Josh Sperling: a daydream of squiggles, swirls and minimalism in New York

Josh Sperling: a daydream of squiggles, swirls and minimalism in New York

In his new show, ‘Daydream’, American artist Josh Sperling dominates Perrotin New York with large-scale squiggle installations and minimalist monochrome works that draw on functional design

The devil is clearly in the details for Josh Sperling. The American artist and former studio assistant of Kaws, is currently being cast in the spotlight at Perrotin New York. Known for his exacting approach to colour – his studio has developed over 1,200 proprietary blends of paint – Sperling’s new show, ‘Daydream’, features new composite works, minimalist monochrome pieces and large-scale squiggle installations, that together take over all three floors of the gallery’s Lower East Side spaces. 

In this expansive showing of work – his largest to date – Sperling presents a return to signature motifs while simultaneously unveiling a new series that furthers his deep-dive exploration into materiality, colour and form. As much influenced by the minimalists of the 1960s, like Sol Lewitt and Ellsworth Kelly, as the maximalism of the Memphis movement, each of Sperling’s creations is both clashing and harmonious, and invites viewers to look closer. 

 Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin
Installation view of Josh Sperling’s exhibition ’Daydream’ at Perrotin New York, 2022. Photography: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin

‘Each floor [reflects] a different section of my practice,’ says Sperling, who worked for Kaws for five years and credits him as a mentor. ‘The first floor holds the more geometric, more minimal monochrome works. The second floor is a full squiggle installation room along with some new square pieces that are quite Josef Albers-esque, and then the third floor contains the composites, which are the more collaged pieces.’

Hailing from Oneonta, New York, Sterling comes from three generations of traditional furniture makers before him, and functional design is a foundation of his practice. Design traditions inform the way he creates, be it Shaker furniture or Memphis-era graphic design and architecture. All of his work is underpinned by complex networks of handmade armatures that enable his paintings to break through the picture plane. Plywood forms have been cut out on a CNC machine and layered flat on top of each other to create a topographic map, which Sperling then stretches canvas over to imbue each shape with a bevelled, faceted effect. 

 Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin
 Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin
Inside Josh Sperling’s New York studio. Photography: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin

While Sperling’s squiggle works incorporate forms that are ‘very free and gestural in movement’, the more minimal pieces – a single swirl or an interlocking configuration of bubble-like forms – are ‘generally more mathematical in thinking’. While the collage-style composite works have previously tended to be more rigid and geometric, Sperling says that for ‘this show, the composites originated from more gestural, one-line drawings that were started on paper then brought onto the computer’.

Equal parts organic and considered, Sperling’s process is largely guided by intuition. He says, ‘I start off drawing on paper or directly on the computer with a big drawing pad. Everything is designed in black and white lines, with no relation to colour, and then after that’s done, the pieces get cut out with the CNC machine and stretched and then I’ll hand paint a little paper version of [each] to figure out the colours beforehand. I don’t do any colour on the computer, it’s very form-driven at first. After I see the forms, they reveal colours to me. One shape’s feeling could be more intense, so I’ll make it a more warm, hotter, redder colour, while another form could feel very soothing and so a pale blue or something might suit it better. I really have no idea until I put it down on paper and see it with my eyes what’s going to work.’ §

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