Sadie Laska, photo by Joe DeNardo


Sadie Laska on the Power of Cynicism in Art

Published Friday, Feb 25, 2022

Painter and mixed media artist Sadie Laska, whose collage Everything is Just Dirt! II is on view in Pace’s online exhibition Twenty-One Humors, brings a ‘90s edge to her work. Inspired by the music of that decade, the artist creates vibrant canvases and collages that take up contemporary issues related to politics, climate change, and the pandemic. Employing sarcasm and cynicism as salves for these anxieties, Laska aims to connect with viewers of her work on a personal level.
In conjunction with the Twenty-One Humors presentation, which explores dark humor in art, Laska spoke with the gallery about her process, influences, and modes of addressing current events. Her statements, which follow below, have been edited and condensed.

To title my painting Everything is Just Dirt! II, I took a quote from the Velvet Underground song “Sweet Jane” that goes “everything is just dirt.” At the time, I was working with these flag materials and using the Earth flag a lot. I kept hearing that song lyric and I think it captured a lot of different ideas that were kind of funny, sarcastic, and maybe a little melancholy, which is where my humor lands. I was thinking of the figure in the drawing as this fat, rich man. My work is really based in collage. There’s an element of chance in putting different things together.

I’ve been making these kinds of flag works for the past year and half or two years, working with fabrics. I collect a lot of images from all kinds of sources and different media—I see illustrations in the news and reference them to make drawings. Using banners of text, I try to make these absurd posters or flags that aren’t really specific to any location. I make these images, cut them up, tack them down to the flag substrate, and add text in the same way I would compose something on paper. But, in this case, these elements are sewn and glued together and they’re much larger than paper pieces.

Sadie Laska, Everything is Just Dirt! II, 2021, fabric and paint on flag, 60-1/2" × 35" (153.7 cm × 88.9 cm)

I grew up in the ‘90s. I think that in my generation there was a sort of cynicism that ran through everything—through the music at the time and the song lyrics. I had that attitude a little bit. I’ve always thought that work that has some kind of humor touches people a little bit more deeply than something that’s completely serious. It’s always been a dark humor, it’s not like I’m an absurdist. It’s always more cynical. I’ve worked in a lot of different media, and I even made abstract paintings that I think had a kind of humor. It’s something that is always in the work.

In the past couple of years, I’ve used humor to try to digest and manage the stress that we’ve all lived through with the pandemic and the Trump administration as well as underlying anxieties about climate change. Bright colors in my work are one way that I add levity, but the works are dealing with these kinds of heavy issues.

I’ve always thought that humor in art is a real way to connect with people. Trying to unpack a piece of art and its complexities can help you understand humor in a different space. If you have an object that can communicate through humor, you might be able to speak to somebody who’s not engaging with it formally. I think it’s about connecting. Even a little one-line joke on the wall—not everyone is going to get it, but they don’t have to. I think that loosens people up.

As told to Claire Selvin

  • Essays — Sadie Laska on the Power of Cynicism in Art, Feb 25, 2022