Robert Sagerman’s fourth solo exhibition of paintings at Margaret Thatcher Projects offers a notable development of his strikingly distinctive work. Sagerman’s painting, paradoxically, combines a visual opulence with a rigorous, even ascetic, approach to art-making. His meticulous process involves the application of thousands of “marks” of oil paint using dozens of colors that he mixes and applies in thick, textural layers. The final achievement is an energetic work that radiates an imposing physical, spiritual and intellectual presence.
Concerning the remarkable optical sensations generated by Sagerman’s paintings, Michael Fehr writes that the work produces a sense of the “indeterminable.” It appears almost as if the paint’s color hovers in an elusive state of detachment from the material of the paint itself. In the exhibition’s title, Sagerman alludes to the notion of optical indeterminacy, but he indexes as well the indeterminacy of that which “resides beyond the sensate.” This evoked substratum to the painted work Sagerman calls “…the ‘no-thing’ that is the subject ‘matter’ of the painted field and is the ‘object’ of my work’s devotional dimension.” On one hand, this “no-thing” suggests the field-based structure of Sagerman’s, in which no compositional elements are present. In this respect, the field elicits, despite its density, a sense of the immaterial. On the other, the phrase “no-thing” alludes also to the studies that have earned Sagerman a doctorate in Jewish mysticism. In Jewish mystical speculation, the highest strata of the divine world are assigned the attribute of limitlessness or “nothingness.”
In the exhibition’s title, Sagerman points to the dichotomous relationship between the overwhelming sensuality of his work (the repeated word “on” in the title indicating this surface quality) and the more numinous directedness at the work’s core (the “in” and “into”). The latter dimension is reflected in Sagerman’s counting practice as well. The titles of Sagerman’s paintings derive from the number of applied daubs of paint that make up each work, which he counts as he paints in a manner that hearkens back to the medieval Jewish mystical practice that was the subject of his studies. “In some sense, the numerical tabulations capture the essence of the painting in a way that the painting’s visual presence cannot,” writes Sagerman.
Sagerman’s work is widely exhibited both nationally and internationally. His work has been reviewed in Art in America and ArtNews, among other publications. There will be an artist’s talk at the gallery on May 15, featuring critic and art historian Michael Amy. Mary Birmingham, Director of Exhibitions at the Hunterdon Art Museum, will moderate the discussion.