by David M. Roth
For the past two decades, Cape Town-based artist Lyndi Sales has distinguished herself by creating sprawling installations that challenge perception. These dense, mobile-like constructions, composed of cut paper painted with reflective coatings and diachronic glass, change color anamorphically, evoking everything from microscopic life and distant nebulae to the artist's own ocular afflictions and experiences with mind-altering drugs. One such piece represented South Africa at the 2011 Venice Biennial. Others, including one at Facebook in Palo Alto, are displayed in the headquarters of corporations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the U.S. The thread connecting them is the artist's desire to push herself — and viewers – into realms beyond consensus reality.
By necessity, the 2-D works on paper that make up this exhibition are smaller and less flamboyant than the light-and-space oriented installations for which she’s best known, but they are no less ambitious or labor-intensive. They were inspired by a trip to Brazil in which the artist imbibed ayahuasca under the direction of a shaman – a common practice these days among those seeking a psychic power wash. Unlike the installations, which achieve lift-off through shifting colors and hundreds of interlocking parts, these works don’t function as portals to someplace else. What we see, to paraphrase Frank Stella, is what’s there: namely, slender, precisely cut lengths of painted paper splayed out in fan-like shapes that allude to nothing except maybe the plumage of tropical birds or the moving parts of a camera lens. While they suggest openings into some other dimension, they remain resolutely shut, leaving you no choice but to contemplate the forms at hand. In these, colors, bold and subtle, laid down in carefully modulated gradients capture attention. But it's the visual rhythms produced by the collaged shapes that command sustained viewing. They yield an experience akin to listening to Philip Glass in which unexpected variations within repeating patterns become animating events.
Three very dissimilar works that appear in the show indicate possible flirtations with early 20th-century forms of non-objective abstraction – seen in amoeba-like blotches of watercolor framing interlocking triangles, circles and squares: symbols of what later became known as “spiritual abstraction,” a term formally codified in a 1986-87 show at the LA County Museum of Art called The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting, 1890 – 1985. (The titles attached — Next Time Around We’ll be Much Closer; Trying to Break the Cycle; Every Thought Moves this Galaxy – lend credence to this hunch.)
The one real outlier in the exhibition, Crystal Beings that Assist Me, is, to my eyes, the strongest piece in the show. It’s an amalgam of cut paper undergirded by the same kind of linear strips seen elsewhere. They shoot out in all directions like yarrow sticks tossed in the divination of the I Ching. Atop them lay cutout swatches of poured paint that suggest congealed lava. The disarray of these elements gives the piece a frenzied, kinetic feel, reminiscent of the sprawling paper collages of Val Britton.
The connection between the two isn't mere happenstance. Besides having large-scale installations at Facebook, made as part of the company's artist-in-residence program, both artists were motivated to work as they do by traumatic events: Sales' father perished in an
unsolved plane crash; Britton's dad, a long-haul trucker, died unexpectedly when she was a teenager. And while their orientations differ – Sales expresses herself in the visual language of scientific inquiry; Britton replicates, in highly abstract form, earthbound phenomena viewed from the sky – the overlap in their modes of production points to how loss so often fuels memorable art.
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Lyndi Sales: Brighter than the Sun” @ Nancy Toomey Fine Art through November 2, 2019.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.