For his latest exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ, renowned Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal delivers an intense network of interweaving dialogues through a diverse range of new paintings. The works on display reveal Sasnal’s signature rendering of both subjective and iconic socio-historical motifs to a unified level of near abstract form. These are tinged with a melancholic escapism.
The canvases vary wildly in size from intimate studies to expansive visions and encompass the viewer from all sides. In doing so each canvas offers a possible avenue for narrative. ‘Reality’ observes Sasnal, ‘is a jigsaw that’s being put together, but we only see parts’. This is characteristically drawn out by Sasnal’s use of block-colour to trace only the most identifiable outline of an object. This produces a nostalgic effect that pushes through the melancholic escapism, as objects become warped, like a memory revisited so often it has become devoid of factual realism in favour of remembered highlights.
The series of two paintings ‘Untitled (Last Temptation)’ (2014) depict an ominous silhouetted figure leaning against a doorway, as an empty simplistic seascape permeates the composition’s only (albeit diminished) colour. The figure’s outline is imprinted on the rich blues of the seas and sky, as the title proffers this isolated person in the role of lover.
Adjacent to this sits the only work in the exhibition that wasn’t created in 2014, ‘Witek’ (2009). A large canvas, it measures at 220 x 180 cm. It expressively depicts a naked woman sleeping on a towel at a beach. The woman is lying on her side in a foetal position, with one hand clamped between her thighs as the other arches back over her head. Her skin is pale and pasty, in blended whites and browns. The ground is a gravel-like grey, and silhouetted trees loom in the distance, insinuating that this is a space of great secrecy and personal importance for Sasnal. Could the two be related, perhaps from the same trip? Was it even a trip? Could the woman in ‘Witek’ be the figure so spectrally transcribed in ‘Untitled (Last Temptation)’?
In ‘Atlas’ (2014), ‘Atlas II’ (2014), ‘Atlas III’ (2014), the subject of globalisation is touched upon, as three small works solemnly depict heavily cropped images from the story of Atlas, in a heightened black and white pallet. To their right ‘Europe – America’ (2014), a giant midnight blue canvas sporting scores and rips on its surface in addition to a frenzy of violent white mark-making over two white emblematic forms, dwarfs them. As the title alludes to the great distance between the two, the relationship between it and ‘Lightning’ (2014), which sits directly opposite is exposed. In ‘Lightning’, a similar midnight blue shimmers in a fragmented frame of black. This is cut by a violent line of white across the composition. The image oscillates between total abstraction and narrative, as if in brief areas of lucidity this could be a view of a sea-storm at night from an airplane window. Yet Sasnal never reveals, preferring to leave the audience in a state of suspended indecision, echoing his earlier sentiments of reality as a jigsaw that cannot be fully completed to make a total picture.
It is in the magnitude of the ever increasing criss-crossing of broken dialogues and snippets of visual information that the viewer finds a palpable stillness within themselves, as they look inwards for a sense of rooting - of stillness. As this introspect happens it renders the viewer in an intense vulnerability, alone and exposed. The paintings in the exhibition that loom all around have transformed and it is you that is now on display, as you reflect upon your very own jigsawed reality.