Davidson Gallery presents Grids & Veils, a solo exhibition of new work by Sam Messenger (British, b.1980). The exhibition consists of two discrete series: large-scale grid drawings on linen that are an extension of Messenger’s Map series, and six works on paper that continue his acclaimed Veil series.
The grids begin with pen and ink on gessoed linen or simply graphite on the raw fabric. Messenger steadily and continuously draws by hand the grid of squares in an angled ziggurat-like form of his own devising. In the graphite works, Messenger works in such a way that, as the pencil dulls, the line thickens, allowing the angled forms to appear. Upon completion of one of the strata, Messenger sharpens the pencil and continues. By allowing the friction of the paper on the implement itself to dictate the width of the line, Messenger takes his dedication and knowledge of material to new and reverent heights, working in tandem with the laws of physics. Meanwhile, the ink drawings follow the same pattern of squares to create triangular crenellations, but Messenger changes the width of the pen nib to dictate the fineness of the line. This process, while not reliant on external forces other than the artist himself, is no less painstaking, requiring - like most of the artist’s oeuvre - time, patience, focus, and skill.
The six Veils in the exhibition amplify Messenger’s rules-based generative process and add color to a series that has been, for the most part, black and white. Messenger creates the ink drawings using a process that attempts, but can never accurately achieve, the Golden Ratio. The Veils are laborious to make and a testament to Messenger’s hand and mind, but they posit a philosophical enigma in their depictions of the futility of perfection and the beauty that lies in failure. After combining paper, tissue, and a binding agent, Messenger lays black ink and colored pigment over the paper, each sinking and staining the substrate at a different speed. In this way, the artist is allowing gravity to act on the work, adding further elements of randomness and chaos to a work that is based on a mathematical ideal. Though the drawings all follow the same set of rules, they become singular, visibly different entities through an organic process which accounts for and relies on human error and the intervention of natural forces.
In counterpoint to the Grid works which use square grids to create triangles, the Veils use triangular marks to make square forms. The two bodies of work are wholly separate from one another, passing but never touching, operating in their own orbits around the same star.
Sam Messenger received his M.A. from Royal College of Art, where he was awarded the Parallel Prize. His work is held in private and public collections around the world including the British Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Williams College Museum of Art, and the RISD Museum. This is Messenger’s eighth solo exhibition with the gallery. He lives and works in London.