Artist Sarah Crowner gives a tour of her exhibition, ‘Plastic Memory’, featuring a new series of stitched paintings and a ceramic tile mural and floor installation.
For my work I spent much of my time in art libraries such as the New York Public Library where I extensively looked at Art History. I have been particularly fascinated by Hard-edge Painting. What fascinates me is why it appears to be so simple when in actual fact, to make a successful Hard-edge geometric painting is the most difficult thing to achieve. I began looking at the work of Kenneth Noland and Ellsworth Kelly, from the 1950s and 1960s. Also, I looked at the Brazilian Neo-Concrete artist Lygia Clark and artists like Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Basically, this entailed the history of Modernism in painting and the history of Hard-edge geometric abstraction.
A great Hard-edge geometric painting looks so simple, so effortless, as you are looking at a line, a square or a form on a canvas. But what is it that makes it so compelling to look at a shape on a flat background? It is the artist’s years of practice, hard work, trial and error, history and background that all come together in the shape on a canvas. So I began looking at and analyzing the works by these artists. I had an idea: “what if I cut up the painting and stitch it back together?” Literally take it apart and stitch it back together again as a way of understanding it: to deconstruct it and reconstruct it. Many artists believe in “Making is learning”. Making a work is not something you can read about, study or think about. It is something that you have to make with your hands.
Most images that I saw in these libraries were in black and white, so you really pay attention to form over colour. The first one I tried was a reproduction of Victor Vasarely, a weird one, from 1953 before he became the Op-Artist that he is known as today. It was a composition of a triangle, two long rectangles and a curve. I thought to myself: “what if I Xerox it and divide it into sections?” Rather than using fabric that you find in a fabric store, I decided to use canvas, a material that Vasarely would have used. Then paint some parts of the canvas, let it dry and stitch it back together again. The stitch line became a hard-edge line. It became a constructed object and not a painted line anymore. The line becomes sculptural. Not painting a painting but building a painting – that’s what makes it an object.
Sometimes the final result of my paintings, for whatever reason, is not successful to me so I cut the painting up. In this show, the two black and white paintings and the one with the orange shapes are made up of by cutting up other paintings.
I created these works by laying the pieces on the floor, like Matisse would have worked in his cut-outs and I rearranged them. I like it when forms come together in an unexpected manner. For example, these two forms become a bow tie, or these forms come from the top of the canvas like fingers. I’m trying to make something successful, out of something that was unsuccessful, a finished work.
I found the pattern of the tiles on the Internet when I was looking at new tiling patterns. I came across the pattern in an article in The Guardian. It is in the shape of a pentagon that was recently discovered by a group of Mathematicians. It does not have five equal sides and the only way it can be repeated is through its mirror and by rotation. I am not particularly fascinated by Mathematics, but what I am interested in is the associations of this pentagon which become, to me, like geometric leaves, butterfly wings or an open book. I liked this combination of the new tile pattern with the inherent patterns in the painting. They are made using pattern paper, and so employ “pattern” inherently.
The little green spot in this monochromatic painting was a happy accident. As some of the paintings consist of pieces of canvas that are from other paintings, paintings that I have already stretched, and taken apart, sometimes staple marks are visible. This spot of celadon paint came from the turquoise painting that is in the show. I thought that when I sewed the painting together, the green dot would be hidden in the seam, but it wasn’t. I didn’t draw the line correctly so it showed and it was something that I liked. I decided that it was worth keeping.
Creating these stitched paintings is a much more physical process than you might think. When the forms of the composition are cut up and lying on the floor, the canvas is blobby, wrinkly and folded. You don’t really know what the composition is going to look like until it is stretched and stitched together because that is where you are going to have the strong tight lines. Sometimes the composition doesn’t work and I have to take it apart and start all over again. There is quite a bit of labour in these paintings. I don’t know if it is evident. There is much stitching, thread, cutting, trimming and slicing involved. For instance, the painting with the orange shapes took four months and had seven different versions before I arrived at the final composition.Sarah Crowner: Creating these stitched paintings is a much more physical process than you might think.
The big difference between this show and my previous shows is that I present monochromatic paintings, sliced paintings, a tile mural and a tile floor installation in the same space. Wherever you stand I want you to be aware of the architecture of the gallery space you are in. If you are looking at a painting while standing on a pattern, it is entirely different from standing on a neutral surface, like a concrete floor and looking at the same painting.
In the same way, the monochromatic painting is hanging on a tile wall with a pattern. That tile wall almost becomes a frame for the painting. It feels like the monochromatic painting is perhaps ‘outside’ the painting. For me, it’s a different way to think about how to present paintings, not in a pure and removed space, rather in relation to the outside world.
Written by Thierry Somers
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery.
Photo credit for images from SLG show – Todd-White Art Photography
Photo credit for portrait: Saskia Wilson
Sarah Crowner, ‘Plastic Memory’ at Simon Lee Gallery (London) until 18 June