The Artsy Vanguard 2022: Sasha Gordon
In Sasha Gordon’s Temporary (2019), golden-haired blow-up dolls in Girl Scout uniforms hijack a suburban neighborhood. One tugs helplessly at a wagon on which the artist, dressed in a decorated green vest, is perched eating Thin Mints, indifferent to the chaos.
The scene, a farce buckling into a nightmare, tackles personal trauma and mental illness. Painted while Gordon was studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, it marked a shift in her practice: Until that point, her works had increasingly focused on her identity but “they were still paintings that were more illustrative, from memory,” Gordon said. “And then after that Girl Scout painting, I started to get a bit weirder with concept and subject matter.”
“Weird” is a fitting word to describe Gordon’s paintings, which embrace the uncanny through self-portraiture only to assert the very real feeling of navigating layered selves. They explore the full range of her personhood as a biracial queer woman, using devices such as color, scale, and doubling to define herself while pushing against real-world limits. This handling is deft, and deliciously unsubtle: Gordon’s figures loom large within their frames, rendered in hallucinatory palettes and at ease in their perfectly strange domains.
Take Echo (2020), which sidles us up to the artist’s gleeful face as she lays on a picnic blanket, eyes cast upward to return the gaze of her own self—here a deity-like being who balances a pearl of spit between puckered lips. Droplets fall toward the terrestrial Gordon, her face a mirror to the unseen cosmos, reflecting the appealing abyss of a mood ring turning cool. Gordon’s language is figuration with a force that moves beyond the superficial; what is inside or unseen cannot be contained.
Portrait of Sasha Gordon in her studio. Photo by Tommy Kha. Courtesy of Sasha Gordon.
This approach has contributed to her emergence as one of the most singular painters in an age of figuration frenzy. In 2021, shortly after Gordon received a BFA in painting from RISD, the hotshot dealer Matthew Brown mounted her debut solo exhibition, “Enters Thief,” at his Los Angeles gallery. It led to her first museum acquisition, by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, and established her as a force to watch.
This year, Jeffrey Deitch hosted her first New York solo show and included her work in the L.A. edition of its popular exhibition “Wonder Women,” which spotlighted 40 women and nonbinary artists of the Asian diaspora. Gordon’s most recent group show brought her overseas to Denmark’s Rudolph Tegners Museum, where her monumental painting—a radiant self-portrait that summons both Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World—was in dialogue with works by artists such as Cecily Brown, Sanford Biggers, and Jonathan Lyndon Chase.
Sasha Gordon, Like Froth, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Matthew Brown, and Rudolph Tegners Museum.
Sasha Gordon, Concert Mistress, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Brown.
For Gordon, who is not yet 25, the experience of rapid art world recognition has been nothing short of incredulous. “I’m still really shocked,” she said. “I have a lot of impostor syndrome, and I think that will follow me for a while. I think it is actually a good thing: It keeps me humble and wanting to do better.”
For many years, Gordon shied away from openly depicting herself, opting during her childhood to paint animals, and later, at the start of college, mostly friends. “It felt very impossible,” she said. That discomfort stemmed from her experiences growing up as the daughter of a Polish American father and a Korean mother in a predominantly white community in Westchester County, New York.
Portrait of Sasha Gordon in her studio. Photo by Sophie Schwartz. Courtesy of Sasha Gordon.
Sasha Gordon, Aquarius, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Matthew Brown, and Jeffrey Deitch.
Paintings like Temporary and Peel (2017), the latter of which depicts several East Asian women in various states of isolation, are early wrestlings with Gordon’s feelings of alienation and self-discovery. Such works draw influence from the raw and unfiltered portraits of Liu Wei and Wei Dong, East Asian artists whom Gordon chanced upon. She also discovered an alluring raciness in the youthful photographs of Ren Hang, and in Namio Harukawa’s drawings of voluptuous women—an affirmation of sexuality and inner power.
Gordon has since found her stride with similarly assured, main-character-energy portraits in which she frequently appears nude or in various states of undress. Seductress (2021) portrays her standing in a bathtub, turned slightly to glance coquettishly at the viewer; gleaming in the shower head is not a reflection, per se, but a scaled-down version of the scene—of a distant, dual self.
Sasha Gordon, Seductress, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Brown.
Sasha Gordon, In My Dreams I Dance for You, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Matthew Brown, and Jeffrey Deitch.
Gordon takes this multiplicity to the extreme in paintings like In My Dreams I Dance for You (2022), in which a trio of crimson-skinned girls, dressed in revealing, preppy outfits, dance on a mirror. Painting herself through these fleshy and unbothered characters feels necessary to Gordon. “I’ve tried to paint my ideas or thoughts through other figures that aren’t me, and it doesn’t feel like the language I want to use,” she said. “It’s very healing for me to paint my body, especially with my body.”
Gordon has explored the expressive power of movement and body language in several high-drama scenes, such as a bacchanal in the woods and a cutthroat tennis match. While these have tended to draw on her childhood in suburbia, she’s lately been interested in imagining metaphysical worlds that dig deeper into her identity, and that look forward. “I’m more curious to invent different versions of myself, and also of the future—different hobbies, environments, romances,” she said. “I’m really pushing toward a direction where they’re impossible scenes.”
Sasha Gordon, Almost A Very Rare Thing, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Matthew Brown, and Jeffrey Deitch.
Gordon doesn’t typically plan her paintings, preferring to work them out in the moment. She often builds on a color that excites her. “I’ll just smear red on the canvas, and I won’t know what I want to paint,” she said. But on a visit to her Bushwick studio this past September, charcoal drawings were taped on a wall—sketches for paintings destined for her first solo museum show next year.
One drawing portrays her as a fortune teller with a crystal ball illuminating a separate scene; in another, Gordon appears as a volcano, an explosion bursting from her crown. Even in grayscale, the surreal image exudes a contagious pleasure in the unbridled spillage of pure rage. “I’m curious to make paintings where the figure is an inanimate object coming into life,” Gordon said. “I’m interested in the materiality of the figures, not just trying to make them fleshy, but out of different materials.”
Sasha Gordon, My Friend Will Be Me, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Matthew Brown, and Jeffrey Deitch.
Does being so open about her physical and inner selves make her feel vulnerable? “There are definitely times when I forget it’s being shown to a whole audience,” she said. “I do feel like I’m sharing a lot, but there’s still a privateness. I keep a lot of it for myself. Whenever I make the work, it’s always for myself first.”
Appropriately, Gordon’s next step is to move slowly, to focus on herself before satisfying the market’s demands. “I’m gonna chill, and I really want to do one residency,” she said. “And make a lot of paintings—just for myself, not show or sell them. That would be nice.”
The Artsy Vanguard 2022
The Artsy Vanguard is our annual feature recognizing the most promising artists working today. The fifth edition of The Artsy Vanguard features 19 rising talents from across the globe who are poised to become the next great leaders of contemporary art. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2022 and collect works by the artists.
Header : Sasha Gordon, from left to right: “My Friend Will Be Me,” 2022; “Untitled,” 2022; and “Almost a Very Rare Thing,” 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Brown.