michael sayles may 1 – july 4, 2020

In the remarkable body of works produced between 2017 and 2020, Michael Sayles has expanded our notion of painting by simply not painting. He has focused his attention on the analytical definitions of painting. (See following artists’ film interview)


A painting is first and foremost a construct and contrary to popular belief, has never lost the redemptive aura it picked up during the Renaissance. We witness here the artist’s own commentary and his understanding of paintings evolution, from biblical illustrations to those of whores and the nature of painting itself, “the idea of painting as a canonical article of faith has remained.” (Greg Tate)


The point of entry is “The discovery of African art by the colonialist”, which in the words of the artist himself, “was principal to the evolution of Modern painting and sculpture and therefore should be hailed as the Mother of all modern art.”


There is a tension – not at first sight – but nonetheless visible to the viewer and constant throughout the exhibition of paintings and collages. The stretched canvas pulled tightly over the wooden frame deserves a mention, as a part of the opposing forces at play. Moreover, the tension produced between material and illusion is where the paintings actually deliver their punch. The artist does not only pay homage to some of the leading innovators in European painting history, but he also indulges in presenting us with a critical analogy of his identity and conditioning based upon his formal education and his affinity with African culture.


Sayles represents four particular artists from the past. He recognizes the Picasso’s and the Matisse’s as painters’ painters, who care about surface and brushwork, notwithstanding the expressions they can conjure upon it. The Duchamp’s and the Da Vinci’s have a less painterly approach and practice, something decidedly more graphic, even scientific.


In the twenty-five collages the artist included in the exhibition, one can divulge into the humour invested in his work and catch the blatant similarities with the paintings and their psychological revelations dealing with his culture, conditioning and identity.

Born 1966 in the United Kingdom, Michael Sayles lives in Berlin since 1994. He graduated from Saint Martin School of Art, London; Rijksakademie, Amsterdam and Ecole des Beaux Arts de Paris. Selected solo exhibitions include Daniel Buchholz, Cologne 1993; White Columns, New York, 1996; XL xavier laboulbenne, New York, 1997, 1998, 2000; Café des Artistes, Moscow, 2008; xavierlaboulbenne, Berlin, 2012 (with Robert Mapplethorpe). His work has been reviewed in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Moscow Times and Berliner Zeitung.

studio visit 8 min film