I have been following the development of Luis Sahagun for the last couple years. Luis is currently completing his MFA studies at Northern Illinois University. I first met him a few years back in a show at Union Street Gallery. It has been a few years since my first encounter and I continue to admire his development as an artist. He has come a long way from the drawings/paintings on cardboard I first saw at USG. His solo show now on view at the Dorothea Thiel Gallery in South Suburban College is a reflection of his current artistic concerns and the material sensitivity in his works.
A typical work in this exhibition is constructed of layer upon layer of cardboard sheets glued together to make a larger mass. In turn, the cardboard mass gets carved out, burned, and painted to an abstract three-dimensional shape that hangs from the wall. The result is a beautiful sculptural work with rich surface that entices the eye of the viewer to believe it may be something other than discarded cardboard. Luis work reflects a vigorous studio process which begins in material gathering of objects such as wood, cardboard, canvas, nails, newspaper, etc and ends in a formal investigation of the forms he produces in the act of deconstruction. Using power tools, he devours material to create works of various sizes and complexities. “My motive for creating art is curiosity. I am a very tactile person and I love to play and experiment with any medium I can get my hands on. Various materials attract me and they stimulate excitement that triggers my art making. So I receive my inspiration through connections with particular material.” comments Luis when asked about his inspiration for such works.
Indeed, the result of his investigation reveals an intriguing mind. One that in the early days relied on representation and his natural ability for drawing. In those early works, the mixture of street and fine art were specifically rooted in his upbringing and contextual understanding of his culture. In contrast, his current non-representational work establishes a departure for the artist. The work ceases to be rooted in a particular midwestern community and projects a much larger universality and context. These sculptural works don’t need recognizable imagery for their existence. In fact, the absence of any graphic image makes them more interesting as objects and material. They are simultaneously raw but sophisticated. The cardboard boxes which ultimately protect the intercontinental goods we consume on a daily basis, become the immediate object of Luis’s desire. The cardboard material, which we recognize as a flat-lightweighted object, reveals itself as a volumetric mass.
This exhibition titled The Land Where It Doesn’t Snow “comes from a chapter title found in the book “The Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the south” written by Pete Daniel. If I am not mistaken this title was used as a slogan from the south and it was used as a ruse to attract Northerners, which were later forced into peonage. I have had this title stuck in my head for a while. Perhaps it is because winter is around the corner? Or its ironic nature? Nonetheless, I find it to be poetic and I use it as a direct metaphor for my studio practice. The land where it doesn’t snow is a utopian place for me. It is my refuge. It was important for me to reference my studio and artistic practice because my work is very process heavy. My studio practice is very important to me and I wanted to share this passion with my audience.” says Luis.
The Land Where It Doesn’t Snow is more than a dream of utopia, it is a here-and-now, present corporality of the object at hand. A sense of gained presence erects from each work. There is also a historical reference from the use of cardboard by many important artists such as Picasso, Dekooning, Rauschenberg, Kiefer and Oldenberg to name a few. Luis’s originality is not in the choice of the material but in its resulting sense of corporality.
This exhibition represents a beginning rather than an end in itself. Unlike other exhibits that encapsulate or document the completion of a body of work, The Land Where It Doesn’t Snow positions the artist at the verge of an interesting personal vision that I believe has much potential. Departing from the imagery of his roots and transforming it into a visceral abstract reality, Luis Sahagun emerges into the contemporary art scene as young artist to watch. His work has already been included in New American Painting, National Wet Paint MFA Biennial and recently at Expo Chicago, 2014. If he remains focused and continues to push his creative vision, there will be no snow coming down on him anytime soon.
Sergio Gomez, MFA