Robert Sagerman’s lush paintings are comprised of thousands of dabs of oil paint applied individually with a palette knife. This repetitive activity of building saturated colors over and along side one another over a period of time produces paintings that are fresh and visually engaging. Recorded in the title of each painting is the number of strokes of color applied. The artist’s decision to make paintings in this way, and to keep a record of the repetitive processes, gives insight into the conceptual and philosophical intention of this work.
Sagerman’s doctoral studies in medieval Jewish mysticism have paralleled his interest in both field painting and conceptualism. The thinkers upon whom Sagerman focuses conceived of the climactic moment of mystical unification as the encounter with one’s own self, projected into the divine realm. In this sense, notions of subjectivity and objectivity collapsed for these mystics in a revelatory tautology. The engagement of conceptualists such as Bochner and Kosuth with the significance of self-referential systems parallels the medieval mystical models around which Sagerman has constructed some of his own studio practice. A valuable window for the viewer into Sagerman’s intentions is the video that accompanies this exhibition. It displays the data tabulations that he keeps for his paintings (the numbers of strokes, minutes spent per color, total time spent on the work, etc.), extending the idea of his art praxis as a totalizing tautology.
Robert Sagerman’s paintings and practices were featured in a November 2003 ARTnews article entitled Driven to Abstraction, by Amei Wallach. While establishing relevance to his practices is important to Sagerman, he is quoted at the end of the article as stating: “In the end, I know I’m just making paintings.”