New York For the installation of this strong, spartan solo show, painter Erik Saxon provided the gallery’s director, Matthew Deleget, with careful instructions. In pencil, he rendered the placement of each work with the precision of an architectural blueprint, down to exact inches and locations of nails, though he allowed for in-the-moment, human-scale adjustments. As Deleget recalls, a single piece from 2009 consisting of two oil-on-linen panels—one black, the other cadmium-meets-canary yellow—took more than three hours to hang just so. The bottoms of the 16-by-20-inch panels were aligned at a 58-degree angle, exactly 16 inches apart, and the outermost edge of the right canvas was set 15 inches from the wall’s protruding column. The meticulous installation afforded the sort of perceptual and optical buzz imparted by the best Minimalist art. When the piece was viewed obliquely, with one eye closed, the roughly 1⁄8-inch-wide shadow cast by the black canvas was the same tone and color temperature as the (also roughly 1⁄8-inch) gray-black blur created by the surfaces of the two paintings when seen in unison. (You see a gentle glow, something like that caused by tricks of light and space when you are viewing a planet’s surface through a telescope.)
This was Saxon’s first significant New York outing in 18 years. In a diverse group of just six works, each had its own perceptual logic, and each was labor intensive. Now 70, Saxon is prolific yet under-known, with a solid record of showing abroad. His career in the U.S. has effectively been hiding in plain sight. He was associated with the Radical Painting Group in the 1970s and early ’80s, along with Joseph Marioni, Marcia Hafif and Olivier Mosset. Here, Deleget, working within the confines of a scant 16-by-11-foot space, opted for works that would most effectively represent Saxon’s preferred studio processes over five decades, without falling into a lockstep chronology.
In an untitled work from 1973, Saxon grids commercial Varathane paint with clear Rhoplex, and in another from 1975, he plays squares of white against narrow bands of yellow over a 60-inch-square expanse of raw canvas. In both paintings, the artist used masking techniques to get his edges crisp. By contrast, White Square 3 (1983-85) is, as its title implies, nothing more than a pure white square, though the raking sunlight from a nearby window revealed it to have a rather sensuous and heavily impastoed surface in which ridges formed by the artist’s brush are much in evidence, one horizontal “pass” after another. It’s a luminous and assertive object, both quietly conceptual and unapologetically handmade. Gallery staff informed me that some 24 layers of paint were applied to the surface. Funny: it’s also 24 inches high and wide.
With so many subtleties in the works’ basic construction and in their installation, they merit long and deep contemplation. The moral here? Perception—like studio practice and the hanging of a show—can’t be rushed.
Photo: View of Erik Saxon’s exhibition “Select Works, 1973-2011”; at Minus Space.