In the past few years Sasnal has figured in a number of prominent European shows, including The Saatchi Gallery’s ‘The Triumph of Painting (part two) in 2005 and this year at The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, (see also Flash Art, May-June, 06, p130) and it is not hard to see why this young Polish artist’s work finds approval there. His style reinforces a certain strand to European painting that in many ways is the counterpart to the American trend discussed in Post 5. So a quick survey of Sasnal here provides the opportunity to expand on this difference.
Sasnal’s work seems to follow on from that of Luc Tuymans, to rework historical and scientific photographs and graphics in a deliberately cursory or perfunctory way. Tuymans’ signature style emerged in the mid eighties, just as Neo-Expressionism began to tire. The loose, abrupt drawing, pallid colours and thin facture share something of Neo-Expressionism’s impatience with technique, but with Tuymans these are applied to standard categories or genres of picture, in contrast with Neo-Expressionism’s impulsive invention, and notably on a much smaller scale. The effect is a sharp contempt or indifference for the form of such pictures. Subsequently Tuymans tightens the drawing, relies upon colour and facture to express this passive/aggressive attitude.
It is interesting to compare both the kinds of pictures he targets and his treatment of them with American contemporaries like John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage, with their stress on traditional expertise and pictures of leisure and luxury. Both styles use painting to point to everyday genres, to qualities of composition, lighting, setting and so forth that set standard pictorial information, but differ sharply over means and ends.
Perhaps the closest American counterpart to Tuymans’ approach would be the work of Raymond Pettibon. But since Pettibon mostly confines his work to brush and ink and refers firstly to comic strips and dated graphics, combining it with elaborate literary citation and pastiche, the drawing does not quite carry the same charge. Still, one could easily imagine Pettibon’s efforts at oil painting might look something like a Tuymans. As noted in Post 5, the effect is quite different from Pop Art, since the works (either Pettibon’s or Tuymans’) do not really call attention to qualities of printing, but rather more generally to iconography. Tuymans’ project pointedly avoids the resources of caricature and pastiche available to Currin or Yuskavage, but embraces a much wider range of genres, in fact at times pursues these to graphics, text and abstraction, yet the effect remains an abiding distain or distrust.
The challenge for an artist following, such as Sasnal, is to measure genre against treatment in painting, to decide what can be done to what sort of picture, while preserving the difference. For Sasnal, colour and facture are never quite as feeble or thin as Tuymans, drawing resists caricature and fiction for business-like outlines that reduce volume and depth, recall instructional diagrams. Brushwork and colour remain respectful but distant; underline how abstract the fill to outlines is here. The result is a bit like New Image Painting of the late 70s, with more concession to setting and depth. In this respect Sasnal arrives at a fainter or finer response, to a more general or abstract genre.
In Girl Smoking (Anka) (2001) it is just the close-up framing of a film or video, the sense of a frozen moment in a narrative. But while the style seems slender for this refinement of means and dilation of ends, it also shows how painting once more is drawn to old questions of form and abstraction, of point, line and plane, volume, tone and colour, but now with a very different perspective and on a very different world from the start of the last century. The project is no longer to a full and final abstraction but to lesser degrees and in a variety of ways (see also Post 2).
Sasnal’s ‘blocking-in’ or generalising approach is shared by Dresdeners Eberhard Haverkost and Thoralf Knobloch (both also collected by Charles Saatchi) but in their work, brushwork and outline are more integrated, more complex, figure’s features are reduced, rendering them stock types, often in stock compositions and elsewhere attention is to architectural and industrial design features, to other genres. To pursue this strand is really the work of another post, here, it is enough to indicate Sasnal’s style and why it matters in Europe.