Critics’ Picks

Sam Dirck, Austin, 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas on wood panel, 12 x 9".

Sam Dirck, Austin, 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas on wood panel, 12 x 9".

St. Paul

Sam Dirck

Waiting Room
275 4th St E, Sutie 707 Northwestern Building
By appointment

Sam Dirck’s small painting Untitled (all works cited, 2020) evokes a glam pop portrait, a visage of Ziggy Stardust sheen dappled with crude globs of red, yellow, and blue paint. A warped checker pattern defines the area where the forehead and eyes might be, and glorious thin pink lips sit below. The painting is one of several works in Dirck’s “Boredom Fantasy Mimesis” that repeat and transform core motifs. In Gardener, Dirck employs a similar checker pattern, but here the black shapes are mostly uniform squares that cover the entire canvas. They hover over a narrative landscape featuring what seems to be an impressionistic figure underneath a vast sky. Other patterns similarly reverberate in the space: Polka dots are dizzyingly tessellated and sprinkled across several canvases.

These designs act as holding cells, constraining the more abstract gestures—a swipe of green paint, staticky black lines. Indeed, a viewer could dwell on the playful designs and largely nonrepresentational imagery, but the paintings also have a nightmarish quality, enhanced by select formal elements: The segment of looping black wire at the top of Gardener, the vertical black bars in Untitled, and the sheriff-badge-like stars surrounded by circled red dots in Austin all seem to have seeped out of a news feed drenched with images of police brutality. Roughly assembled sculptures in the center of the gallery redouble the dark undertones; doused in dripping red paint, they appear to be covered in blood.

Dirck could not have known that these works would be on view during a tumultuous crisis in the Twin Cities—as buildings burn, protesters march, and the city grapples with systemic racism—but the paintings remind viewers how omnipresent signs of violence have always been.