New York

Christopher Sasser

Feature Inc.

The recent tendency in painting to churn out Modernist memorabilia, trumped-up and hailed as a return to abstraction, constitutes little more than a negligible whimper in the medium’s history. Yet it does corral and heighten fundamental ideological problems that have haunted abstract painting for the last two decades to the point that the “new” abstraction may partly exorcize the practice of its demons. Christopher Sasser has found a path into painting that is refreshingly defiant with respect to the current codes of the field. He even manages to make light of the tired dichotomy between “conceptual” painting (i.e. mediated, appropriated, gestureless, or mechanically produced) and “real” painting (painting that involves itself in, rather than recalls, the authentic poetic of art).

Sasser wallows in whatever style or methodology suits his purpose: flat field painting, biomorphic illusionism, gestural painting, even “bad” painting (he uses a cake froster, in some cases, to create rows of impasto floret). He resorts to gimmicky graphic devices as readily as to inspired compositional flourishes, and his paintings possess a graphic speed that proposes compositional resolutions that quickly dissipate into disparate elements adrift in an abstract dreamworld.

In his recent paintings, Sasser presents single, illusionistically biomorphic forms, using conventional modeling and icky pastel and pinkish tones to create puckered and creased globules that look like faceless kin to Salvador Dali’s melted clocks. Like Jonathan Lasker, Carroll Dunham, and Elizabeth Murray, Sasser employs a cartoonish biomorphism to get from painting to painting; the blob changes form and color, finds itself in different situations and environments, but remains a constant.

In one painting, the primary form hangs, like a piece of gum stuck under a tabletop, from a thickly painted beige promontory, the edges of which have been ornamented with pastrylike decorations. In another painting from 1991, the blob is blue and explodes visually in six gestural jets. On the top of this painting a blood-red, thickly painted yolk shape seems sewn on to the canvas with a ribbon of black paint, like a piece of leather appliqué.

Sasser employs cakelike decoration and engages in skillful and apparently intuitive mark-making within a single painting. And though his loose approach to abstraction transcends categorization, resisting easy labels such as “abstract,” “conceptual,” “real,” “surreal,” and “neo– all of the above,” Sasser’s evocative formal vocabulary avoids mere eccentricity. Painting at this point in time benefits, as does any pompous socially and ideologically entrenched position, from a good tweak. Sasser knows the value of humor and uses it to good effect, separating himself from the acolytes of Modernist abstraction and, in his own strange way, contentiously opening up the practice of painting.

Matthew Weinstein