Sainer Closes Out the Year with Some "Modulations"
While counting the final hours of 2019, we realized the year marked some groundbreaking indoor presentations by some favorite artists primarily known for their work in public. Phlegm kicked off the year with a large sculpture in Sheffield, Aryz had a successful trifecta of Pugnas across three French cities, Sebas Velasco self-produced a show in his Spanish hometown of Burgos, Axel Void successfully ventured into his new Void Projects platform, and now Sainer ends the year with a new publication and bar-pushing show Modulations at Brain Damage Gallery in Lublin.
We say "groundbreaking indoor presentations" because these artists took a different route to introduce their current studio practice, working with institutions, friends, and independent curators or agents. The resulting exhibitions push the quality and scale of their "standard" studio work while imposing the "traditional painter" title rather than the more contemporary "muralist" or "street artist."
Sainer's Modulations show opened December 14th, introducing a series of canvases inspired by sketches from a new publication. Set in an immaculate presentation, each page is presented as a small individual piece set against mostly large-scale colorful canvases. With color the main event, the Polish painter parcels a patchwork of picturesque patterns, successfully stitching suggestive segments into a realistic representation. In order to get full insight into the concepts behind this body of work, we reached out to the artist and talked about his end of the year project.
Sasha Bogojev: How does it feel to let people into your sketchbook? Does it ever feel like your intimate diary, and what made you break out of that idea?
Sainer: To be honest, I didn’t think about it. I never keep it totally private, so a lot of people already have seen it. And I'm not super emotionally connected to it. I mean, I'm always looking forward to exploring new concepts on new pieces, so sketches from the past always bring some memories from travels or show how differently I was thinking back then, but there's too much to do to get sucked in the past projects.
When I finished filling out the sketchbook last year, I realized it's just a nice collection of a lot of random sketches–some for murals, some for studio works, and some just for fun or practice. And at some point, I realized that it shows how my way of thinking and painting changed during the years I was using the sketchbook. That led to the idea of releasing it. Maybe soon there will be time to make a book of my canvases and walls, but they are already on the Internet, so this is a kind of extra content.
Do you take your sketchbook everywhere with you, and how often do you draw in it?
Most of the time, it traveled everywhere with me. I'm always preparing a sketch when arriving in the city I'm invited, but it's hard to say how often I was drawing in it. Generally whenever I had free time for practice. Sometimes it was two weeks of everyday sketching when I went on trips to paint landscapes, but there were times that it was lying unused in my studio while I was busy preparing canvases for shows. The first half of the sketchbook is mostly drawings in pencil, and that part took the most amount of time because I'm sure I erased more sketches than what actually remains.
In what way do you think the sketchbook influenced your development as an artist?
When I started to paint color studies in my sketchbook, I found it much more interesting to focus on colors and form relations. That's what my new canvases are mostly about. The easiest way to see development is to compare sketches to the murals; the older are much more detailed than recent ones. I also find it interesting to keep the feeling of small sketches on big murals, especially ink pen drawings. In older artworks, I was always searching for some interesting subject to paint and what the character should do in the painting. Of course, it's still part of my paintings, but not the main topic. But after I started doing plain air trips, I realized that when painting landscapes, sometimes we look too much for a subject that will look like a postcard. Meanwhile, it's much harder to find something really simple and make it interesting in how it's painted. So I would say that working on this small scale changes my way of searching for a topic to paint.
What type of materials are you using for those studies?
Pencil, Inkpen, acrylics, and gouaches.
When did you first think to release a book like this, and what influenced you?
I realized that I had never produced any proper catalog for my shows or book about my artworks, so they mostly exist only as digital images. That led me to think I should start producing more books about my projects, and as I was already working with this sketchbook, I decided to give it a try.
What was the idea behind publishing the sketchbook?
The main idea was simple – just to try making a copy of my sketchbook so people could see a bit of background behind murals, drawings, or canvases. Some showing the process of change between the first sketch and the final piece. In most cases, I like to have just black-and-white drawings before I start working on a mural. I really like to freestyle with colors on the wall and adapt to the surrounding area.
What period is covered in the book, and does it feature sketches from any notable murals or paintings?
You can find sketches between 2014 and 2018. It was always with me when I was traveling, so as far as I remember, there are sketches for most of my solo murals, as well as others I painted with Etam. Same for canvases from that period. People can compare those tiny sketches, as the sketchbook is reproduced in a 1:1 scale, to the original murals, drawings, or canvases.
Was there any editing done to the sketches in the real book for the published edition?
Because of technical aspects, we had to add three extra pages. There's always a certain number of pages you have to print when producing a book, so the only difference is that I added three sketches that aren’t in the original sketchbook. But they do come from the same time period. I kept the same size of pages, but the cover is different. Besides that, everything stayed as it was in the original.
How did the book release develop into a full-blown gallery show?
When I decided to release a sketchbook, I was thinking about how to make a kind of project, a show connected to the sketchbook. Because I thought that just showing pages from the sketchbook in a gallery space would be boring, I figured I could use those old sketches as a first step to prepare new canvases. It’s kind of revisiting the sketchbook.
So the new canvases are sketched in the book?
The new canvases are revisiting old sketches. I started to prepare the show when the sketchbook was finished, so the sketches represent a starting point where new compositions are built. I wanted to come back to the sketchbook and try to make new versions of those sketches extended with new elements.
Does Modulations refer to the idea of your work developing and modifying over the years?
Totally! I guess it's more about the general process of painting, and how it changes during the years. The whole concept of the show is to combine sketchbook copies release and a couple of new canvases. The sketchbook is a collection of totally random sketches on 192 pages. Going through the pages, you can easily see how my ideas changed through the years. Starting from detailed black-and-white sketches and finishing on color studies. In the beginning, drawing and details were the main construction of forms in my paintings. Studying landscapes let me into the direction of simplifying the construction of elements and focusing on describing the atmosphere by the colors. More often the form is a result of color relations.
Even the process of painting on canvas was different from the regular one. I wanted to keep in the spirit of the sketchbook, so I just planned basic composition and freestyled the rest on canvas. Some paintings have so many layers of change, but that could be the topic for another book.
How important is the sketchbook concept now when the work is more about color studies and relations?
It's my first field of experimentation. The second is canvas because even if I did a great sketch and I want to start canvas out of it, I'm still looking for a way to make it different, to find another subject in it. That's why the title Modulations describes this process perfectly.
Seeing that change, what would you say is the biggest difference between your work from 2014 and 2018?
The manner in which forms are built and my way of using color, I guess, are the biggest differences. In my older works, forms were built from detailed drawings, but recently, forms are described by color, while characters are treated as figures to complete the composition, not acting as a main feature of the painting. Also choosing the topic is different, and compositions are much more complicated. Searching for harmony in my painting is my obsession at the moment. By that, I mean building really complicated and "crowded” compositions while freestyling with color.
Do you have other sketchbooks along with this one?
Yes, I have a couple of them; some in my studio and one that I carry everywhere to make notes about painting. But sometimes when I've left them all in my studio, I'm sketching on random pieces of paper. I recently collected all of them, and it's already a sizable folder.
Does this type of work mark your new focus, and how far do you want to push this concept?
The whole idea of revisiting the sketchbook is a one-time project. I'm always using old sketches in some part of my murals or canvases, but for this project, I made them a starting point for my compositions. I'm not sure a project like this will happen again. There was a moment I was pissed off that I had to base my work on those sketches, because I knew them so well for such a long time that I thought it was boring. But as mentioned, I'm more about the process of painting than the topic itself, because I find it a good experiment to transform the sketches into something totally new after such a long time.
I have a feeling that those paintings have totally different vibe than ones from the previous CHAOTIC HARMONY show, but at the same time, they are a bridge between older works and the new ones I will work on after the show.
Studying nature and color, reducing detail while simultaneously looking for more complicated compositions is what's most interesting for me at the moment. I don't have a plan for where it'll go, but it wouldn’t make sense to follow that path if I did.
Photo credit by Brain Damage Gallery and Tomasz Kulbowski