If You Don't Mind the Mud
"If You Don't Mind the Mud" Essay
Hasani Sahlehe’s paintings reveal an artist constantly experimenting with the possibilities of paint. The works that comprise If You Don’t Mind the Mud were produced in the course of the last four months or so. Inevitably, the ongoing covid pandemic looms over the show. But Sahlehe has not allowed his hand to be stalled nor stifled. Those months, harsh and indurating as they were, curiously coincided with his deepened interest in and attention to color, with its formal qualities and emotional resonances. That interest runs across these paintings and gives them their animating force.
A rainbow encircles the center of Won’t Have to Cry No More, suffused with a sense of play that evokes childhood. Sahlehe is drawn to rainbows because they offer a natural spectrum to work with and emulate. In many works, Sahlehe achieves effects that resemble airbrushing but which in fact were rendered by hand. It’s a skill cultivated by an eye alert to the diaphanous, the airy and evanescent. He is absorbed with various washes and stains, how certain passages overlap, how they coalesce with or cleave from one another. The smooth, seamless edges in several works are charged with this preoccupation and often show pigments gradually bleeding together.
Sahlehe uses numerous techniques ranging from airbrush to collage, combining and testing styles to create works rich in texture and feeling. The paintings are abstract, yes, but they don’t repudiate natural phenomena altogether (Sahlehe doesn’t fuss over the varying tendencies within abstraction. He has no fixed attitudes toward the tradition. He opts for what he sees fit.) Sahlehe delights in the purity of nature’s forms (lapping waves, crisp blades of grass, delicate spider webs, drops of rain) and imbues his paintings with a sense of their ebullient qualities. The orange of New Grass is luminous, firm, unyielding; the green that caresses the yellow forms in Fresh Blade is rich, resplendent.
Music is another fascination, and the paintings here are propelled by their own rhythms, equally singular and eccentric. In the studio Sahlehe is nimble. He paints quickly, moving briskly between works on canvas and paper sprawled along the floor, often working directly upon the surface, always chary of the ambivalences that idle stretches of time can sometimes covertly smuggle into the painting process. (Acrylic paint, of course, facilitates this pace.) Sahlehe said that some ideas or colors swirl in his dreams, and so his efforts are attempts to fix those oneiric visions in paint. Four Waters glows with a dream-like energy. The lines are sinuous and fluid; they flow like rivulets. The bulbous streaks grow faint, dissipate.
In the work that lends the exhibition its title the paint is thickly applied in layers of deep brown as though it were forming some dense muddy pit. Blanchot: “I came out of the muddy pit with the strength of maturity.” This new body of work suggests its own kind of emergence. Into something lighter, perhaps, a hand more assured, a sensibility more refined, all fortified by the strength of maturity.