Sarah Cromarty on The Make 3.2.13

Sarah Cromarty, Tyger Tyger at Anna Meliksetian and MJ Briggs

January 26-March 2313 N. Farifax Los Angeles, CA

“In this recent body of work, Cromarty creates paintings that symbolize the beginnings of a fantastical world. Wizards enter other dimensions through portals; talismans, such as a disc, Picture+6poncho, or rhinestone strand, carry a magical force for its possessors; and larger than life figures, having undergone transformation, play the role of protectors or watchers in the night. The central piece of the exhibition, a large free standing work, blurs the boundaries of painting and sculpture, serving as a key to understanding the other works. Two eight foot by four foot paintings, populated by larger than life figures are surrounded by smaller circle paintings, which represent holes cut out by wizards to open a portal that leads to another dimension. The circle is then used as a magical message board. Cromarty arranges parts from the larger paintings, leaves, scarves, beards, to make a language for believers to read. The circles become maps to the portal. ”
-from the gallery

Your work has always had a relationship to sculpture in its process. Iam thinking of your earlier work at Circus and Sixspace. What haschanged in your new body of work is the extreme level of relief. The new work in Tyger Tyger seems to be influenced by bas relief sculpture. Would you talk a little about that fascination?

The thickness of the paintings as well as the content changed after Circus closed. Prior to grad school I rarely shot my own images. I would surf the Internet looking for different themes–rodeo riders, fishermen, bikini girls, islands, etc. Then I would figure out pictorial depth and make  fairly low-relief paintings using those pictures. I always create fantastical spaces but at that time the images were never fully mine.

In graduate school I became focused on content and creating a world that was truly my own, inhabited by the wizard characters I was inventing. It was important to push the paintings out into our space, making their heavy presence unavoidable.

The figures and the flora that surround the wizards mimic the thickness of our bodies and the space that surrounds the viewers.

Your work has also evolved to this new place negotiating the body in new ways through a theater prop space.  What was your process in developing the threePicture+25 dimensional prop-like pieces and who were your influences?

The freestanding painting touches on this idea the most, but I also think of it as the front and back of an open book. The explosion in the jungle is towards the beginning and the wizard that is flying through the sky on the other side signals the end of book one. Probably my biggest influence is Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series. Each of the books in this series is a portal to the next; worlds overlap and characters from seemingly unrelated books such as the Stand and  Salem’s Lot find their way into this series. In some ways I’ve structured the paintings in a similar way.

For me the free standing piece is like the first book. The front is an explosion in the jungle with a portal. The inside where the pages should be is the open in between space. The back has the grey bearded protagonist flying through the void, waiting for the next world to materialize.

The portholes in the space become literally metaphoric for the malegaze of the viewer in painting. There is a subtle sense that in opening the hole you are calling attention to vacancy as a source of agency. Which to me is really interesting. There are other indications that you are interested in a feminist reading of the work such as the
oozing quality of the gemstone beads and the glitter. Could you talk a little about that?

It’s awesome if someone could bring that reading into the work but it’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about when I make the paintings. There is no hierarchy in this group between men and women. I imagine the wizards as collaborators with me. When I work I channel them and try to imagine a how the work can be made by a group of collaborators–me and the wizards–even when it comes to stringing beads together and adding glitter and sequins.

The fascination with magic realism and hallucination is really evidentin both the title of the show (based on a William Blake poem) and the depictions of wizards. Why do you think you are interested in magic?

The simplest way to understand Blake’s Tyger Tyger is to be confronted by and in awe of the beauty and horror of God’s creation. When I’m in the studio channeling wizards and bringing their world to life I take on the role of a God. Making work is often a struggle and what comes out of it can be both amazing and scary. I named the show after Blake’s poem because these pieces are my Tygers.I see magic as an open possibility and a space where anything can happen. It’s also a space for mystery as well as something that exists for believers.

You just graduated from the UCLA MFA program last year, who were your biggest influences in school? When you were at Art Center for Undergraduate school that were your biggest influences there?
Pretty much anyone that came into my studio whether it was faculty or my peers helped me in one way or another. The three professors that I worked with the most were Don Suggs, Cathy Opie, and Lari Pittman. I also had Julian Hoeber who was not part of the UCLA faculty on my thesis committee. Each one helped to shape my practice in pivotal ways.


Who are the artists you are most inspired by and reacting to?
I love David Altmejd, Lynne Foulkes, and Liz Craft. But a lot of the content of the work comes from non-art sources. Stephen King, Frank Herbert’s Dune, movies like Dark City, Donnie Darko, and The Never Ending Story help to form the backbone of the world I’m creating. I’m also very invested in and inspired by Haitian Voduo and it’s practitioners.

Photographs 1-4 by Allison Stewart

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