Michael Sagato’s works are no one thing. Erotic, provocative, absorbing, and playful, they delve into the zeitgeist through a classical painting style, and come up for air with questions of gender, beauty, individuality, and the anxieties of existentialism. His new large-scale oils, painted on sheets of shiny aluminum, quite literally reflect their viewers, as well as Sagato’s own Lower East Side neighborhood: gritty and rough, with an alluring air of cool. While reviving his ongoing investigations into the female form, among these new works, on view now at Jack Geary Contemporary, he also presents still life tableaux that speak to the current art world. “While conversant with past and present players, and artistic movements, in fascinating and productive ways, Sagato is most importantly doing his own thing,” writes Magdalena Edwards in the introductory essay to the new Jack Geary show. “As he develops his visual language, he borrows and translates freely from advertising, photography, fashion, social media, street art, and the street itself.”
At the core of the show is Sagato’s new series, “Birds of a Feather,” which takes a nude female covered in butterflies as its protagonist. Upholding the artist’s tendency to obscure his subjects’ facial features, the figure holds a pair of binoculars over her eyes; on her head, atop a mane of grayscale hair, sits a crown filled with exotic blue and orange feathers. Cleverly deploying the phrase “Birds of a feather flock together,” Sagato isolates his leading lady, a symbolic crutch at her side, nodding to the values of individuality and its vice-like side effects. While she ironically searches for companions with binoculars, the device is pointed in the wrong direction; she is actually creating more distance between herself and surrounding life. The butterflies that mask her ghostly skin are representations of the unique qualities a person possesses.
Sagato manages to seamlessly slip in a final highlight, Love Me Love Me Love Me (2013), the result of a collaboration with fellow artist, Curtis Kulig. Kulig launched his career by scrawling his now-iconic cursive “Love Me” script all over Lower Manhattan. Now the script sits atop Sagato’s subjects, three passionately intertwined women, who recall mythical female trios, particularly the “Three Graces” from Botticelli’s La Primavera. Perfectly encapsulating Sagato’s ability to revive storied imagery, these works play with allegories of chastity, wisdom, and love, questioning these virtues in the face of contemporaneity.
“Michael Sagato: Recent Paintings” is on view at Jack Geary Contemporary, New York, Apr. 24th–May 24th, 2014.