Nowadays, because of the viral lockdown, I am reduced to peering at small on-screen photographic reproductions of Sigrid Sandström’s new paintings. I wish I could fly to LA to see these paintings big and in person, not to mention fly to see them staged in any of the contexts where Sigrid has lived and worked, like Sweden, the Arctic, the south of France, or even New England. But the expanses and beholdings of these places come through in her work nonetheless. One great effect of Sigrid’s work is the way she stages physical confrontations. Though she musters pictorial terms like measure, perspective, scale and mimesis, she contradicts the grandeur of those classical terms with a visceral, base materiality. You don’t so much stand and “look at” these paintings as you tumble into their terms and are swept up into their activity, as you would be galvanized by a storm-tracking system broadcast on the weather channel with the sound off. In other words, there’s a certain anxiety implicit in them, an organizational clarity around a quality of a stark and silent mystery. Even viewed from my laptop, I can see that her new paintings lay this contradictory picture even more bare and more succinctly rendered.

First you notice the individual elements of these pictures: a planet, a moon, a boulder, an iceberg, a swath, a veil, a cloud, a residue, a squiggle. Or just an arm sweep. All nameable things, though somewhat abstract, detached, distant from us. But each thing is organized neatly, like a child’s book of prima materia. Each shape or vapor has its own distinct color:  it’s a pale yellow sun, a hot crimson pour, a tin-foil grey imprint, a pink digital notebook squiggle, a smoky trail. These constituent parts are set against a tidy uninflected ground, which would all seem to add up to a vocabulary of différance. But Sigrid has churned these elements up into a kind of primordial disequilibrium. Things are in motion, tipping over, horizonless, upside down or right side up, it’s hard to tell in this vertiginous circulatory system. Things are tumbling around as if they were in celestial dryers. And in fact, the verbs that one can use to describe the action of Sigrid’s paintings (tumbling, sweeping, cycling, churning) are as related to the settings on a blender or a dryer, to domestic chores,  as they are to cosmology. So while at first you think of a solar system because of their various planetary orbs, soon you feel implicated in a simulated play of associations, with things let loose, things let go. Some invisible force may be holding these things together but it’s not gravity, and it’s not the ether, there’s no visible horizon, no up or down. So what’s holding the pictures together boils down to a painter’s ground zero, the action on the tableau. The tableau might be a picture plane or just a kitchen table. Or both. The printed forms in her paintings might be distant icebergs seen from the prow of a ship, or just the up-close imprint of skin. Or both.

Sigrid proposes paintings that remind us of something, but it might just be a feeling, really: the variable scale at which life is experienced, and the way painting is not specifically instrumental in merely measuring it. The parts and the whole don’t really explain one another, just as tasks and measurements and vanishing points don’t really offer a manual for living. Sigrid embraces a 1970s expanded field of bodily techniques that upend a classical language, including parataxis, performativity, indexes, a flatbed space, pouring, and psycho-mapping. To these gambits she adds her 21st C anxieties and themes, geological time, worries about the Anthropocene, a variety of marks possible as in a digital toolbox, and an even greater ambivalence about the uses and abuses of subjectivity and emotion. Perhaps her overall purpose (and this might be the politics of poetic painting) is to find form for these ideas while keeping the project distinct from information technology, which painting decidedly does NOT boil down to. We feel that even more now, in lockdown. Sigrid’s paintings reveal ideas as pressures, nodes lying in contradiction to other forms of thought– ideas vs. things, ideas vs. experiences, ideas vs. sites– but never ideas as equivalent to the painting itself. Her paintings pithily reveal necessary intimacies and contingencies, in an organized allowance of smears, wipes, and stained fingerprints, a script that is both tactile and ideal written in an abstract language. Her paintings indicate what oceanic feeling might look like, and she gives us materials, both auratic and pragmatic, for casting ourselves in to a generative matrix.

Amy Sillman, March 2021