Paul Sietsema at the Basel Kunsthalle is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

06.18.12 5:23 PM ET

At the Art Basel fair that closed yesterday, there was so much work on view that only the splashiest of it, able to be taken in at a glance, had any chance of making an impact. The one-person show of American artist Paul Sietsema, at Basel’s Kunsthalle, was a wonderful antidote to that art-fair condition. Sietsema’s work is tremendously subtle and complex, and demands the closest of close looking. The two paintings in today’s Daily Pic, for instance, are each paintings made with the stuff they depict. The “hammer” picture, called “Painting for Assembly,” is painted on the back of a vintage oil painting, whose canvas was removed with the help of the hammer and chisel depicted in the painting – which we see immersed in the same paint that the artist actually went on to use to depict them on that canvas. The other picture, titled “Chinese Philosophy Painting”, shows two paint-pots casually “spilled”, and they too were depicted using the very paint they contain. In an age where most images lead immaterial lives, Sietsema told me that he’s keen on doubling down on paintings as material things that have to get made – using hammers and nails and pots of paint.

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