Magazine article Artforum International

Erik Thor Sandberg: CONNER CONTEMPORARY ART

Magazine article Artforum International

Erik Thor Sandberg: CONNER CONTEMPORARY ART

Article excerpt

Erik Thor Sandberg's six richly sculptural, masterfully executed figurative paintings in "Cyclical Nature" feature compositions both witty and, with their flagrant nudity, engagingly confrontational. More psychologically probing and viscerally introspective than the works in his 2006 show, "Contrary"--in which nearly nude figures represented vanity, vice, and virtue--these paintings are among his strongest to date, and possess a painterly finish on par with the work of Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin.

Sandberg has made, and continues to make, drawings and small-scale paintings depicting individuals in odd maquillage taunting one another. Signifying the toils, torments, and sometimes the joys of life, these buffoonish and occasionally revolting encounters recall the treatment of parables and personifications of human folly by sixteenth-century Netherlandish artists like Bosch and Bruegel. Sandberg's large-scale works eschew such caricature, pursuing more nuanced examinations of situation and emotion. Human figures, mostly female, are featured either alone or in small groups, with vividly rendered facial expressions that often suggest psychological isolation.

The new, thematically richer works on display here take psychological realism to new heights in the painter's oeuvre. Made in the wake of Sandberg's father's death, they express the artist's awareness of human folly and his sense of helplessness in the face of mortality. In the past, Sandberg's tableaux were set within neutral interiors, but "Cyclical Nature" finds its subjects within landscapes, which, the artist says, "convey the idea of the passage of time better than any interior space can."

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Course (all works 2009) features four teens on a leafy knoll with a mountainous backdrop. Two of the girls, apparently dead, lie side by side with a sapling growing from each of their stomachs; Sandberg appears to touch upon death's relationship to rebirth and regeneration, just as Anselm Kiefer does in Man Lying with Branchy 1971, a small watercolor depicting a tree growing from a man's chest. …

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