The end is near for artist Jonathan Saiz

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Ray Mark Rinaldi

There’s a scene at the end of the dooms­day movie “Deep Im­pact” when the world is com­ing to an end. A col­li­sion-course comet has rocked the planet and a thou­sand-foot tidal wave is about to wash away the beach where ac­tress Téa Leoni has just re­united with her es­tranged fa­ther, played Max­i­m­il­ian Schell.

But in­stead of flee­ing in­land like the scram­bling masses around them, the pair sim­ply hug tight and turn to face the ocean, re­signed that Earth is sunk and calmed that they have found their place in a cy­cle of life and death they have no con­trol over.

That’s how I felt, like Téa and Max in that mo­ment, as I walked through artist Jonathan Saiz’s ex­hibit at Leon Gallery. The work is all about wide­spread calamity, and things like con­spir­acy the­o­ries, cults, crimes, cover-ups and mass de­struc­tion. But not in a pan­icked way.

The tone is more like: Big and bad stuff hap­pens, and it mostly hap­pens to you and, well, you just need to ac­cept your fate and be happy.

A lot of peo­ple might see his sprawl­ing and la­bor-in­ten­sive art works as a metaphor for the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of ev­ery­day life. I’m not sure Saiz means it that way. He is, it seems, a true be­liever; at 33 years old a prod­uct of the weird, wired world his gen­er­a­tion grew up in, where the In­ter­net con­flates half-truths into catas­tro­phes and in­ter­prets as­tro­log­i­cal events as alien ab­duc­tions, where mass mur­der­ers have fan pages and charis­matic char­ac­ters re­cruit vul­ner­a­ble fol­low­ers to their whacko ar­mies and where, most im­por­tantly, re­li­gion and pop cul­ture com­bine to make the apoc­a­lypse ap-

pear ever-im­pend­ing.

The ex­hibit, “The Deep End,” dis­trib­utes his bril­liant and con­fused mind across the walls of Leon and it is as en­ter­tain­ing and im­mer­sive as any Hol­ly­wood block­buster, though with­out the big-bud­get. There’s an un­pol­ished, D.I.Y. aura to the ef­fort that makes it per­sonal, sin­cere and, al­most, con­vinc­ing.

Saiz ties it all to­gether, lit­er­ally, by writ­ing a se­ries of words and phrases on the gallery’s en­try wall that evoke dark­ness, mys­tery, spir­i­tu­al­ity and self-con­flict — things like “pu­rifi­ca­tion,” “ap­a­thy,” “de­nial,” “sex” and “Satan” — then he uses push pins and rain­bow-col­ored string to con­nect the dots, in the same way the Greeks linked stars to make con­stel­la­tions. Is there some vast, govern­ment con­spir­acy that con­nects “tarot” to “Rev­e­la­tions” to “en­cryp­tion? ” The wall tells all.

The piece morphs into a se­ries of tiny, plas­tic boxes — maybe two-inches square and placed across the wall in a grid — that be­come the mo­tif for the re­main­ing ex­hibit. In­side each box is an even tinier paint­ing, ab­stract but meant to rep­re­sent some facet of Saiz’ in­ner world, things like pyra­mids or an­cient tribal mark­ings or ce­les­tial phe­nom­ena. They un­fold as in­di­vid­ual pieces (and, in fact, they are for sale that way at a mere $20 apiece) but link to­gether into a whole that sug­gests there’s are a lot of in­ter­lock­ing, and sus­pi­cious, things go­ing on that we know lit­tle about.

From there, the boxes, and there are 9,000 to­tal, are put to­gether into wall-mounted pieces of var­i­ous shapes and depth. Some are placed in over­sized frames to bring at­ten­tion to spe­cific ideas. Oth­ers are com­bined to­gether into larger squares and ob­scured by cloudy fa­cades or dripped-on paint. One piece, the show’s only col­lab­o­ra­tion and done with artist Lewis Neef, is cov­ered with sugar crys­tals. Of­ten, these lit­tle boxes are ob­scured with a hand-painted “X,” or lay­ered on top of each other, two, three or four deep, so you can’t even seen what’s in them. They evoke a sense that some things are murky, hid­den and un­know­able.

It all leads up to the ex­hibit’s mas­ter­piece, “It’s Only Work­ing ’til It Isn’t,” a mas­sive wall sculp­ture, made of 6,000 of the boxes glued to­gether, that chron­i­cles a planet or a civ­i­liza­tion as it is born, ma­tures, de­stroyed by its own ig­no­rant means and then, fi­nally, re­born. Within it, is a thou­sand in­di­vid­ual asides about the mech­a­nisms of mod­ern ex­is­tence and ul­ti­mate chaos.

Saiz, who clearly em­braces the un­ex­plained, let’s us in­ter­pret his works how­ever we want, but he does lead us to his way of think­ing via the show’s fi­nal piece, a 738-page, soft-cover book he has self-pub­lished. He’s placed 105 copies on an acrylic shelf that is set in the cen­ter of the gallery.

The ti­tle is “Wake Up, Do Some S—, Sleep: A Mem­oir” and the text is sim­ple. It reads: “Wake Up, Do Some S—, Sleep” and re­peats that 32,485 times, enough to chron­i­cle 89 years worth of days, his sug­gested ideal length of a hu­man life if, un­like Téa Leoni in “Deep Im­pact,” they make it that far.

There are a lot ways to look at Saiz’s work and it de­pends, more than most ex­hibits, on what you bring to the table. Some peo­ple, in the era of fake news and slickly pro­duced web pro­pa­ganda, be­lieve in all this dark stuff. Oth­ers have zero pa­tience for it. The show will seem self-in­dul­gent and more than a lit­tle crazy to the ag­nos­tic crowd.

There’s a cer­tain TMI fac­tor to it, as well, too much in­for­ma­tion, as the say­ing goes, about Saiz’ own quirk­i­ness, a com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic of things pro­duced by an age group will­ing to con­fess ev­ery­thing even re­motely per­sonal, with pride, over so­cial me­dia chan­nels, and send out naked self­ies to strangers with­out a sec­ond thought. It all adds up.

But it’s hard not to be taken in by Saiz’s charm and good at­ti­tude about it all. Worlds come and go, gen­er­a­tions live, die and get re­placed. No real rea­son to get up­set about all that in the mean­time. It’s not op­ti­mistic ex­actly, but it is calm­ing. Like a shot of bour­bon on a bumpy air­plane flight or good anti-de­pres­sant, it re­moves both the highs and lows of ex­pe­ri­ence and sug­gests you just be.

In that way, it suc­ceeds well. With “The Deep End,” Saiz proves him­self to be a con­fi­dent, tal­ented and evolv­ing artist and it shows Leon Gallery is will­ing to take chances. Leon is a com­mer­cial space and this show is not an easy sell (ex­cept per­haps for the book, which goes for $17.95 a copy, mak­ing it per­haps the weird­est, best hol­i­day present out there for 2016).

See the ex­hibit soon. Be­fore it’s over. Or be­fore ev­ery­thing is over.

Jonathan Saiz’s ex­hibit, “The Deep End,” con­nects tiny boxed art­works with string and words to ex­plore a world of wide­spread calamity, and things like con­spir­acy the­o­ries, cults, crimes, cover-ups and mass de­struc­tion. Photo by Amanda Tip­ton, pro­vided by leon Gallery

Pho­tos by Amanda Tip­ton, pro­vided by leon Gallery

A de­tail from “The Deep End” by Jonathan Saiz.

Jonathan Saiz’ ex­hibit, “The Deep End,” uses 9,000 tiny plas­tic boxes, each filled with an in­di­vid­ual art­work.

Jonathan Saiz work­ing on “The Deep End.”Cour­tesy Jonathan Saiz

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