An almost inescapable sense of nostalgia permeates Toonology, an ongoing exhibition by British artist Ellannah Sadkin, curated by Lori Zimmer, now on view at The Pivot Gallery in NYC. The paintings delve deeply into cartoon culture, referencing a variety of ubiquitous toon figures from film legends like Alice and Peter Pan to comic book fixtures like the superheroes from The Justice League.
But Sadkin’s works are more than just straight transfers from comic books and television screens onto canvas. These paintings are a type of comic abstraction, employing psychedelic distortions of the popular figures until they are barely recognizable. Oftentimes the artist completely removes their faces, leaving a void of nothingness in the center of the compositions. Yet despite any modifications or obscuring of the figures, they remain utterly recognizable, a result of both Sadkin’s calculated and masterful touch and undeniable proof of the cultural pervasiveness of these cartoons characters.
Toonology is an extension of the artist’s overall practice, which has often placed cartoon culture as central subject matter. “Cartoon characters inspire willingness to trust the creator or brand. The paintings spark nostalgia in many people and they open up to me, which is interesting,” Sadkin tells The Creators Project.
“A cartoon character is like an overly simplified version of our psyches; we like how they are noble and pure when in reality a person has many different faces. Someone you love can be a monster at times, and it’s really unsettling especially when this behavior is subtle,” says Sadkin. “You never feel this way with cartoon characters because you know where they stand. Even when a good character ‘goes bad,’ they will show it in their costume. I guess I draw cartoons because I don’t have much faith in humanity.”
Accompanying the artist’s comic abstraction works are a series of “mind maps,” circular, entirely abstract paintings that seem to function as mandalas to Sadkin’s practice; studies on canvas of the cognitive underpinnings and feelings felt by the artist while working on her more figurative works.
“The mind maps are about going deeper into the creative process. I went really introspective with these pieces; I wanted to know why I create work and wanted to show my thought process and emotions while making the pieces,” Sadkin reveals. “I have a theory that an artist is a walking antennae picking up signals or energy and processing them in their own unique way. I believe that if this energy becomes stagnant, it’s very bad for the person and can manifest in anxiety and depression.”