Ilana Savdie begins her works by drawing. Disjointed limbs and razor sharp nails, burrowed in seas of black ink, inform the nine new paintings that comprise Swimming in Contaminated Waters, the artist’s first solo exhibition at Deli Gallery. Savdie scans and manipulates these drawings digitally, dividing and aggregating body parts among thrilling palettes to map new geographies altogether. When transferred to canvas, these scenes electrify.

Ilana Savdie, “Waiting to emerge as catastrophe” (2021), beeswax, oil, and acrylic on canvas stretched on board
34 × 24 inches

In “Waiting to emerge as catastrophe” (2021) ribbons of marbled beeswax meet peripatetic streaks of cobalt, coiling and contorting like intestines around a meandering staircase. A phallic figure spiked with threatening fingernails presides over the anarchic scene. Neat pools of color barely contain the unease in this work, positioned amid a looming cascade of humbly sized yet arresting paintings that command the gallery.

Fragments of color tend to quake with anticipation as if waiting to be ignited. I thirst for release in small works like “ashes, ashes, we all fall down” (2020), wherein hazardous pinks fuel imposing figures that never quite surrender to an orbit of magnetic blues. Comparably destabilizing, a torso with outstretched legs plummets nonchalantly  into a mélange of explosive pigments in “Low pitch complicity” (2020). 

Consistently, Savdie’s methodical approach to color forewarns of the latent chaos in scenes that teeter on the brink of disarray. Throughout Swimming in Contaminated Waters, Savdie gleans chaos from the body, a site she repeatedly excavates and mines to herald unrest. 

Installation view, Swimming in Contaminated Waters, Deli Gallery, 2021

Swimming in Contaminated Waters continues through April 4 at Deli Gallery (110 Waterbury Street, Brooklyn).

Daniella Brito (they/them) is a nonbinary, Dominican interdisciplinary artist and writer based in New York City. They earned a BA in Art History from Oberlin College, where their research interests spanned...