Daniel Sinsel: Untitled, 2013, oil on linen, 51¼ x 51 3/8 inches; at Mickey Shubert.

 

Photography and film are conventionally considered to be the contemporary visual media of the erotic. Painting, however, is the most essentially erotic pictorial medium. Because a painting is an invention rather than a document, it is always striving after a consummation which it can never entirely achieve, the grasping of a pictorial space to which its materiality can only indirectly allude.

Daniel Sinsel's paintings polarize the medium's objecthood and illusionism, and make them twin correlatives of desire. At Micky Schubert, Sinsel's installation embodied this process. The two halves, and levels, of the gallery each contained two paintings which related to one another while contrasting with the idiom of the other two (all untitled). The polarization of the gallery space was therefore structural.

Two of the paintings (each 2013), hung on one wall of the main space, were overtly illusionistic, even parodically so. Each depicted a large circular portal in the middle of a 51¼-inch-square canvas. An illusionistically rendered disc appeared at an angle (as if pivoting) within it—the positive to the hole's negative space, which doubled as a blue sky background, bright aqua in one of the paintings, dusky gray-blue in the other. Each painting might have been a pared-down symbol for the fictive penetration of the picture plane by pictorial illusion. In the middle of the disc in the painting on the left, a tiny phallus and testicles had been painted in the same beige color as the disc itself, suggesting these body parts might be carved out of stone or plaster, in a traditional figurative sculptural style as illusionistic as that of the painting which depicted them. This motif was a symbolic device, defining the pivoting circles, by association, as erotic, poised between here and there, between the objectified painting and the desire which forces a breach in its facade.

Their erotic symbolism contrasted with the paintings' abstraction, or rather their illusion of abstraction (a circle in its negative and positive forms). But in contrast to the embodied materialistic process of the two smaller paintings on the other side of the gallery, the abstraction of the circle paintings was played down, their illusionism emphasized. One of the two smaller works (2012) was painted in pink-flesh-colored oil on open-weaved linen, with the gaps in the weave broad enough to reveal the stretcher. Seven hazelnut shells, drilled with holes, were affixed to the surface of the canvas with string. The features of the painting transparently carried us through its material constituents—like a recipe in which all ingredients remain exposed in the finished dish—although the holes in the nuts also suggested a connection beyond the painting itself, and its material parameters, to the illusionistic circular portals across the gallery.

Through this play of contrasts and correspondences, Sinsel clinically plotted a spectrum of painting's various guises as an erotic metaphor—from metaphysical illusion to minimalistic manifestation, from hands-on to eyes-open. In the other smaller painting (2013), an even broader linen weave had been entirely painted over, until the surface was a gridded relief, lumpen with hazelnuts buried under thick brown paint. A central area had been painted over in flesh pink to create a rectilinear area that completed the exhibition's circle, by taking us from the pictoriality of illusion to the objecthood of abstraction to the pictoriality of abstraction, and from the allusive erotics of a depicted phallus to the elusive erotics of the flesh-pinkness of a painted canvas.