An example of this approach can be witnessed when Saban carefully removes a small section of yellow paint off the quarter panel of an SUV and reapplies it to raw linen, with both parts displayed side by side as one work. Despite the resoundingly modern appearance of the saccharine yellow car part, Saban has looked to the pre-industrial history of paint. The labour of removing the automotive paint and turning it into a pigment is not unlike the work of Medieval and Renaissance artists who constantly searched for the finest minerals to grind for their paints. Saban’s efforts constitute a re-enactment of this very process.
In a more abstract way, this can also be observed in four works from the Markings series in which Saban delicately peels off and then reapplies the photographic emulsion of the surface of photographs to an adjacent white canvas; the pigment on the photograph is treated as a skin, surgically removed. Just as paint has been excised from a car part to produce a pigment, here an image of pigment is used to produce a mark: a painterly swathe or relocated text from the pigment bottles depicted in the photographs.
Saban’s methodology takes on alternate forms in other works in the exhibition: for Azurite Weft (in Seven Steps), chunks of deep blue azurite are sewn into a hand-woven textile that is dyed using the rock’s powdered form, and in the Graphite Cluster and Cochenille Cluster series, she re-appropriates the techniques of encaustic painting—one of the oldest methods of affixing pigment to a surface, dating back to Ancient Greece. In Graphite Cluster it is rocks of graphite in their mineral form that protrude from the perfect sheen of the graphite powder/wax formula, and in Cochenille Cluster small plant-lice—and the pigment produced from them when dried and ground—are worked into the encaustic surface. Here, a constellation of the silver insects balances their powdered counterpart, which takes the form of a dried bloodstain. Pigment as both raw and processed is presented simultaneously, physically and metaphorically fusing together into the theme, support, subject and medium of the work.
If a polarity can be established between industrially produced commercial paints, and hand-ground pigment, Saban looks to understand both the making and thinking of art within each of these processes. In her sometimes literal and laborious mining of the past, the pre-industrial approach to materials is decidedly poetic. The artist engages with the complex relationship between pigment, medium and support, employing materials that span the earliest painting technologies to contemporary industrial practices.