by David M. Roth
As initially conceived, Color Field painting visualized immateriality through radiant expanses of color and amorphous forms. The idea was to direct attention away from the facts of a painting’s surface toward a realm beyond. Robert Sagerman’s canvases do the opposite. Despite the artist’s professed devotion to Kabballah, a form of Jewish mysticism, the associations he conjures in his current show, Numinous Substance, feel resolutely earthbound. His modestly scaled canvases carry gobs of pigment carved with deep cavities that sport filigreed tips. Each reflects and refracts light differently depending on the colors employed and their spatial orientation. Some are monochromatic with flecks of contrasting color peeking out; others feature multi-hued gradients that give off an iridescent sheen, like the feathers of a mallard. But it’s the scalloped shapes, seamlessly connected, that give these paintings a distinct kinetic charge. They swirl and spin, suggesting schools of fish, whirlpools or geese on the wing. Such allusions spring from a repeated Van Gough-like (think: Starry Skies) gesture, which became the artist’s signature years ago. What pushes the work beyond what Walter Robinson called “zombie formalism” is how Sagerman uses those marks to modulate speed, color, shadow and light. Each painting appears to writhe as if controlled by primordial forces. The character of that motion shifts depending on where you stand, yielding a range of shifting topographies that can’t be easily captured or conveyed in reproductions.
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Robert Sagerman: “Numinous Substance” @ Nancy Toomey Fine Art through October 21, 2023.
About the author: David M. Roth is the editor, publisher and founder of Squarecylinder, where, since 2009, he has published over 400 reviews of Bay Area exhibitions. He was previously a contributor to Artweek and Art Ltd. and senior editor for art and culture at the Sacramento News & Review.