Article about the Argentine painter Jorge Sarsale, published in MOR Magazine number 10, december 2012
The work of Jorge Sarsale: an Argentine artist and his highly personal painting. Appearances, rhythms, sequences and structures in a whole made by details.
The work of a visual artist is the exact opposite to the work of the spy novel writers. Novelists know exactly who the killer is before they start writing. The technique used to develop the intrigue is similar to the one my grandfather once taught me to find the exit of a maze in the game pages of a riddle magazine (those that have the solution written upside down at the end of the page). You have to retrace your steps and start from the exit towards the start. Jorge Sarsale works precisely backwards: when he starts working, he is not sure how his work will end. He has a certain notion, an idea, but when the incidental happens, it ends up being the spirit of the work. When the audience sees it live they will most probably accept the unspoken invitation and give a closer look to every detail, every interstice and in every superposition trying to find out how it was made. The audience might fall into the temptation and work like a novelist, trying to rebuild the plot starting with that outcome –the work hanging on the wall– towards the beginning. And this is because the works of Sarsale are plots. Composition plots, formed by lines that cross and superpose one another made with different levels of distinguishable volume differences between the layers of materials in the work. There are also time plots, marked by the presence of visual rhythms, which often work as binary oppositions: full-empty, black-white, horizontal-vertical, all built on modulated repetitions of apparently similar patterns.
This impulse for reconstructing the pictorial work has a long history. Despite belonging to totally different universes, the work of Sarsale has the potential of generating the same question as much of the canonical painters work do. How does he do it? What in Caravaggio or Velázquez is, from a certain distance, a naturalistic photographical scene, with a closer look it is transformed in a shameless and evident painting. The prints of the paintbrush, the pressure made by the bristle on the soft materiality of the oil painting, the artist’s gesture is intentionally present in a surface which, from the distance, fooled us disguised as reality. Whereas in the work of Sarsale the surprise is given by the opposite discovery. What in the distance appears to be a well constructed painting, on a closer look it reveals the enigma of its materiality; it is not a painting, it’s made of paper. But the revelation, far from clarifying the question, boosts it up: how does he do it?
I’ve known Sarsale for many years now (seven, to be accurate) and in the consecutive visits I have paid to his workshop I have often asked him to describe his production process. Even today I cannot retrace the steps that make that personal technique that he has been elaborating and keeps changing, based on trial and error system. The artist’s essence is sustained, in the end, by long hours of work. Since they arrive to his workshop and are extended in the stretcher’s surface, the paper sheets (colored, white, black, with different densities and textures) undergo various cutting, folding, assembly, superposition and varnishing processes. Sometimes this apparently standardized process, almost Fordesque, results in a work that represents that structure. Some other times, like Alexander Fleming when discovering the penicillin, the discovery emerges and the process is twisted, interrupted, and assumes forms that open a new road, altering the rhythm. There are times when the paper is not leveled in two dimensions, but it inhabits the space instead, like in the “Eso” series -a mutable and carefully disposition of paper rolls built on a wall. There are times when these paper surfaces are transformed into the skin of functional objects like tables or chairs, or are made as housing metaphors, in the “Nidos” (Nests) series for example, in which he constructs baker nests.
All these works awake ambiguous sensations, which, because of its aesthetical quality, may be tranquilizing at first but at the same time are invitations to explore their details, their niches, and generate a discovery with every new look.
His latest production provides, in that second look, new and determinant findings. In his research for new materials with different types of papers, Sarsale found an idea that adds one more plot to the work: the metaphorical plot, the conceptual plot. In these new works, Sarsale knits his visual mazes with papers extracted from phone books or newspaper obituaries. He does to these papers the same thing he does to white papers: he fragments and superposes them. Hundreds of names and addresses appear mounted on each other. A so untidily well organized plot of people is now building on the surface of the work of art a universe of new meanings. In his own words: “My work with printed paper changed the meaning of my speech. Starting with those works, the work itself, for me, is made more explicit. It shows what to me is the core of my work: what lies behind, what has no visibility, what, because it is so present or so overexposed, cannot be registered.”
That which awakened visual reminiscences with writing or codes with its rhythms and its repetitions, or the elements that in its lineal composition –I’m thinking in his installation “That”– had a more implicit relationship with the visual category in writing, is now writing itself. The art critic Fabián Lebenglik pointed out on a review about this new work published in the newspaper Página/12
: “There is writing, a certain syntax, a relationship between real time and virtual movement. And that writing is also microscopically inscribed in the work because the paper sheets or the backs where those stripes are attached are made of phone book pages. And there, in alphabetical order, names, streets and numbers are displayed. Then, with a closer look to the work, we notice, from the distance, that the army of insects that the work seems to attract is actually made of alphabetical listings. And that is when the first and material metaphor arises.”
The ability to systemize events and objects is a source of tranquility for the human kind. Everything that can be catalogued is controllable, when we put a name on it and fits a predetermined box, finds its place in the system, we dominate it. Sarsale’s work, when first looked at, appears to be constructivist, decorative, and doesn’t present enigmas. But when analyzed with more detail, the peace that this classification offers is disturbed. The feeling is that if you can sharpen your hearing in the middle of the musical silence of this precise composition, a disturbing whisper can be heard. A closer look may reveal that the right angle of the work is deceitful, that the angles are disguised as right angles but allow a chance to twist them. A methodical construction procedure with a margin of uncontrollable nature within its own system that introduces the sensitivity of what the artist does not control and, in Sarsale’s case, does not intend to control. In a 2004 text, Elena Nieves says: “In a first approach, the apparent monotonous rhythm, after the eye accommodates, starts to manifest its irregularity by means of delicacies, of small size ruptures, of superposition, of direction changes, of adjusted chromatic variations. He handles the essential without stridencies.” A failed Creator who turns the “error” into a virtue.
The discussion settled years ago on the limits of the “painting” category is constantly renewed in Sarsale’s work. A painter that paints without preparing colors, without using paintbrushes, and, in the end, without paint. The pictorial quality of his work leaves no doubts: despite not being “painted”, it is a painting. When talking to him, the subject is not even mentioned but his speech leaves no doubts, as he has no doubts of his own. He sees himself as a painter and his work as paintings. Once again, he is moving in the margin of taxonomies, of cataloguing. This is not because of an avant-garde rebelliousness; he is not trying to break apart from anything –in the XXI Century there is not much left to break apart from– he is not interested in controversy. He produces silently. Far from the raucous yell, the artist builds himself in accordance with his production: a meticulous, obsessive, job; a plot that is being knit with patience, in which every module fits and completes the previous plot, and in which the open and permanent research goes beyond the method that sustains it. A plot that adds another plot, and keeps making the road to a work of art.