New York

Sarah Seager

The noncolor white sustains some too obvious metaphorical resonances. Purity, innocence, origination, virginity: such a symbolic register can degenerate very quickly into weak parody. White is the color worn by dead people who go to heaven. Furthermore, to base one’s artistic project on an exploration of the valences of the color white involves a pretty heavy gloss on the history of Modernism, with maybe just a pinch of Kasimir Malevich and a whole lot of Robert Ryman.

As Yves-Alain Bois has noted, Ryman’s “deconstruction” is not simply the work of negation, it is rather, a process “endlessly restrained, amorously deferred...the thread is never cut.” In her predominantly white paintings and sculptures, Sarah Seager attempts to stretch that thread just a little bit more. Although her chosen pictorial mode is suffused with exhaustion, it is a languorous exhaustion in which Seager can evidently take some comfort and delight. The uneven, shrinking and swelling surfaces of her canvases elaborate a conundrum—though they are filled with minute painterly incident, they are at the same time almost blank. “Almost,” in more ways than one, because a different sort of quasi-pictorial incident also intrudes: strings of Letraset forming nonsense syllables such as “ta wutte.” These “phrases” seem like the linguistic correlatives to the empty suggestiveness of Seager’s painterly surface: sensuous and evocative but quite literally devoid of meaning.

Seager indulges in a preciously valorized esthetic boredom, a boredom for its own sake, boredom as almost a historical mission. In a different context, Harold Bloom cites Paul de Man’s interpretation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Igitur: “... de Man remarks that in Baudelaire and in Mallarmé...‘ennui’ is no longer a personal feeling but comes from the burden of the past. A, consciousness comes to know itself as negative and finite. It sees that others know themselves also in this way, and so it transcends the negative and finite present by seeing the universal nature of what it itself is becoming.” Perhaps Seager’s art presents a latter-day and analogous position, joining the emptiness of the present to that of the past and, presumably, the future. The future emptiness lacks the obvious metaphysical burnish of dematerialized and luminous whiteness, but instead finds its proleptic vision in Seager’s dull and spotty enamel surfaces.

David Rimanelli