Now based in Lyme Regis, Gail Sagman, who has exhibited in London (The Benjamin Rhodes and Butler Galleries), Moscow and Prague, brings her major new experimental work ‘81’ to Exeter’s Art Terracina Gallery down on the Quay until 10th March. The Gallery, a former warehouse for Exeter’s wool trade, is an ideal setting for a work which benefits from the sense of space this gravity defying installation demands.

A development from her more formal abstract pieces, many of which are displayed on the Gallery’s walls and are redolent of pre-revolutionary Russian formalism with strong references to Braque and Picasso, ‘81’ is so far ‘out of the rectangle’ and frame of painterly art, that its individual pieces appear to be flying like kites on invisible strings. The number 81 itself appears to have significance to Gail Sagman but why is unclear from the work: there is no evidence of clustering in threes or nines although the collective power of the pieces may draw something from her wonder about the mathematical ‘three to the power of four’ and the oddly uneven nature of a number achieved by multiplications of a trinity of the same integer.

The paintings, paper/card sculptures and collages, provide interesting resonances in a setting so close on the one hand to an estuary famous for the exoticism of its birdlife and, on the other, the walls of a Roman garrison superseded by the medieval cathedral floating above. In a feast of designs Gail Sagman offers all kinds of images that strike up further insights so that heron, avocets, and woodpeckers – beaked, assertive, predatory – jostle with phantasmagoric escutcheons from the days of courtly love and the Hellenic shield, helmet and breastplate paraphernalia of Exeter’s Roman legions. And on the far wall as one enters this truly exciting display there is, with the merest genuflection to William Blake, what appears to be an Angel of the Lord, emerging from a burning bush (Bori Evolution).

While some of the pieces exhibited are studiously formal, others fuse an ethereal quality with their very formality. In ‘81’ that is heightened by her mining of earlier works to achieve the sort of remix beloved of coolly modern music buffs. Sagman is at her best in pieces which appear to have been carefully broken up and reassembled, such as Rotator. She reconstitutes the work to fly her kites ever farther from the confines of the traditional in a format which is both strong on design and softened by reflection and whimsy.

Gordon Read February 2006

Gail Sagman painted throughout childhood. She attended London’s St Martins School of Art in the mid-1970s feeling that in such a place there would be little attempt to 'teach' but a wide encouragement to 'explore'. That was the case, and in those few years stimulation came from the Soho lifestyle and participation in a milieu centered around art. Left to her own devices, she discovered that inventiveness arose from leaving aside pre-conceived methods and creating her own rules for each new piece of work.

Gail felt that this process had an integrity which needed to remain unaffected by public opinions, both positive and negative, in relation to her work, and for over 25 years she has applied these ideals to her work.

Gail’s paintings can be characterised as formal abstractions in which the marks constitute their own language. There is a strong feeling of relation to the high water-mark of pure abstraction in post-revolutionary Russia.

Gail’s career has included successful one person shows at prestigious London galleries such as Benjamin Rhodes, and shows in Prague and Moscow where she exhibited alongside Kandinsky and Malevich. She was involved in theatre as a director and designer, and has worked in film and video. She has also experimented with installation and performance here and in the United States.

Given these interests, it comes as no surprise that at various stages in her painting career, she veered towards making pieces 'out of the rectangle', feeling constrained by the standard canvas shape, but it was not until early 2005 that she took a serious look at the subject, with a project named '81'.

The work forming ‘81’ will be on show as an installation at the Art Terracina Gallery in Exeter from February 2006 alongside related pieces of Gail’s work on the subject. This will be the first showing of this body of work. Art Terracina will be the ideal location – a large former warehouse for woolen exports, with great dramatic possibilities. Gail intends to articulate the gallery with dozens of irregularly shaped paintings forming an installation specific to the space. There will also be paintings and studies relating to the new piece.

The irregular edges of the 81 pieces offer endless possibilities of juxtaposing pictures in order to emphasize the dynamic interplay of the forms and their interstices.

Whilst the earlier non-rectangular paintings usually began with a rectangle where parts were added or 'chopped', in '81' the surface shape was constructed as the marks were applied: one process fed the other until an integrated whole resulted. The starting point for some pieces came from drawings or photos of previous work, which were collaged during the 'building-up' process, considerations from the past and the present providing differing detail, additional focal points and areas of contrast.

Each piece is a work of art, and each installation of these pieces can become a new work of art in itself. The question may arise as to why 81 pieces is the right number? Gail has found this number recurring in her work and life, and has allowed her intuition to guide her.

Whether working within the rectangle or unrestricted by it, the formal 'painterly' elements remain the same and the possibilities remain endless.

                                                                                                                                      ART TERRACINA 2006