Feature Inc
276 BOWERY NYC 10012   212.675.7772   feature@featureinc.com
Sam Gordon Text


How do you distinguish what goes on paper and what goes onto canvas? Is it you, the subject matter, or what?
With this new work the character of paper is important, I thought of them as pages from an illuminated manuscript, supersized. There are things I like to do on canvas however, like tie dye that I haven't figured out how to do on paper. I like going back and forth between the two. Subject matter doesn't factor into the decision, the process and my mood that day determines the support.

When did you first begin noticing all the signs that life is filled with? What did you think of that then? And now?
I've always been fascinated with signs that have different levels of content like how color can function as code, secret handshakes, hieroglyphics, things of that nature. Now the work seems to run parallel to the way art functions in general; like Richard Prince's joke paintings... the "do you get it?" factor. I like that my signs are ambiguous, they confound themselves.

Given the notion of signs and that signs have meaning, do you think of our lives as being directed?
What a loaded question! Not in some fascist Calvinist way but even in chaos there is order (fractals), so I'd have to say yes, though my faith is one collaged together from all over. I've always been really superstitious, like when the clock reads 3:33 I make a wish. It's been the same one for years.

Why develop one's own, half-baked vocabulary / philosophy / ideology, rather than connecting into one which is already existing and formed?
I've been rather disappointed with most isms, from Modernism to Judaism. Never having identified with any one movement or ideology, I have found a lot of interesting bits that strung together form my own private theology, which is the work I make. I do feel really connected to the art of today, it's my religion, that I can insert myself into.

Literally walking on and in your work. - being and yet depicting the journey - how did you come to do that?
I thought it would be fun to give my abstraction some function. The labyrinth is something I've wanted to make for a while and I love doing things I've never done before. To look at something and walk it as well, seemed to tie into what's happening in the drawings, from the dirty foot prints in the work to the winding roads into nothingness. And the gallery's floor looked so much like the surface of my work, I wanted to pull it into my project.


What is it about flatness?
Physically, I’m really into these different processes all happening on the same thin surface of canvas, like a decaled t-shirt stretched taut over someone's chest. I love the smoothness of a sanded surface. The content dictates their construction too; the 2-D nature of symbols pulls me in that direction so they can be read like text or as mnemonic devices.

Why address painting through craft?
Experimenting with what I can do on canvas has led me to try techniques that I guess are considered craft-y: marbleizing, leafing, tie dying, stenciling. It is maybe a round-about way to talk about the language of painting, which I like to deconstruct, while embracing it at the same time.

How do you integrate the opposites between photography and painting?
Photography is where the signs and wonders of the drawings and paintings manifest themselves in the real world. Double exposures and filters act like beer goggles to create what is there but can’t be seen. The paintings keep going from there.

Are the paintings developed through sketches/studies, or do they develop during the making?
They start with an image in my head usually, that gets fleshed out in my sketchbooks, which is really where I think, experiment, do things I haven’t tried before. From there studies can help figure out the construction of a painting, but in the process of actually painting everything is up for grabs. Accidents open up new possibilities, and the painting itself can dictate what it needs.

Your paintings at first appear direct and obvious, almost simplistic, but soon become highly agitated by so many contradictions that his deception seems to be a calculated consideration.
Totally. I want to make paintings that can hang there and look good like a wallflower at a party, but if you want to come up and talk they have some tweaked stuff to say.

At a time when paint application is made to appear effortless, and abstraction as content somewhat rules, why have you chosen workmanship and representational personal content, maybe even narrative, as your partners?
I’d been thinking about that recently in relation to that painting show Glee, coming up at the Aldrich Museum, which is very much about that work. I like a lot of those artists, it’s just not how I work. While parts of my paintings are tight and controlled, I like things to looked roughed up and worked over too. I think here is a struggle between abstraction and representation in my work, where the viewer can decipher what’s in between.


Why aren’t there any photos in the exhibition?
I’ve been concentrating on painting. I’m always taking pictures--it’s one of the ways I think--but I’m more concerned with painting right now.

Representation and aspects of light have been one of your primary subjects: how did you come to that?
I got interested in stars. How the light we see is just a trace of a thing that’s probably already dead. And it’s such a great abstract shape to play with, it’s so versatile. From there came rainbows--I love watching light refract. I just started putting pink in the rainbow too, between purple and red.

Was it light that brought your attention to the subject of spirituality, in particular the homespun brand you promote--a rather pagan and inclusive spirituality?
I love the term homespun--like the Unabomber or something. There’s this p.j. harvey song where she sings “imagine your whole self is filled with light.” I think it was hearing that over and over while I worked that got me thinking about spirituality--but I’m not crazy about that word. Maybe mysticism fits better.

How do you select images? Is it immediate rapport or deliberated?
I get something stuck in my head and eventually what to see it. Sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes it’s labored.

Do you ever do library research for images or information?
I’ve been to the library’s picture collection, especially if I’m looking for a specific image. I read a lot too, and actually I’m always surprised by what images and information find me.

When you decide to use an image, or a combination of images, what considerations are made regarding their current public regard?
None usually--but with the swastika I couldn’t help but wonder. In terms of combinations of images, I think they set themselves up in relationships, or coincidences even, where they can be read like text.

Are you interested to promote cynicism or parody? Do you ever fear becoming didactic?
Walking the line between cynicism and sincerity is interesting. I believe in the power of clichés and archetypes: they can be really sad and funny. I never know what anyone means when they use the work didactic, though, so I guess I don’t fear it. I’m looking for a refined ambiguity.

Will you name some of the artists interesting to you?
Mardsen Hartley, Gerald Murphy, Joseph Cornell.

What is your fascination with the old or archaic, and that used look?
It was actually born of frustration. I sanded down an old painting that sucked, and then I liked how it looked--like a damaged skin. It felt too like I was sanding away all of painting history or something--and I could start over on top of it. And I’m scared of a white canvas. I also love the walls of Pompeii.

Do you consider your labor/duration, and in many cases, repetition, significant approaches to your subject matter for both the maker and the viewer?
It’s the kind of mark making I enjoy--my autonomy slips away. It could infer content, or help implicate the viewer, but the impulse is selfish.

Yet at the same time you juggle the alternate, seeming to wish to keep a light or almost innocent touch on the making while also convening a lite, if not matter-of-fact, reading to the widening resonance of our subject matter.
Totally. Sometimes a painting can function like a talisman for me. The way a sculpture can actually be a ceremonial object and not a sculpture at all. You know? That’s what I try to do.


Sam Gordon - Selected Press

Cotter, Holland. "Where the Focus Is Sharp But the Categories Blurry", New York Times, 11 August, 2006
Just as artists can take care of their own promotion, so they can create their own group histories. Sam Gordon is doing precisely this in his remarkable DVD compilation, nearly two hours long, of clips of “art moments” from the recent past.

Smith, Roberta. "Hibernation, Art in Review." New York Times, 27 January, 2006
Sam Gordon has put on display for the first time several of his sketchbooks from the last decade. Sprinkled with visionary geometries and collages, their pages point up the lack of involvement with materials that permeates the exhibition, but they look even better at the Feature Gallery in Chelsea, where photocopies of them cover an entire wall. Go figure.

Hromack, Sarah. "The Twinkie Defense", SFstation.com, 11 November, 2005
Sam Gordon's personal collection of posters and ephemera are plastered to form a visual trail leading up the building's staircase and into his current installation, "The Twinkie Defense", at Ratio 3 gallery. Photographs (or telepathic "thoughtographs," as he calls them) are interspersed amongst the foldout, full- color gallery announcements, an aesthetic nod to the now-shuttered Epicenter Zone, a notoriously punk, San Franciscan record store where Gordon first showed in the early 90's. Whether depicting a specific piece or a certain place, each represents some notion of "art" as captured by Gordon. An Ara Peterson projection flashes across one shot, while another documents the winding, wooded entrance to Maine's famed Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Those attuned to the fits and starts of the art world's gossip train might notice a connection or two between these broadsides, as they form an amalgamation of exhibitions past, loves lost, and moments-gone-by. Gordon's map could be read, or rather misread, as an artwork designed for other art world denizens -- those likely to have visited the shows memorialized here, or seen the works and sites alluded to in the photographs.
As one follows the trajectory into the main gallery space though, Gordon's project gains clarity. Over 400 pages from his personal sketchbooks, dated from 1995 to the present, make the backdrop for a series of uniformly square canvases. These paintings are built up from a cache of religious and cultural symbols; stars, crosses, and alphanumerical codes clash to weld mystical crests and shields. Patterns and spangles layer atop hand-dyed grounds while studio floor sweepings are mixed with a polymer, and the textured paste applied to canvas so that every piece is inextricably bound to its place of origin. Gordon has brought his own sense of home into the gallery space, described by an intensely private language system that remains open to interpretation. He posits no over-arching story here, but rather constructs a loosely laid labyrinth of moments to be found and linked together into varying narratives. These imagined histories -- moments beyond Gordon's control -- form a very probable "Twinkie Defense" for this show.

Bellini, Andrea & Sonia Campagnola. “I Nuovissimi Di New York,” Flash Art Italia June/July 2004
Sam Gordon pulls multiple processes into his paintings to create hybrid images combining drawing, stenciling, and the languages of abstraction. With a personal cosmology which functions as a set of hieroglyphics, the paintings generally depict paths into nowhere or mental spaces, which are punctuated with symbols of light, signs, and renderings of everyday objects. Actual size life-like depictions of Polaroids or a spray painted faux cyanotype, which frequently appear in the works, address his interest in photography's intrinsic role in contemporary painting. Placing icons like the Star of David or the Swastika within a visually seductive context alongside chains throwing stars, and other items associated with violence, creates a charged coded language of signs: mnemonic devices that may be read like text. (translated from Italian)

Kersting, Rita. “Reisefreiheit (Freedom to Travel),” in Neue Kunst in Hamburg, Kunsthaus, Hamburg, 2003
The New York painter, Sam Gordon was invited to the exhibition in Hamburg by Markus Amm. His ornamentally structured pictures evince a many-sided vocabulary of diverse and sometimes highly bizarre origin- Far Eastern mystic-seeming forms, '70s graphic design, '80s glamour-punk-reggae, pseudoscientific cosmological theses, psychedelic record covers, weird scenes from films and performances, and astrological diagrams. Gordon's paintings built up of countless layers of oils, acrylic, gold leaf and spray paints, and this lends these often centrally composed pictures a fetishlike object character. Aside from paintings and large-scale paper works, Gordon integrates photographs or monumental floor works (e.g. "Labyrinth") into exhibition scenarios as at Feature Inc. in New York a few weeks ago. These timeless picture symbols of a universal language are magical and threatening, like ritual calls to meditation directed at a generation that may have grown up with images of moon, suns, stars and hearts in childhood, but which in the discursive wake of globalization, semiotics and contextualism, has since lost sight of them. Not, as it transpires, forever, for Sam Gordon, who himself has followed critical discussion of these concepts in recent years, introduces them at once naively and apocalyptically into paintings. It is as if the artist had drawn the ultimate consequence from the formalist debates of the past decades and overcome form by subjugating it as an expression both vulgar and highly symbolic. (translated from German)

Cotter, Holland. "Art in Review," New York Times, 28 February, 2003
As always, Feature has three solo shows running simultaneously. The New York artist Sam Gordon is in the main gallery with four large-scale works on paper, three photographs and a floor painting. The paper pieces are rich in materials — ink, oil paint, spray paint, gold and silver leaf — and intensively scraped and sanded so they look burnished, like manuscripts pages. The manuscript could be a youth-culture kabbala, filled with archaic emblems, personal signs and contemporary talismans, including images of roads running off into the distance and directional arrows pointing into the fourth dimension. The results have many beauties without being conventionally beautiful. Knotty and tough, with disorienting shifts of texture and focus, this is art you feel your way through rather than take in at a glance. Mr. Gordon's photographs are more softly mystical: Venice filtered through a rainbow; Knoxville, Tenn., glinting like a space station. The floor painting is of a labyrinth, an appropriate emblem for his work's mystifying logic.

Karlins, N. F. Drawing Notebook, artnet.com, 13 October, 2000
Not outer landscapes but inner ones are the focus of the season's lift-off at Chelsea's Feature, Inc. Hudson (just "Hudson" as he prefers to be called) is Feature's pundit for its current three exhibitions. Sam Gordon's five newest paintings, his largest to date and a selection of his recent photographs are in the front gallery. The paintings are complex amalgams of Eastern mysticism and Western pop culture that percolate with psychedelic '60s energy. The surfaces are mixtures of oil, acrylic, enamel and spray paints, watercolor, and gold leaf that have been sanded down and then built up again in layers. The five-by-four feet paintings are untitled and priced at $8,500.

Cotter, Holland. "Changes Aside, Soho is Still Very Much Soho," New York Times, 12 February, 1999
At Feature, Sam Gordon, 26, has come through with one of the best painting shows of the season. The pieces, with a single exception, are small and intensively worked. Surfaces have been painted and scraped (some have the crackled look of parchment), drawn on with pencil or ballpoint pen, and layered with collage. Each one is packed with contradictory activity. Geometric forms are rendered in illustrational 3-D; cursive patterns are painted in flat gold-like manuscript illuminations. Diagrammatic shapes suggest occult symbols (stars, labyrinths, tantric emblems) or banners (a confederate flag in one case). A flaming fist may derive from a tattoo design or a decal; a comic book-style road zigzagging into the distance mixes with the tracery of peacock feathers, chain-link rings and a passage of glowing, rainbow-hued color. The results suggest a species of hermetically coded folk art but have a physical airiness and an urbane breadth of reference. Best of all, they don't seem to be attached to any particular "now". The psychedelic 60's are here as much as the 90's. The largest piece in the show leaves something of a question mark about where Mr. Gordon will go with scale. Whatever he does, he's on an independent track, and one looks forward to watching where it will take him.

FEATURE INC.  212.675.7772  featureinc@featureinc.com