Mark Leibert’s “Reflex” at Sandler Hudson Gallery: An Existential Big Picture

Mark Leibert’s solo exhibition Reflex looks to be a survey of life, the big picture of existence. Larger than life, ethereal portraits are paired with small color fields. A few color fields, big and small, are displayed alone or with groups. Some color fields made on paper are preciously encased in a quaint wood shadow box. The portraits are conventional, though when introduced to its adjacent color field, becomes more complicated. The exhibition opens up with “Shift”, a portrait of a woman folding her arms above her head, stretching one hand across her temple. Her pose is unnatural yet playful. A subtle washy streak of orange toward the top right of the painting leads us to 1/5th of the size canvas full of an orange wash. These canvases feel like captured auras, describing the sitter’s existence in a complicated truth that words cannot fathom. Another pair is found among a well groomed man with an aural streak of green guiding to a wash of dirty white to green. 

The portraits themselves are ghostly, thin but descriptive. Leibert treats acrylic and oil paints like watercolors. This leaves his portraits languid. However, he includes the precise details and gestures that make a person unique, inciting a tangible corporeality. 

Another hidden language is found in layered gestural marks found amongst “Untitled (Blank Series)”. This painting is like a secret letter written in lemon ink, only revealable by those versed in decoding ancient history. This painting stands as a monument for a past life, holding information only the individual may know. 

Contradicting the essence-factor of this piece is a slightly larger color field poised across the gallery. Despite the painting’s engrossing size, its marks and flecks are microscopic particles blown up for observance. This is the moment a cell is conceived and designated as a child. Invisible, and magnificently quiet, tiny matter are beginning to form an aura.

Some portraits, such as “Switch” and “Untitled” are smaller than the large renderings, but bigger than the aura jars. They emit an immaturity within the sitter; they are still developing, growing, learning, creating experiences that shape their existence. 

The series of color fields–unpaired and portraitless–feel like headstones for those who have completed their life cycle, and left a memorial aura behind, like a diary written in an unknown language but drips with distinctive personality. The large ones from his Blank series are full and long lived, while the small dreary grey color fields are transient lives. Fragile lives, too embyonic to stand alone, are cherished and safe within frames.

Overall, Leibert’s exhibition Reflex opens up an existential window with no particular answers but many beautiful suggestions into life as a big picture through small pieces. 

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