There is a wonderful scene in “Kill Bill” where Yakuza boss Tanaka’s head is abruptly separated from his body and ends up in the hands of O-Ren Ishii as a deep red fountain of blood gushes out of the stump that was once his neck. His transgression, you ask? Questioning the bi-racial origin of Tokyo’s newest crime lord. As I started writing this piece, this bit of cinema resonated with me in relation to the work of painter Sas Christian; better yet, Tarantino’s entire oeuvre could be analogous to Christian’s paintings. They both operate as meta celebrations of their respective idioms. I’m probably getting ahead of myself, so why don’t I return back to the cross-medium comparisons later after I’ve better acquainted you true believers with Sas and her work.
Sas is a UK expatriate living in the FLA with her husband Colin (profiled in an earlier entry — Superfine: The art of Colin Christian) and their menagerie of pets. Having grown up in Europe, there is an extremely strong undercurrent of its rich history of painting seen in her work. Ingres, Bouguereau, Peter Paul Rubens: their influences can all be seen in her modern slant on portraiture. Juxtaposing the usually demure poses of British and French with the motifs and conventions of manga and cinema, she gives her paintings a tension that wouldn’t be there otherwise. With their enlarged eyes and forward gazes, the girls seem to be confronting the viewer and challenging you to keep looking. This is where their power comes from — they’re not sitting there docilely being documented, they are daring Sas to paint them. Her technique has been refined over the years, the environments have changed, but Christian has never taken her eyes off the prize; she continues to embolden her paintings with a majesty and an energy unlike anyone working today.
So, why the seemingly non-existent Tarantino comparison, you may ask? To me, there is a straight line that abstractly runs through both of their bodies of work. QT takes cinema, re-appropriates the cadences, the clichés, everything that made it magical for him, and is able to re-contextualize it in a wholly different form. In doing so, he gives his films a sense of timelessness; there is a sense of immediacy and of retrospect, they become post-modern reveries that transcend the mere homage they could be.
Sas’s work straddles and crosses the same barriers; by taking a vast array of influences and using them in a way that creates something that is at the same time bigger than the sum of it’s parts, and also a complete celebration of both the act and the art of painting. By not choosing to conceal her influences, she’s able to imbue her work with a sense of place and weight, but at the same time not stymied by them. 19th century portrait painting, the big-eyed girls of Margaret Keane’s paintings, 70’s cinema, the color fields of Mark Rothko, fashion photography, the Japanese Superflat movement: all of these elements are part of the ingredients, but with the artful hand of Christian, there is no overbearing burden of their weight. While the kitsch of the saucer-eyed waif is as an easy go-to for many artists, Sas is able to elevate her pieces to so much more than that by using her extraordinary sense of color to create a feeling of safety, an amniotic fluid if you will, that is pierced by the stare of one of her girls like an Adamantium claw through the gut.
Any of Sas’s girls would be comfortable alongside Jackie Brown or the Black Mamba in the Fox Force Five… which as you know is Fox as in “they’re a bunch of foxy chicks.” Force, as in “they’re a force to be reckoned with.” Five, as in there is one… two… three… four… five of them. Her subjects, though extensions of her femininity, don’t exist solely as that which give them a humanity that anyone can relate to, and that’s the most potent of their powers. There’s a story behind these ladies that makes them vulnerable, dangerous, and alluring; a story as intricate as a two–part revenge flick.
Having just come off a hugely successful show at Opera Gallery in New York — one that found her being more collaborative and interactive with Colin’s work — she now moves on to her next show, slated for the Summer of 2012 in Los Angeles. Until then you can visit her website, follow her on the ol’ Twitter, or befriend Ms. Christian on Facebook.
follow me: @matthewebone
follow sas: @sas_christian
Images: Sas Christian