The Haunting Vision of Nancy Sadler by Jacqueline Stigman
Tell the truth, but tell it slant.”Emily Dickinson
When Nancy Sadler moved from LA to seaside Brooklyn, New York, she began painting the ends of the earth, drawn to the urban wild, as she calls it, that she found there, where wild dogs roamed howling in the night like self appointed sentinels through industrial ruins, and migrating swans swept down to the canal just outside her Civil War era studio.
Moving to Red Hook, a town founded in 1688 and now nearly on the verge of gentrification, Sadler began painting the ruins of the old majestic homes, abandoned factories and mills in the area, all slowly collapsing into forgetfulness, as their memories dimly counted up their loss, their hearts brooding as they contemplated the distant city glittering on the horizon, far from the ruins of its historic homes and an industrial wasteland it had forgotten.
Nancy Sadler is a contemporary American artist born in Colorado with the wide ranging reach of having painted, studied, taught, and curated, from Colorado to California, from Arizona to Vermont, and from France to Italy. Yet, her current work appears to have been such that she has been preparing for since her childhood when she treasured her family’s densely illustrated volume of Poe, and another volume of the visionary paintings of Maxfield Parish. Her love of old children’s books and her courage to plumb the archetypal dream may account in some measure for the iconic power of her work.
In pastels, and oils on linen, her vibrant color strikes like lightening ― and the canvas smokes. In hues reminiscent of the French Fauves, incantatory as Poe, boldly primary as the work of Oscar Bluemner, her painstaking veils of glaze glow with shimmering color, her purity of hue, given her subject matter, like an O’Keefe gone Gothic.
Self admittedly obsessed with the notion of Home, especially the Haunted House, Nancy Sadler’s spooky luminous take on the inner life of the home, includes both the past and a timeless present.
Homes haunted by the presence of absence, there is a fairy tale quality about them somewhat reminiscent of the houses painted by Charles E. Burchfield. Like gingerbread houses, one can almost spot a trail of bread crumbs leading to the door. A candle in the window is a universal symbol for someone waiting, but in Sadler’s homes there is a bonfire in every window. Apparently uninhabited, except for the mysterious fires that burn within, her homes glow like fiery paper lanterns, stagily lit from within. The flames inside unfurl from doors and windows, alive, and sticking out their burning tongues like a primordial goddess.
Like the Burning Bush of the Old Testament, Home, for Nancy Sadler is a site of revelation and transformation. A fiery, glowing crossroad attended by trees, lean prophets that writhe and reach out and nearly speak.
But in her Dark House Series nearly all recognizable cues are missing as we find ourselves lost in a topsy-turvy perspective, immersed in darkness without walls to guide us or a floor to stand on. As when we rest in the dark before sleep, the walls and floors and windows are solely defined by the light without. The world beyond peeping in at us with a bright intensity. The pitched windows lean, as if wrenched askew after earthquake or tornado, as if the very foundation has shifted. Or is the home moving about on its own, as it asserts itself, driven by a fire within off its historically appointed ground and place, finding its own way.
In the Dark House series, the fiery presence once within, now surrounds the house that we inhabit, and we are now the house. Sadler’s homes tilt and lunge like Don Quixote burning in a defiant transcendence.
The uncanny vitality of her homes is matched by the weary melancholy beauty of her urban ruins. A painterly archivist, Sadler records the slow death of the industrial behemoths. The rusting shambles of a sugar mill, the fenced off Small Pox Hospital ruin on Roosevelt Island, both long abandoned, that haunt the frontier and untrammeled byways of New York City.
The meaning or feeling tone of color is culturally determined. In Japan, red is the color of brides and children signaling innocence. In the west, it most often signs for danger and passion. Why is it then that all that lays beneath in Nancy Sadler’s paintings and pastels is glowing red with such near biblical power? What vital force is gleaming from her open seaport sidewalk cellar door as it gapes wide brimming with crimson light? What does that column of fire shooting out of the ground and bursting through the cold blanket of snow just outside a cabin mean?Crimson, like a heart beating underground, seen through a fretwork of trees, and yet again, beneath the South Street Seaport’s 18th century Bridge Café.
Nancy Sadler’s paintings speak of an incandescent garden of earthly grandeur. Rusting, broken, burning, abandoned, fiery and majestic. Her searing contemporary vision is that of a Radioactive Luminist. Nancy Sadler is a painter of our homes, our hearts, of our urban wild. A painter of our time.