Jackie Saccoccio, whose abstract paintings made via an intensely physical process generated significant attention in the New York art world, died on Saturday at 56. Her New York gallery, Van Doren Waxter, confirmed the news, saying that she had been battling cancer for the past five years.
“We at Van Doren Waxter are deeply saddened by the death of Jackie Saccoccio, who was widely praised and admired for her powerful canvases, and also deeply respected as a true painter’s painter,” the gallery said in a statement. “We have lost a tremendously talented and beautiful friend, and our condolences go out to her loving husband and daughter.”
Saccoccio’s paintings exude a formal panache that, to some critics, felt charmingly old-school. Postwar abstraction—in particular the all-over canvases of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell—was a frequent point of comparison for those writing about Saccoccio’s art, but she often said that she was equally concerned with painters from more distant eras, such as Gustave Courbet and Ghirlandaio, and even artistic figures who didn’t paint at all, like William Shakespeare and Wong Kar-Wai.
To make her giant paintings, Saccoccio relied on a process that could at various points involve scumbling, the use of dry pigment, the rubbing or pressing together of two still-wet canvases, the applying of mica (which lent her paintings a sheen in some areas), and the dripping of paint from one picture onto another. In the end, her paintings could include as many as 50 layers of paint, though not all of them were visible to the viewer.
Since 2008, Saccoccio had been making what she termed “portraits”—abstractions featuring amorphous blobs that rest atop webs and grids of paintings. “They have more of a hovering nature to them,” Saccoccio told Artspace in 2014. “I think these are all different ways to manipulate the viewer into having a sensational, physical reaction.”
Often, this was a more conceptual kind of portraiture—human bodies, if they were present, could be found only in forms that hinted features of an unseen sitter. And sometimes, people were not even the subject of Saccoccio’s portraits at all. In one case, Saccoccio attempted to profile a Lisa Yuskavage painting she saw in a collector’s home. Rather than recreating the Yuskavage painting, Saccoccio paid homage to its lemony tones by making an abstraction foregrounding yellow hues.
Because Saccoccio’s paintings never totally coalesce into figuration, her abstractions tantalize the eye, seducing it while also confusing it. They resist easy interpretation, and they reward prolonged viewing from multiple perspectives, as their look changes depending on where one stands before them.
“The process,” Saccoccio once told Artadia of one painting based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “accentuates the alchemical play that occurs between the mediums of the individual colors, and, I hope, reflects the conceptual nature of the paintings, sweeping through vertiginous vacuums and implosions and the explosive nature of a tempest.”
Jackie Saccoccio was born in 1963 in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design for her B.A., initially under the impression that she wanted to study architecture and then transitioning her interest to painting, and later received her M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Based in Connecticut for much of her career, Saccoccio showed most frequently in New York, staging seven solo shows with Eleven Rivington and Van Doren Waxter, which merged in 2017. A solo show of her work is currently on view at the Club Tokyo gallery in Japan, and she had a two-part New York solo show at Van Doren Waxter and Chart earlier this year. Among the art prizes she won were the Rome Prize in 2004 and the 2015 Artadia New York Award, which was given to booths at the now-defunct NADA art fair in the city.
Characterizing much of Saccoccio’s work was an openness and a worldliness. Asked by Artspace about her connection to Abstract Expressionism, Saccoccio said, “I’m certainly part of an American tradition of painting, but it’s not the only thing that’s happening. I love de Kooning, but I love Titian too.”