Sacks’ approach to painting utilises the most intimate material residues of life — textiles, texts, and traces of objects — all transformed into active fields of energy, empathy and history. Each work by Sacks is a striking accretion of material, meaning, and emotion. In addition to wood, metal, cardboard, batting and quilting, the rhythmic surfaces are made up of pieces of fabric from around the world, embroidery, fishing nets, buttons and burlap, as well as fragments of garments. The works are handmade, some taking years to make, overt in their physicality and materiality in an increasingly digital world.
This exhibition is the most geographically wide-ranging Sacks has made to date, featuring materials gathered from the USA, India, Spain, Normandy and the continent of Africa amongst others. The cultural diversity of Durban, where the artist grew up, has had a lasting influence on his artistic sensibility and process. All the materials used in his practice have personal significance: for example, the fragments of traditional Indian garments relate to the large Indian population in Durban, whilst precious cloth from Normandy references the artist’s time living there. Sacks, who also uses fragments of an American Civil War quilt in this new work, is preoccupied with forced migration, displacement and diaspora, concepts physically manifested in the dynamic and rupturing fluidities in his paintings, themselves in perpetual migration through space and time.
The artist has referred to his intensive process of discovery and layering as “excavating in reverse”. His intricately patterned works, layered with materials, paint and embroidered stitch, also incorporate text. Whilst having focused on painting since the early 2000s, prior to this Sacks published five acclaimed books of poetry. He types with a manual typewriter directly onto the fabric adding a partially buried yet powerful element – the micro-geographies of thread and text reveal more the closer you get. The texts include literary passages as well as transcriptions from political prisoners in besieged cities such as Aleppo, turning testimonials into visual forms and producing a sense of simultaneously urgent appeal and timeless, collective memory. Themes of threat and danger, retrieval and regeneration are prevalent, with ruined cities and outposts of civilization explicitly invoked in works such as Outpost 2 (2017); marks left by humanity on the natural world are considered in others, like his False Bay series (2015). There is a prevailing atmosphere of ordeal in which each painting is itself a survivor.
Peter Sacks (b. 1950, Port Elizabeth, South Africa) currently lives and works in the USA, between Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. After growing up in Durban, Sacks was educated at Princeton, Oxford and Yale. He joined Marlborough Gallery in 2016. He has had solo exhibitions at various galleries in the USA and Europe, including: Marlborough Gallery, New York (2017); Robert Miller Gallery, New York (2014); Paul Rodgers 9W, New York (2012-13); Wade Wilson Art, Houston, Texas (2012-13); and Galerie Piece Unique, Paris (2007-8). He has participated in group exhibitions internationally, including: The Woven Arc, The Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2016); Expo Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (2015); Art International, Istanbul (2015); Bologna Art Fair, Bologna (2006); and FIAC Art Fair, Paris (2004 & 2005). His work is held in public collections including The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Collection of Constitutional Court of South Africa, Johannesburg.
A fully illustrated catalogue with an introduction by Paul Keegan accompanies the exhibition.