selected texts about the artwork of Christopher Sage

Mathematical structures govern the formation of Christopher Sage’s work, as the laws of physics govern the physical world. Sage employs Prime number sequences as a framework to define his compositions & proportions. This mathematical underpinning looks at its own aesthetic impact. While aesthetic principles of classical Golden section geometry stems from natural forms, Sage looks to patterns within our numeric system itself. Sage explains “I'm interested in Primes as a byproduct of an ordered, logical system. Their unique, concrete indivisibility, sits at odds with their erratic behaviour, appearing at unpredictable, seemingly random intervals.”

Playing with optical & cognitive shifts, Sage’s works merge disparate ideas ranging from religion and string theory, to language and particle physics. Contrasting concepts and opposing visual elements share a common space, were they threaten to brake apart as they intersect one another; contradictions become suspended in a visual unity.

In his stark black and white woodcut prints, Sage references traditional woodblock letters used in early printing methods to disseminate information. Appearing like familiar letters or symbols, the looped forms offer multiple possible translations, akin to early digital watch displays ability to signal multiple numbers or signs.

Christopher Sage shows us the world as a rational, mathematical construct in which the irrational spreads with quite a stir – just like the pictorial spaces often break and diverse modes of representation collide with each other. To quote Albert Einstein: Mathematical theories about reality are always unsecured – when they are secure, they don’t deal with reality. What counts is intuition.



Dr. Ernst A. Busche
Exhibition text extract

Christopher Sage confronts the reasoned art of Constructivism with the irrational; in his works cool, mathematical reflections hit upon surprising, intuitive, even carnivalesque notions. Symbolic for this is the prime number that dominates large parts of the work: it is as clear as it is mysterious.

These cooly calculated and mathematically desgined works stand in the tradition of Constructivism of the first third of the 20th century: Russian artists like Tatlin or Malevitch and movements such as de Stijl and Bauhaus paved the path. However, the other side is immediately evident as well: There is also the irrational and mystic, the „sur-real“ aspect. His paintings, Christopher Sage says, “are in a kind of neurosis…“ An indication are their bright, „electric“ colors, that stand in sharp contrast to apparently deserted, melancholic scenes.

This tension continues in the subject matters and motifs. There is, for instance, a Fortune Teller – what could be farther away from rationality, characterized by the Constructivist pattern, than predicting one’s future through a crystal ball? Accordingly, Christopher Sage lets color splashes fly around the sphere. Or the triangular construction in Penrose: This figure is as precise as it is unreal, it violates several laws of Euclidean geometry and cannot be built. We are familiar with this kind of structures through the picture puzzles of M. C. Escher, yet one of the inventors of this special „impossible figure“ is the mathematician Roger Penrose, whose Tribar Sage quotes.

Or take the prime numbers on which large parts of this work are based; all the paintings’ dimensions are defined by prime numbers. The prime number is perfectly clear, it is a number that has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself. And yet it is full of mysteries: We are far from knowing their exact quantity, all we know is that the sequence never ends; the most recent result is a number with 22.338.618 decimal places. Also, we do not understand the logic of the placement of prime numbers on the number line. Many think prime numbers are the most beautiful thing math has to offer.

One of the founders of Constructivism was Paul Cézanne who reduced nature to the geometric figures cylinder, sphere and cone; Sage illustrates this in After Cézanne. The Impressionist came to his conclusion after having depicted his motif, the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, over and over again. In the end he was absorbed by this landscape – he disappeared in his motif. The Apprentice depicts the start of the process, when he begins to turn into geometric forms. In other works (The Telekenisist, Ribbon) Sage dissolves heads and abstract forms in swirls of color and brush that stand out effectively against the basic patterns.

Christopher Sage shows us the world as a rational, mathematical construct in which the irrational spreads with quite a stir – just like the pictorial spaces often break and diverse modes of representation collide with each other. To quote Albert Einstein: Mathematical theories about reality are always unsecured – when they are secure, they don’t deal with reality. What counts is intuition.

Dr. Ernst A. Busche




Dr. Bettina Broxtermann

Christopher Sage’s paintings lure the viewer into a world of abandoned carnivals and puzzling mazes using mathematics, magic, mysticism, and fiction. The range of his works as well as the dimensions and form of the pictorial elements are all defined by prime numbers. His illusionist-like spaces are based on two-point perspective and other mathematical techniques.

After priming the canvas, Sage applies a base layer of paint of muted colors such as beige, dark brown, or green. Then he applies a colorful pattern of triangles, rectangles, rhombus-forms, and other simple mathematical shapes, which first recall wallpaper from the 1960s and 1970s. The ensuing pattern is aligned according to the two vanishing points in the interior of the picture, so that the eye follows the lines of composition along a pathway of shapes and pictorial elements. Sometimes the shapes are mirrored, folded, or rotated, creating spaces of sophisticated visual suspense. What is ceiling, what is floor, which path leads to a new space, which to a dead end? Forms can be superimposed transparently onto others or can be objects that cast shadows. Wooden posts as elements of real exhibition spaces jut through the composition like foreign bodies, so that the geometric fields of color seem like easels or exhibition walls. Zigzag bands, like Ariadne’s thread, run through the picture without allowing viewers to leave the maze. On the contrary — they are constantly forced to question or change their own viewpoint and reorient themselves.

After the show, 2012
35.9 x 36.7cm
acrylic paint on canvas on MDF board
After the show installation view , 2012
installation dimensions variarble
After the show, MDF board, wood & bunting

The deserted spaces in these works become even more unreal when an incongruous piece of furniture appears. These are sometimes absorbed, obscured, and partially covered by areas of color but never disappear entirely. Sage makes use of a wide, at times even conflicting, palette. He defines his fields of color with precision or places a single cube or cone into the composition for spatial emphasis. You would not expect a chain of colorful pennants to show up in this highly mathematical formal language, yet, when it does, you immediately think of an abandoned circus.


Christopher Sage’s interest in optical illusion began while studying at the University in Reading and led to a series of sculptures, installations, and, later, paintings. It’s like being in a hall of mirrors when the three-dimensional structure is suddenly confronted with the created, two-dimensional image.

Now Sage also conveys this idea of seemingly unrelated elements in his paintings to the exhibition space itself: the pattern on the walls, the easels, dividing walls, pillars, or chains of colorful pennants. Again, arrangement and accoutrement are based on prime numbers.

100 years upside down, 2012
36.7 x 37.3cm
acrylic paint on canvas on board
101 years, 2013
installation dimensions variarble
100 years upside down, The 3, Helix & house-paint

In one of his installations, Sage cuts three identical black loudspeakers into three parts using a ratio of prime numbers and angles. Then he reassembles them, but uses one part of the other two, for each of the three new speakers. This results in the XYZ, ZXY, and YZX black-box resonators. Three very different forms are created from three identical loudspeakers. The length of the audio loop sounding from the speakers is also based on prime numbers, for example, 4min. 01sec. = 241sec.

XYZ, ZXY & YZX black-box resonators, 2012
22 x 17 x 11cm
black MDF board with speakers & mp3 players

Works from 2012 and 2013

In 2012 and 2013, Christopher Sage began to merge people into his otherwise mathematical pictorial spaces and the patterns they contained. Sage is interested in how the visual world is enhanced by an historical, intellectual one.

The starting point for the painting “Emile the Great (Paul)” is a photograph taken by the painter Emile Bernard (1868- 1941) of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) shortly before his death. The portrait and the exchange of letters between the two painters are shaped by Bernard's deep respect for Paul Cezanne, the father of modern painting. Cezanne’s work dealt with the relationship between what we see and what is really there. He wanted to depict what we actually see. For years he painted his favorite motif, the Montagne Sainte-Victoire in Provence, en plein air, again and again. His ever-deepening involvement with this unique landscape was so strong that Sage saw a connection to Douglas Edison Harding (1909-2007) and his essay "On Having No Head,” in which the philosopher, author, and spiritual teacher describes his merging with a landscape during a walk in the mountains. He writes about how a panorama of the surrounding nature took the place of his head. Cezanne seems to have experienced the same phenomenon while paintings.

Sage’s work, “Emile the Great (Paul),” depicts this sense of “dissolving into something else.” In the picture, Cezanne’s upper body towers into the scene like a large, green mountain and merges with the zigzag patterns of the background. Where the head would normally be, there is only an empty, almost magically illuminated mountain peak, with a cylinder hovering above. The title of the work, “Emile the Great (Paul),” refers to a magician who uses magic to make his head vanish.

The counterpart of this work is called “The Apprentice (Paul)” and shows a portrait of the young Paul Cezanne taken from a photo by an unknown photographer. Again, Cezanne has lost his head. The eyes and nose have been replaced by a pyramid and a red circle. If you hang “The Apprentice (Paul)” to the left of “Emil the Great (Paul),” the zigzag stripes continue left to right from one image to the next. Sage’s combination of conceptual, thematic, and painterly components depicts the development of Cezanne from a young painter into a master of his craft.

The Apprentice (Paul), 2013
47 x 41cm
oil & acrylic paint on canvas
Emile the Great (Paul), 2012
47 x 41cm
oil & acrylic paint on canvas

Christopher Sage’s work becomes the stage for different ideas. Numbers, their interrelationship, historical circumstances, and his own thoughts give new identity to the two-dimensional pictorial language and allow for many different interpretations — hence the transfer from the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional world.

Dr. Bettina Broxtermann

Translation L. Bruce


Dr. Bettina Broxtermann
Download PDF


Austellung Texte
Death at the Sideshow : REH Kunst
Valeska Hageney
Download PDF