You Really Gotta See It Live, curated by Y. Malik Jalal, at the Atlanta Contemporary presents a solo exhibition of six new, dynamic and playful paintings by Atlanta-based, St. Thomas-born, artist Hasani Sahlehe. Produced during his recent residency at MacDowell in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Sahlehe continues to defy expectations about how pigment and light interact in space. While the artist’s work has evolved over time, moments of intentionality and improvisation remain. Not an abrupt shift, but rather a transformation, Sahlehe’s past works included multi-colored rainbows, bright suns, and loosely painted structures. Now the works exist purely within the realm of abstraction. Each large-scale painting captivates through simple, yet gratifying, stripes of glossy colors and matte hues.
The paintings shimmer in the afternoon light at the entrance to the smaller of the two main galleries at the Contemporary. Examining the formal qualities of color and composition, Sahlehe creates a bright and joyous atmosphere within the room. The luminosity of the poured paint, enhanced by the skylights above, is so powerful that entering the space offers a surge of serotonin. Vibrancy exudes from each carefully laid color. Sun King in particular stands out with its warm, patterned yellow acrylic application. The Initiated captures the viewer with its vivid greens and neon oranges. Overall, the works pulse with fleeting emotions through the layered application of opaque and translucent paint. There is rhythm in the spilled, bubbling swaths of colors and thinned-out hues in each work.
The paintings’ shiny surfaces reflectively place the viewer within them, while also duplicating their surroundings. Through the arrangement of the natural and unnatural light and glossy texture, Sahlehe generates depth within the work and in the space that didn’t seem possible. The glossy gels evoke stained glass of a chapel or the multi-colored lights on a dance floor, recreating places that invite a release of spiritual energy. Through paint and light, Sahlehe mimics what it feels like to sing alongside a religious choir or go out dancing with friends. The utilization of religious titles such as Soul Chant, Psalm, and Spirit Forward further amplify the harmonious processional that occurs throughout the exhibition.
A comparison can be made between Sahlehe’s show and the adjacent exhibition of storied, contemporary color field painter Sam Gilliam, which was curated by Veronica Kessenich. However, Sahlehe’s exploration of color, precarious acrylic application, and connection to music, references the minimal, vibrantly colored grid works of Stanley Whitney and, to an extent, the lyrical abstractions of Thornton Willis (particularly, the Slat and Lattice series).
Sahlehe’s work is the embodiment of abstraction. Letting go of the semiotics of previous works, the artist is in uncharted territory. You Really Gotta See It Live forgoes the expectation that everything must be explained to the viewer. Sahlehe creates a space where a painting can be enjoyed for simply what it is, where one can replenish and thrive off the energy the artist imbued into each work.