Sperone Westwater is pleased to present “Peter Sacks: For the Record,” the artist’s third exhibition with the gallery. Deviating from the traditional structure of the canvas, Sacks incorporates diverse and challenging found materials to examine the totemic power of objects and cycles of societal ruin and rebirth.
In works such as Wake and Fuse, installed in the East gallery, we find luminous color—ocean currents and the green world face us in a poignant celebration of an earth we stand to lose. In Outcome, Sacks dismantles the 10-inch wood-block grids found in previous series to create unpredictable, multicursal borders. Are they broken off from some much larger, once complete, world? Buried within their surfaces, alternately obscured and revealed, is a vast terrain of almost-discernable objects—hand-turned drills and bits, window frames, speedometers and barometers, bits of clothing, charred and carbonized wood, zippers, surgical tools, jewelry, electronic debris, flotsam cast up by tides after storms and other detritus that has been subjected to burning, soaking and oil and acrylic mediums. The viewer is left to parse whether they are discovering artifacts of the past or glimpsing into the ruins of a dystopian future.
In the main gallery, four works entitled Spirit Markers stride across the wall in forms that are both geometrical and sinuous; the irregular compositions and undulating surfaces evoke shamanic warriors, or constellations moving across the night sky. Are they fugitives carrying their last belongings? Are they ancestral messengers bearing gifts?
On the second floor, Sacks introduces a new series of intimately scaled sculptural figures—the Go-Betweens—spiritual powerbrokers, reminding us of Sacks’ South African origins. Alongside these, Retrieval invites closer inspection of its shimmering surface. The metallic “skin” reveals delicate etchings, while a profusion of colors begins to appear amid the silvers, blacks and greys. Human and animal eyes emerge from among bits of text and twisted metal. In No Harvest, a mouth (or is it a tiny credit card holder) gapes, revealing a golden tongue made from a miniature palm tree pendant.
Under the pressures of extreme fire, flooding, drought and bombardment, things left behind or under rubble mutate—their identities lost, their uses abandoned and incomprehensible. Yet Sacks reminds us that sites of wreckage can be sites of transformation, and that those things which are most intimate to us can be lost but never entirely abandoned. The surface of these works is a hard wrought site of retrieval, even of rugged grace.
Peter Sacks was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1950, and grew up in Durban, on the Indian Ocean. After a term in Medical School at the University of Cape Town, he decided to pursue Political Science and Literature at the University of Natal. He became involved in the struggle against the apartheid regime as a member of the National Union of South African Students and executive of the Students Representative Council. In 1970 Sacks emigrated from South Africa and spent the following several years studying in the United States and the United Kingdom. While authoring several books of literary scholarship and poetry, he painted privately, mostly in notebooks. During the late 90’s he began to work on unframed canvas pages and, after a several month retreat in Marfa, Texas, began making free-standing works. Sacks had his first solo exhibition in Paris in 2004, followed by exhibitions in New York and London. His densely layered works are in numerous private and public collections worldwide, including Baltimore Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; The Collection of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Johannesburg; The Ethelbert Cooper Museum of African and African American Art, Cambridge, MA; The Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, Oxford; and the Beyond Borders Foundation, Edinburgh. Sacks lives and works in Massachusetts.