Painters have long been fascinated with photography, both drawn to it as a medium and offended by the implied affront to their craft. Even Andy Warhol, himself a prolific photographer, once said that “photographers feel guilty that all they do for a living is press a button.” At Anton Kern Gallery this month, the Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal presents a collection of paintings that address a fallen giant of commercial photography: Kodak.
For the 40-year-old Sasnal, painting is (in the words of curator Achim Borchardt-Hume) “a way of chronicling being alive today.” Which isn’t to say that his paintings are particularly documentarian. Some show us propaganda and political iconography, others are intimate portraits and landscape paintings. A series from 2010 focused on factories and day laborers, another depicts dozens of women. Some read as photoreal, almost Ryan McGinley-esque snapshots, others are iconographic and Warholian. His voice is always legible–a rough, broad-stroked style with obvious technical skill.
At Anton Kern, the nonintuitive subject matter makes for a fascinating theme: Some of the paintings on view are based on Kodak ads, others show snapshot-style images of women on the beach. In one, a yellow canister of film wobbles against a blurry backdrop. The tension between film and painting runs through all of Sasnal’s work (he makes films as well), and he seems to love contradicting the idea that film can truthfully capture a moment. Which fits, since his motto as a painter is “there are no rules, except that you must not cheat.”