Sasha Pierce

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Sasha Pierce at Jessica Bradley Projects

2013
Murray Whyte, The Star, December 14.

Danzer 7 Fold Original, 2013, oil on linen, 23 x 18 inches

Danzer 7 Fold Original, 2013, oil on linen, 23 x 18 inches

Sasha Pierce is a painter, but that’s more a term of convenience than a proper description. Walking into Jessica Bradley Projects, a faint, acrid scent hits your nose before the works meet your eye, and that’s your first clue that painting only begins to describe the dizzying achievements that Pierce manages to coax out of her chosen medium.

That scent, by the way, is the residual off-gassing of the oil paint Pierce uses in her works, which take months to make and almost as long to dry. Step close enough and you can see why: each panel is densely rendered with multicolour threads of paint strung out dead straight, side by side.

Up close, the implicit labour of the process — Pierce fills plastic bags with her various colour combinations, then pinpricks a hole, through which she beads the paint along the surface with painstaking precision — is enough to induce an anxiety attack.

Bundle in the patterning Pierce builds with her labour-intensive technique — most of the paintings are modelled on forms generated by complex mathematical theory — and the works become denser still (Google Danzer’s 7 Fold Original, the name of a particularly gorgeous, vexing work here, if you want proof; or just Tessallations, the name of the show in full). For all their intense material presence, though, they’re dynamic and absorbing, implying movement, reality collapsing in on itself in a high-speed maelstrom (seePentagon Type 9 for urgent, breathless proof).

The works are small but mighty, bundling up a set of concerns so tightly that they can leave you light-headed. Her patterns evoke Op Art, while subverting its mechanical repetitiveness with her intensely handmade technique. They’re painfully precise but also painterly, every minute bead of paint the evidence of a tiny human gesture creeping along the surface in a 25-centimetre-long marathon to the edge. They can be vertiginous, from afar at times evoking aerial, abstracted landscapes, but deeply rooted, almost sculptural in their dense materiality up close.

Whatever else, they’re wholly engrossing. Once you get past being dumbfounded by the how, you’re left to wrestle with the why, and the rabbit hole is deep indeed.