Though Ada Sadler references photographs during the painting process, her small-scale, highly realistic compositions cannot be categorized as patently photorealistic. Rather than attempting to reproduce a photograph by directly translating it into painted form, Sadler is concerned with capturing a particular photograph’s—always her own—unique atmosphere and reproducing its visceral affects by playing with light and composition. Whereas the one-to-one correspondence of photorealistic painting often resists deeper engagement by hindering dialogue between painting, viewer, and outside world, Sadler’s paintings thrive on this triangulation. They invite the viewer in and allow themselves to be determined as much by context and the viewer’s interpretive sensibilities as they are by subject matter alone.
With this body of work, Sadler continues her long-term exploration of chairs and, to a lesser extent, vintage, wind-up bathtubbies from the 1970s. She has been drawn to furniture and the unassuming beauty of empty chairs for a significant portion of her artistic career. Without serving as portraits of specific people, Sadler’s chairs hint at an erstwhile human presence and pose existential questions that embrace themes of loss and solemnity as well as anticipation and wonder. It is tempting to anthropomorphize the chairs, not only because of the structural similarities they bear to human anatomy, but also because of the poignant relationships she authors between the chairs and other “actors” in the scenes. Her chairs, for instance, have been seen to contemplate blank television screens, sit beside windows obscured by gossamer shades, gaze off in expectation at doorways, or face walls in quiet penitence.
New limitations on the artist’s practice manifest themselves in striking compositional cropping and dramatic angling. In order to photograph many of her newer subjects, for example, Sadler had to work around physical barriers such as walls and chicken wire. Unable to achieve an uninterrupted photograph of train seats due to the cabin’s cordoned-off entryway, Sadler capitalizes on this limited accessibility in Train Chair #26 (2012) by choosing an oblique perspective to hauntingly frame a sliver of the blue seats beyond. Unexpected vantage points are also employed in the two bathtubbie paintings included in this exhibition. Set amidst vast porcelain landscapes near the lip of cavernous sink basins, these bathtubbies are worldlier than the viewer might initially figure. Nevertheless, with their cartoon-like eyes, vibrant colors, and endearingly mechanized animation, it is impossible to miss the joy, happiness, and even humor with which Sadler limns these toys.
Ada Sadler was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1954 and studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Kansas, from which she earned her BFA in 1976. In addition to showing in galleries and museums across the United States, Sadler’s art can also be found in a number of prestigious private and public collections.