Artist Mandy El-Sayegh on How To Fill a White Cube

Portrait of Mandy El-Sayegh. Photography by Abtin Eshraghi. All images courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin.

Mandy El-Sayegh draws upon her childhood and family as a core source of inspiration. As a result, the painter often finds herself gravitating towards exhibition spaces with domestic interiors. This made tackling “The Amateur,” her first show at Lehmann Maupin’s gleaming, white cube Chelsea gallery particularly stimulating. “When I first saw this space, I was like, ‘Argh, what will I do?’ It has the foundation of that big American ambition—big spaces with big paintings,” she remembers. “So I decided to go the other way. I brought the whole studio in to mitigate that coldness.” This revelation set off another. During the run of her exhibition, the gallery is being made available to performers for rehearsals. “Space is precious in New York,” the Malaysian-born artist reminds me. 

Photography by Abtin Eshraghi.

To her credit, El-Sayegh has maximized every inch made available to her. The gallery’s surfaces are in on the action as they are in her studio, where the artist is always “adding, adding, adding” by tacking up paper on the wall only to float it to the ground for another round of marks. “Only recently did I start referring to myself as a collagist more than a painter or a performer, because it applies to the self and philosophy more than just a material,” the artist confesses as we whirl around her show of mixed media paintings, some with videos playing above. She stops in front of one where a dollar bill blurs into a background of purple and green inky splotches. "If there was another more niche word for what I do as an artist, it'd be something about how bruising works. There's a layering that happens where all the colors separate.”

Like past bodies of El-Sayegh’s work, the paintings on view at “The Amateur” meditate on our current surveillance state, where we are being monitored on large homogenous grids by governments and corporations who by their very existence cannot have our best interests at heart. It is this paranoiac mode that permeates the show as El-Sayegh clips headlines from current events to facilitate the construction of new doomed poems in paint and ink. Abstracting her source material through the sheer volume of paper scraps that move through her hands, and covering her tracks as she goes like any good conspiracist, El-Sayegh ends up on the other side of her painting process with rich,  impossibly tangled compositions that demand the viewer to actively participate in their decoding. “My strategy is an extreme form of transparency, says the artist. “If I put so much shit in there, it creates its own form of abstraction, because there are too many elements to make linear sense. The over-saturation becomes a form of resistance.”

The Amateur” is on view through April 29, 2023 at Lehmann Maupin in New York.