that her forebears once did through something as unassuming as a picture of an apple.
First published: Art Review, Issue 51, Summer 2011