Sam Sanford

SOFA Gallery

Ariel Evans

Sam Sanford, On The Far Side, 2010; oil on paper; 29 x 29 inches; courtesy the artist; photo by Sam Sanford

Another Perfect Day, 2010; oil on paper; 14 x 14 inches; courtesy the artist; photo by Sam Sanford

The glossiness of Sam Sanfordís paintings in Canít Go Back, his first solo exhibition at SOFA Gallery, echoes that of photographs and TV screens. The comparison is apt considering Sanfordís longstanding interest in the RGB color model of television and digital technology, where red, green and blue lights combine to produce various colors. Sanford builds his images with translucent layers of cyan, magenta and yellow pigments mixed liberally with oil mediumóCMYK inks translate the RGB color model onto the page. Hence Sanford uses his hand and eye in a way similar to how a computer prints out images.

In the series of extraterrestrial landscapes on view, Sanford hits on a subject particularly suited to his manner of working with color. Due to the limitations of film and the light spectra reflected by objects in outer space, scientists commonly have to process astronomical photographs considerably. To highlight specific features of images captured by spacecrafts like Voyager, or to approximate how an object might appear to the human eye, astronomers must combine several differently hued negatives in the darkroom. Sanfordís works similarly involve the separation and remixing of spectra. His Thank You, Goodnight, using found video of the launch of the lunar module from the moon, is serendipitous in this respect. Flashes of red, green and blue bleed around the edges of images of the moonscape and spacecraft, but this splitting does not result from manipulation on Sanfordís part. It is an effect of NASAís now-archaic rotating camera filters.

It is both beautiful and frustrating that we typically only see astronomical objects through the lenses of cameras or telescopesóthat the only man-made entities we understand as essentially free of human manipulation nevertheless require human mediation to render them perceptible. Sanford begins to touch on this paradox with his paintings of flat dots on lunar and Martian landscapes. Recognizing that the human mind has no system to process an encounter with extraterrestrial beings, Sanford intends his dots to resist interpretation: both of and not of the picture plane, the dots have an uncanny effect.

As Sanford notes, however, those who claim personal encounters with UFOs quickly turn these unexplained phenomena into comprehensible metaphors. Sanfordís dots are easily interpreted in ways unrelated to his premises (as graphic accent, punctuation or John Baldessari reference). Thus, whether Sanfordís conceptual subtleties are always apparent to the uninformed viewer is uncertain.

That said, Canít Go Back represents a promising new direction for Sanford. His small oils on paper have a tentative and exploratory quality that avoids the robust expansiveness of earlier work, perhaps due to the intimate confines of SOFA. While at times the galleryís living-room setting seemed ill-suited to the concept, elsewhere it fit poignantlyóin the dual-screen video Harmony 1 positioned across from gallerist Katie Gehaís sofa. Gazing at Sanfordís vertically panning aerial view of the Moonís surface in RGB, I felt echoes of those who watched the Moon landing from their living rooms in 1969.

Ariel Evans is a freelance writer based in Austin and Assistant Editor of Art Lies.

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