Borrowing his subjects from a variety of diverse everyday sources, Wilhelm Sasnal approaches painting as a formal exercise through which to deconstruct the hierarchical conventions of ‘high’ culture. The present Tuymans-esque rendering of a figure with raised arms is intentionally ambiguous, giving the viewer no clue as to whether the figure is captured in a moment of celebration or surrender. Actively reducing his images to their basic structure and divesting them of original meaning and power, Sasnal uses paint to expose the paradoxes of image reproduction and subvert the truth of documentary photography.
Sasnal estranges his compositions to challenge traditional expectations of perception and representation. Constantly seeking to explore and express his own understanding of imagery, Sasnal’s work challenges the distinction between personal and public and strives to determine what actually constitutes individual experience in a world of faceless, collective consciousness.
Sasnal treats painting as a reductive act. Rendered by the sharp definition of Pop imagery which actively eradicates detail and emotion in the transferral process from photograph to painting, Sasnal swaps the ‘truthful’ clarity of the photographic source with the impersonalised hardness of mechanised production. By enhancing the original black and white contrast in tone from the source image, Sasnal simplifies the structure of the composition and reduces our ability to process the image through overexposure and painterly intervention. This act of disassociation through replication has a similar feeling of ambiguity that Gerhard Richter nurtured in his black and white photopaintings of the 1960s. Like Richter, Sasnal here mingles almost photorealist forms with fluid passages of paint to ensure that the only possible reading of the image is a subjective one. Although conveyed in a stark an unflinching realism, the viewer is left questioning the emotion and context of the image, something heightened by the work’s open-ended and purely descriptive title of ‘Arms Raised’.
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