By reinventing scenes from her childhood, Sasha Gordon creates living worlds full of everyday details that do not match the elusive nature of memory. Using bright crayons and neon oil paints, the Brooklyn-based painter depicts versions of herself participating in the leisure activities of her suburban upbringing in Westchester County, New York. While her palette is often unnaturally electric, Gordon makes sure to capture naturalistic details like delicate lashes and single stitches on jeans and sneakers. Her motifs look almost childlike, with large, glassy eyes that are so wide that they look like onyx balls in equally round faces. Although Gordon’s characters enjoy recreational activities – they practice archery, play the violin, or camp in the woods – there is a palpable sense of discomfort in their pictures.
Describing her experience as a biracial Asian girl in a predominantly white and heteronormative neighborhood during a virtual studio visit, Gordon said to me, “Everything I did felt like I was performing for men, especially white men.” To reverse this dynamic, she populates her scenes exclusively with characters created in her own image. This means that men are clearly absent. Nonetheless, her characters appear nervous with their forced, restless smiles, which suggests that they have nevertheless internalized the pressure to conform to a certain model of behavior in the white suburbs of the upper middle class.
For her second solo exhibition, which runs through July 10th at Matthew Brown in Los Angeles, the newly minted RISD graduate includes the viewer as the reason for her subjects’ concern. The title of the show, “Enters Thief”, mimics a stage command and suggests that visitors are infiltrating a place they don’t belong – on cue. Instead of an object, however, we are stealing the feeling of security and comfort that comes with privacy. When looking at the paintings, we often disturb intimate moments: a shower, a romantic date by a pond.
Gordon’s new images struggle with the psychological effects of observation. in the Concertmaster (2021) and Bad loser (2021) their protagonists are observed by others within the composition and by us outside. In the first painting, the motif pushed into the foreground plays the violin in front of an invisible audience, its face twisted into an almost threatening grin. Behind her, a head peers over the edge of the window, lurking. The woman fulfills the stereotype of the model minority who constantly expects top performance, expects to be observed and behaves accordingly, an opinion that Gordon shares. “I feel like I have to be a certain type of Asian woman, a certain type of queer person, a certain height,” said Gordon. “I’ve always been very hyperconscious, and I think that’s a big aspect of my work.” In fact, Gordon used to play the violin but gave up the instrument because she was embarrassed by the stereotype of the naturally gifted Asian musician.
In a way, Gordon makes up for lost time by filling her images with queer Asian women like her, people she didn’t have in her life until she entered college. And yet their characters cannot avoid rivalries, comparisons and competition. In the diptych The archer (2021), a panel shows a shirtless woman who points her arrow at the viewer. In her left eye we see the theme of the accompanying panel – another shirtless woman balancing a shiny red apple on her head. With a slight frown, the second woman looks abandoned and dejected as she weakly signals a thumbs up and ignores the arrows scattered around her feet – evidence of the archer’s inaccuracy. The two halves of the diptych are exhibited on opposite walls and capture the viewer in the crossfire between the archer and the target. Given the similar manifestations of both subjects, the work can be read as a struggle against oneself or as a conflict between those with overlapping identities.
“There’s still a wall separating me from this community,” Gordon told me, referring specifically to their “gayness and their struggle with mental illness.” Often times, this separation manifests itself in her work by juxtaposing two Asian women: one with a neon skin tone and another with a more naturalistic complexion, as in Garden troll (2021). In addition to their shiny details and tempting color palettes, Gordon’s scenes emphasize the difficulty of imagining utopian spaces that are not burdened by internalized hegemonic values. But she still imagines boldly and playfully.