Jonathan Saiz with Queen Doña Mariana of Austria, 80 x 71 x 8 inches, ©2009
Jonathan Saiz, “widely recognized as one of Denver’s top emerging artists,”* has a great show on view at the plus+gallery through October 17. A week ago last Friday, I went to hear his talk at the gallery.
Saiz is a friendly, unassuming guy, and his talk was of the sort I like most: informal and unrehearsed, just an artist speaking from the heart about his passion and process. This show is called Industry, and it consists of six mixed media pieces constructed of painted metal boxes and parts of machines. Each work features a miniature portrait painstakingly painted by Saiz, set into the work as a diamond is set into a piece of jewelry.
Detail from Queen Doña Mariana of Austria by Jonathan Saiz
Saiz describes the work as a dialog between painting and sculpture. It’s also about contrasts: masculine versus feminine, human versus machine, construction versus destruction. The painted miniatures reference 17th- through 19th-century portrait painting, and the industrial materials represent the “unidentifiable uneasiness and appeal of a contemporary perspective informed by the remnants of the past and the realities of the present.”* Saiz says the huge, powerful constructions function to both protect the image as well as to “kill” it.
The yellow paint color was a serendipitous choice. Known as “safety yellow,” Saiz says he bought seven gallons of the industrial grade paint on sale at a local store. Using this color was a way to create a cohesive grouping of works as well as to create the unmistakable reference to industry, as most viewers will recognize the yellow from its ubiquitous presence in heavy machinery and other industrial uses. Saiz also pays attention to surfaces, painting his boxes with multiple layers of color and then distressing them by “rubbing them on the ground in the parking lot” to reveal hints of turquoise beneath the yellow. The result is an effect of security and permanence, as though these powerful structures have existed for a long time and will continue to do so long after we are all gone.
Saiz spent some time in Paris, where he studied romantic and classical paintings and developed a deep respect for them. He also noticed that many of them were presented with elaborate, ponderous frames, which became a source of inspiration for the idea for setting his small paintings in a contemporary interpretation of the frame. He describes the effect as both humorous and vaguely menacing.
His first love is painting, but he’s looking for different ways to expand his work. The sculpture gives him a different way to approach working, as well as to keep the work from being “too pretty.”
After this talk, many of the gallery patrons continued on to Ironton studios to view the Monumental show, in which large works by five plus+gallery artists, including Saiz, are also on view through the 17th. Saiz’s work in this show is called “Grand Opening,” and it’s a related but very different work from those in the Industry show. Still constructed of multiple boxes, the portrait image in this work comes not from classical painting tradition, but from internet pornography.
Grand Opening, 95 x 142 x 17 inches, ©2009 Jonathan Saiz
Answering questions from viewers in the audience, Saiz described how he makes some of the choices in his work. He explained that he buys paint when it’s on sale, and that, as much as anything else, influenced the colors in this particular work. I found this honesty rather refreshing, as some of my choices are made in much the same way. He also goes against accepted art school methodology, experimenting with materials and finding ways of working that are right for him personally, mixing oil-based enamel with acrylics, house paint, and salt. For example, in this work, he’s layered acrylic over oil, something we’re told in school is very much against the law, violating the “fat over lean” rule. So far no adverse effects have surfaced.