Susan Eley Fine Art is pleased to present a two-person exhibition of paintings by Sasha Hallock and Liz Rundorff Smith. But We’ve Come So Far will be on view at the Lower East Side Gallery. This exhibition at SEFA’s Lower East Side location marks a year since our relocation from the Upper West Side. Both abstract painters, Hallock and Rundorff Smith grapple with deeply personal themes, often considering the abstract forms at the heart of their paintings to be repositories for memories and daily struggles or joys.

Hinted at with tender and witty names, the underlying spirit of the works is obscured from view, to be felt rather than narrated. While Rundorff Smith deals with central shapes that she develops by referencing urns, shrines, burial mounds, and other places of veneration, Hallock’s forms develop through experimentation with media and color, often connecting the finished figures with totems, religious icons, and architecture. Both seek to beget a familiarity but also a hazy uncertainty with their meticulous and animated presence.

Sasha Hallock’s paintings are a diary of his daily inspirations, spirituality, and challenges. He builds abstract forms through a focus on color relationships, texture, and universal aesthetics. Each of his abstractions is a monument to a moment in time.

His daily experiences inform each work stating,

All of my lived experience, art historical knowledge, and every show and artist I admire is brought to bear as I paint, along with the weather conditions, world events, and what audiobook I happen to be listening to in the studio...I am constantly observing the relationships between things: the texture of corduroy as it hits the black leather of a person’s boot on the subway. The place where an old brick apartment building meets a shiny glass tower. In many ways, these paintings reflect my love for New York City, its density, intersections, and diversity.

Small in scale, Hallock’s paintings are reminiscent of medieval icons meant for religious devotion. They are precious, nurtured by the artist who insists on perfecting every element. The practice is almost meditative, this is demonstrated in the careful consideration of soft blends, repetition of shapes, and minute details in works like Untitled Small Works No. 134. A sense of peace can be found in the painting’s spiraling center and pale washes.

Though confined to the surface of each panel, the forms appear three-dimensional, as if a sculpture in a white cube gallery. The white space, painted with as much care as the form itself, creates the illusion of blending into the wall. The care the artist devotes to his material animates the seemingly foreign shape into a figure with personality and character. He likens them to sculptures, totems, icons, machines, and architecture. They have a palpable presence that seems both recognizable and otherworldly. At first glance joyful, their intricacy requires time to consider.

Grappling with themes of personal histories, societal expectations, and how we were shaped and in turn, shaped our children, Liz Rundroff Smith uses her paintings as reliquaries for memories. She references memorials, urns, burial mounds, shrines, and other places of contemplation. Common shapes she finds across these spiritual spaces turn into the central forms within her paintings. The artist works in layers to create a literal history on the surface and implies the personal one each vessel is meant to hold.

In this newest body of work, Rundroff Smith began altering the shape, finding that they easily became trophies. A grid blankets the surface of many of the paintings, this pattern was inspired by the memorable shape and numerous windows of the building her father worked in. She sees the “Trophy” paintings as small awards to herself, acknowledgment of her successes, and the work she does to ensure her daughters are raised differently than herself.

Rundorff Smith is interested in kitsch as an accessible form of beauty, related to the aesthetics of her childhood. The color choices and build-up of encaustic are reminiscent of plastic decor. Bright, artificial colors hint a nostalgia. In recent paintings, the artist has begun adding fringe to the bottom of the canvas and this embellishment plays into kitsch and reminds one of party decorations, parade floats, and even prize ribbons, elevating the vessel to something to be celebrated.

Repetition appears throughout the work. Patterning, the grid, mirrored vessels and the layers of process suggest the artist's need to nurture the painting, a way to hand off the desired memories and emotions. In works like Four-Day-Old Smirk and Breathing Room mirrored vessels stand side by side. Above and below them the suggestion of additional identical forms implies an unbroken succession, that the artist has zoomed in on a piece of a larger chain.

When paired together the artist associates the vessels with her two daughters or herself and her sister. While many of the forms are repeated, they are never perfect, color is allowed to bleed, lines are cut off, encaustic bubbles, grids are overtaken, and previous marks shine through. This undulation between symmetry and irregularity creates a need to examine every inch.