At Praxis, Saul Sanchez Updates Donald Judd’s Definition of Minimalism
The square is one of the simplest shapes. It has also served as a muse to countless artists throughout the 20th century. Some claim that Kasimir Malevich, father of the Suprematist movement, invented abstract art when he painted his Black Square (1915). In in 1960s, Josef Albers paved the way for Minimalism with his “Homage to the Square” series, in which he painted the four-sided form in every imaginable color. Now, in a new show at Praxis, Colombian-born, New York-based painter Saul Sanchez revitalizes the classic shape.
Installation view, Saul Sanchez, “One After Another,” Praxis, New York. Courtesy of Praxis, New York.
At first glance, Sanchez’s body of work might look incomplete: each untreated canvas features a single blue square, bordered by what appears to be masking tape—a material often used to ensure straight edges during the process of painting, but usually removed before a finished work’s big reveal. But there is more than meets the eye, here. Sanchez hasn’t mistakenly left masking tape on his surfaces; instead, he’s painstakingly painted each strip so as to fool the eye. In this way, Sanchez elegantly, and somewhat cheekily, fuses two devices that don’t often find their way to the same canvas—trompe l’oeil and Minimalism.
This unlikely marriage also has its roots in Donald Judd’s classic essay on Minimalism, “Specific Objects,” in which Judd derides illusionistic painting in favor of art that is the repetition of “one thing after another.” In Sanchez’s show, playfully titled “One After Another,” he follows Judd’s instructions to a T—the walls of Praxis are in fact covered with one square after another—while cleverly making a case that illusion can still have a place in abstraction.
Commentary about the history of abstraction aside, Sanchez’s paintings shine for their emphasis on the simple beauty of his squares. Each has been painted in “ultramarine blue,” a vivid hue that entrances the eyes. Sanchez applies paint thickly, giving the forms a rich texture that suggests an endless abyss or, perhaps, the depths of the ocean. Taken together, the canvases come across as tiny square portals into otherworldly realms.
Rounding out the show is a series of delicate paintings on sketchbook paper, most of them tacked directly to the wall. Each shows a few strips of (painted) masking tape arranged to make a shape. Here, it is almost as if Sanchez is playing a game, exploring how many different compositions he can make from the barest essentials. In both groups of works, Sanchez turns the tools of painting into abstract compositions, blurring the lines between object and process, representation and abstraction.