Christopher Sage creates an irrational constructivism. Or a surreal rationalism. His works are prime examples of clarity and comprehensibility – and yet they are full of mystery and contradictions. The works follow the rationality of mathematics, physics and geometry – and at the same time they are a document of the irrational, almost mystical side of these sciences.
His paintings, says Christopher Sage tongue-in-cheek, “are in a kind of neurosis”, a phrase that echoes the subtle irony of a typical English gentleman. It should be remembered, though, that good manners and correctness often have their counterpart in a desire for the absurd, even for cruel destruction. “Off with their heads!”, demands the Queen of Hearts in the fantasy tale “Alice in Wonderland”, written by a mathematician and gentleman educated in Oxford…
Constructivism is the most rational of all art forms, it is based on exact planning and measurement, precisely defined lines and planes. This also applies to the works of Christopher Sage. His pictorial spaces are interspersed with ribbons and threads that seem like units of measurement. Contrasts are created by open swirls of colour, which are set against clearly defined areas, just as plain surfaces lie next to painterly-structured ones. In terms of colour, bright tones stand next to rather dark and matt shades, shrill neon shines alongside subdued earthy hues.
And these contrasts grow into veritable dangers: The swirls of paint can create a devouring maelstrom or wind like insidious snakes, which – as in the antique marble group of Laocoon and his sons – bring agonising death. The sculpture “String Thing” balances so delicately on its base that it threatens to fall down in the next moment.
And we could just disappear under the wizard’s magic cloth, or – the more appropriate fate – plunge through Alice’s mirror into a world of wonders. It is the unexpected that stirs up this fine-tuned constructivism. Mind you, there might hide a Jack the Ripper in the gentle English gentleman…
Whereas earlier works deal with such wondrous subjects as magicians, fortune-tellers and telekinetics, who can move objects by thought-work alone, the newer pieces mainly refer to the oddities and irrationalities of the “rational” sciences. Let’s take three examples, three aspects that appear more frequently in the work.
impossible figure & folded time
Sage’s paintings are constructed on the basis of prime numbers. Their principle is a clear, logical system based on indivisibility. And yet they exhibit erratic behaviour and are full of mystery. They appear at unpredictable, seemingly random intervals on the number line; we are far from knowing their exact quantity, all we know is that the series never ends, recent research has led to a number with 22,338,618 decimal places. Many consider the prime numbers to be the finest that mathematics has to offer.
A second example is the triangle named after the mathematician Roger Penrose, the Tribar. It is an “impossible figure” that cannot be built in reality: it shows three bars, each of which seems to be at right angles to the other and at the same time the bars form a triangle. The figure violates several laws of Euclidean geometry; it is as precise as it is unrealizable. Penrose speaks of a “shifting of space”, the illusion of space and depth, of a space that is both logical and illogical.
A third example is the Möbius loop: If the ends of a ribbon are glued together in such a way that one side is turned by 180°, then it is no longer orientable, i.e. you cannot distinguish between bottom and top or between inside and outside.
Finally, the artist refers to string theory, which assumes that our world is made of lines or threads, so called “strings”. We have already spoken about the strings in the work. These strings vibrate like the strings of a guitar. And while in everyday life we move in a three-dimensional space – back and forth, sideways, up and down – string theorists assume a dozen or more dimensions and see both space and time as “bent”, folded.
Christopher Sage is certainly not interested in illustrating scientific theories and their peculiarities. Rather, his theme is the absurd, fantastic and irrational in the rational as such. Or, to put it very broadly: These works reflect our efforts to give life a “reasonable” meaning – efforts that are doomed to fail because of the unpredictable and contradictory, the chaotic nature of our existence. It is the miracle of life that in the end a lot succeeds nonetheless – just as all the immanent contradictions of these artworks are resolved in their elegant, cheerful, perfect beauty.
The basis of beauty
One of the central topics of painting is the transformation of three- and four-dimensional reality into the two-dimensional picture plane. This corresponds to the theories on space and time mentioned above. There is no need to talk further about space; the dimension of time is represented by the heavily moving swirls of colour (of course not expressive action painting, but well-calculated brush work) or the flat bands that jump merrily through the narrow picture space, “ping-ponging”, as the artist calls it. Such aspects touch on a crucial question of this work: what is art and how is it created?
Whoever tries to produce art according to prefabricated models will fail. The irrational – the emotion – plays the dominant role. Take the golden section, one of the eternal foundations of art. Most artists are certainly able to reproduce this division ratio solely from their sense of form. But it can also be calculated and brought to a mathematical formula – which then, however, leads to a number that is considered transcendent or irrational. So here we have a mathematical proof that the basis of beauty is the irrational.
Please see the artist’s exhibitions “Death at the Sideshow“, “48 Stunden Neukölln“, “Triangularities“, “Knotenpunkt“, the reports in Artslant and Last Night in Berlin, and have a look at “Arcadia Unbound“, a large group show co-curated by Christopher. Also, you might visit the pages of some of this gallery’s related artists: Clemens Behr, DAG, Forster Herchenbach, Bernhard C. Striebel and JinnyYu.
1975 born in London, lives and works in Berlin
|2008||Postgraduate Diploma Fine Art, University of Reading|
|1998||BA Hons. Fine Arts, University of Reading
Owen Ridley Drawing Prize
S = Solo show
|2019-20||L’artiste et les commissaire, Lage Egal, Berlin|
|2018||If I Ruled the World, Bar Babette, Berlin
Anonyme Zeichner 2018, Galerie im Körner Park , Berlin
Festival für Zeitgenössische Skulptur, Atelierhof Kreuzberg, Berlin
|2017||Alternative Measures, coGalleries, Berlin (S)
Knotenpunkt 17, Affenfaust Galerie, Hamburg
Leerbach Palais, Leerbach Palais, Frankfurt am Main
Benefit Auction in collaboration with Sotheby’s, Novomatic Forum, Vienna
Silent Empire, Funkhaus, Berlin
Elastic Collisions, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna
Lush, Fancy Nasty Studios, Miami
|2016||Double Möbius, Larry’s Show, Berlin (S)
You don’t have to have an opinion, just be pretty! Schaufenster, Berlin
Triangularities, Centrum, Project Space for Contemporary Art, Berlin
Querschnitt II, Busche, Berlin
|2015||Arcadia Unbound, Funkhaus, Berlin, also curator
New Adventures in Vexillologie, Kunstverein Amrum
Moabit Mashup, Atelierhof Kreuzberg, Berlin
Grand Finale, Lady Fitness Contemporary, Berlin
|2014||Dutch Courage @ 48 Stunden Neukölln, Berlin, also curator|
|2013||Behind the bar… creatures, Berlin (S)
Tomorrow is Time for the Future, Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Bethanien, Berlin
|2012||Death at the Sideshow, REH Kunst, Berlin (S)
Spatiotemporal, Galerie Thomas Crämer, Berlin
AU79, shining dawn, Cube 54, Berlin
|2011||We can start a process, Kreuzberg Pavillion Neuköln, Berlin
H.J.K.J.H.G. Skalitzer 140 Temporary, Berlin
|2010||Forgeries, The Forgotten Bar Project, Berlin|
|2009||Jamaica Street Artist & Friends, Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol
Cabinet, Gallery 33, Berlin
Import Export, Weissfaktor : raum fur zeitgenössishe kunst, Berlin (S)
|2008||InSpuratIon, University of Reading, Reading
MA & Postgraduate Contemporary Art Show, Atkinson Gallery, Somerset
|2005||White on White, Window Licker Gallery, Berlin
Spike Island Open, Spike Island Gallery, Bristol
Emporium Cabaret, Invention Arts, Bath
For further information please see the artist’s website: Christopher Sage