Q&A with Sarah Meyers Brent: Flowers, Repurposing Objects, and Working through Life’s Messes

Dripping Plant II, detail.
Dripping Plant II, detail.
Sarah and I met at the gallery on the first day of her exhibition, Salvaged Garden (open July 1 – August 2, 2015) to discuss her work. Although the Center Gallery is not a particularly large space, her works made it seem so, with an installation and two large paintings looking sharp as all get-out.

SDG: Artists such as Rebecca Louise Law take flowers into a sculptural profusion that fills the exhibition space. Your profusion is rooted into abstract painting, even the installations. Tell us about your relationship with painting, and what it has meant to you to expand into installation.

SMB: Ultimately, I want to create an exhibition that has everything. There’s something alluring about that blank rectangle, and I am a painter first, but I also like to see the different ways that the forms I create translate into space. I am working on a few sculptures now in the studio, using similar materials, and look forward to showing them in the near future.

SDG: Your installations have received positive media attention in the past few months, including coverage by Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe and in Artscope Magazine by Sarah Kinkade. Other than the evident quality and beauty of your work, do you think that the issues you deal with, or perhaps they way you work are having a moment in our cultural imagination?

SMB: I work with repurposed, recycled materials. I love them not just because of the environmental message they contain, but also because they look so cool. I am likely one of many artists out there asking, why put new crap in the world if we can use the old stuff?

I think that STUFF has even more power than ever now because of all of the digital matter we process every day. Actual things really speak to us, their physicality. I love seeing the combinations I can create, and I almost feel like I’m cheating when I put things I’m working on up on the wall-wire, cloth, and floral material-and they look so appealing, organic, and plastic.

“Salvaged Garden” (left) and “Ode to Pregnancy” installed at Kingston Gallery

SDG: I appreciate it when smart, driven artists like yourself openly engage motherhood in their work. It enables viewers to align motherhood with creativity and productivity outside of running a household. What kind of feedback have you received about works such as Ode to Pregnancy or Mommy Love Me, in conjunction with their titles?

SMB: Painting is like therapy for me, and whatever I’m thinking about makes its way into my work. I had two ridiculously dramatic pregnancies, and I am still working through the emotions. My youngest is just seven months old, and the power of the sensations and what a mess babies are is still very much a reality for me.

Many different emotions come up when people view this work, both positive and negative. Teens LOVED the painting “Ode to Pregnancy” when it was exhibited at the Danforth Art Museum. They were curious about the process, i.e. “what IS that, a painting or a sculpture? How did she make it bulge like that?” People have asked whether it depicts a miscarriage, and that becomes a touchy subject. I use my artistic process to work through the mess of life, and ultimately arrive at a form that I find really beautiful, even if not in the traditional sense. That is the point of my art: to capture that simultaneous beauty and ugliness; growth and decay.

Detail, “Salvaged Garden,” photo by Elevin Studios.

SDG: As you work, do you make decisions in an organic or intuitive response to the materials, or do you plan how things will go in advance? Do you work in a sketchbook before or while working on a new piece?

SMB: I work on paintings differently than on installations. My paintings evolve as I work, often turning out very differently from how they began. I respond to the materials and the forms as I go, and I like that. I work on the floor a lot, and the paint moves around as I work.

This installation at Kingston was initially designed for a different space, and since then I have reworked it for other spaces. I begin by sketching the overall forms, and as I build it, it grows and changes within the limitations of the space. The organic materials grow and move, and I fix them with wire, but they still do their own thing and surprise me.

SDG: Which artists inspire you? Could you recommend anyone’s work we should have a look at?

SMB: Expressionist artists such as Joan Snyder; particularly her collages and flowers.That is why I love the Danforth Art Museum. Also Joan Mitchell, Lynda BenglisFrank Auerbach, and Chaim Soutine. Contemporary artists I look at include Summer Wheat, Julia-Fernandez Pol, Cecily Brown, and Lauren Rice.

Sarah with her installation at Kingston Gallery.
Sarah with her installation at Kingston Gallery.
SDG: Where can we see your work next?

SMB: I am in the second annual pop-up exhibition at Flock Gallery in Manchester, New Hampshire. The opening reception is Thursday, July 23 at 5:00pm – 8:00pm, and the exhibit runs July 23-28th.

I have a solo exhibition at the Danforth Art Museum in the main center space from March 6 to May 16, 2016. For that exhibition, I will reinstall an archway piece and create a site-specific piece for an alcove. I’ll have news about another group exhibition in the near future as well.

You can follow Sarah on twitter @sarahbrent and on her website: sarahartist.com.

Christina Pitsch: All that is Lovely and Fine

forget me not4 WIP
Christina Pitsch, forget me not, porcelain, 11 x 12 x 3 inches, 2015.

close up chandelier
Christina Pitsch, Objects of Desire, detail, mixed media, sizes variable.
Ceramics hold many opposites in balance. They are breakable and delicate, yet made with mud by being fired in extreme temperatures. Glazed ceramics can survive a trip through the dishwasher (although I wouldn’t recommend testing this, unless they were intended as dining implements), but not a trip from a shelf or wall to the floor (crash). Each time an artist sends glazed ceramics into the kiln, there is an element of suspense about how it will turn out. The physicality and closeness to the elements make ceramic sculpture inherently dramatic.

On view at Kingston Gallery through August 2, Christina Pitsch‘s solo exhibition Fancied layers the inherent drama of ceramics with that of chandeliers that she altered to create floor-to-ceiling mixed media sculptures. In place of light bulbs or candles stand her own porcelain sculptures of deer hooves. She shifted the transition from white porcelain to gold chandelier upward on some hooves by dipping part of the hoof in shiny gold glaze that matches the finish of the chandelier.

The only colors in Fancied are white or gold, a limited palette that allows a focus on the smooth and shiny textures of the metal and the porcelain. The cluster of Forget-Me-Nots, gloriously floral stems, linear or colorful details, betrays a delicacy quite different from a bouquet of real flowers.

Robert Chamberlin, from the Fill me Up series, porcelain.
Robert Chamberlin, from the Fill me Up series, porcelain. http://www.robertchamberlin.com/
With a similar erasure of specifics balanced by a recreation of essential mood and forms, Boston-based Robert Chamberlin creates vases inspired by the French Sèvres style popular in the 19th century. Absent figures, color, and designs, his series, Fill Me Up, removes narrative and adds a dash of absurdity and a graceful bow to the temporal nature of food arts by applying the ornate, scrolling flourishes with a cake decorator.

In Pitsch’s work, fantasy and absurdity play significant roles. She questions the boundaries of why we find certain things beautiful, in the continuum of natural to human-designed. She sculpts an exaggerated idea of luxury. Her floor-to ceiling sculptures are eye-catching for the same reasons that luxury items are, but their excess and repetition, and illogical insertions of porcelain sculptures interrupt our usual intake of admiration.

The chandeliers she selected are not expensive or antique, and that is part of her point. Walk into any Home Depot and see styles of the past represented in the light fixtures. For $99, you can buy an elaborate, faux-cut crystal (plastic) chandelier. What is it about maintaining Baroque or Victorian tastes in our light fixtures, but not in other parts of our home? For one, the many curving lines of a Victorian table are less practical for a family to dine upon each day. Ornate chandeliers may float above our heads, dusted possibly a few times a year, and work as aspirational forms toward imagined polite and cultured past eras. By contrast, the clean lines of modern furniture translate well into busy households.

Kurt Pio, from his "Diamonds" series (see http://www.kurtpio.co.za/ to learn more)
Kurt Pio, from his “Diamonds” series (see http://www.kurtpio.co.za/ to learn more)
In addition to questioning why we decorate the way we do, Pitsch’s work also references the tenuous line between inspiration and robbery in the realm of fashion and interior design. Some of her ceramic sculptures of birds perched amid blossoms may appear similar to ones you could buy for much less at either a lucky thrift store find or at Anthropologie. By definition, innovation takes form before there is the chance for it be mass-produced, and thus less expensive. There is an undeniably stronger tension between new and the mass-produced ceramic art than, for example, paintings, which may be recreated with giclée printing, but less convincingly. Do we pay for the idea, expressed with matter, or its semblance that is also an object? Do we support the artist or the corporation?

The chandeliers and smaller sculptures in Fancied operate on a continuum between artifice and nature. Much of art consists of making something, or a reality, that you do not in reality have access to by making a version of it with art. Kurt Pio, of South Africa, paints giant diamonds, among other natural forms including the moon and plants. Pio’s diamond paintings are photo-realistic, but done at such a large scale that the refracted gems seem geometrically exaggerated, like lovely, radiant, abstracted mosaics. Viewers feel more than one level of desire or admiration as they appreciate the two-dimensional art. It resonates on the level of luxury AND achievement at how well he rendered a facet of the physical world.

Also on view right now a short way from Kingston Gallery is All at Oncea twenty-year survey of Arlene Schechet‘s art at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. From 2012 to 2013, Schechet did a residency at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in Germany. At the entry to that section of the exhibition, an introductory text explained the significance of porcelain as a medium in the eighteenth century. “Porcelain was thought to have a living, breathing quality that other sculptural materials lacked,” and we may not be able to relate to the “sense of magic, mystery, and modernity” an eighteenth-century person felt. But I think that ceramics, and porcelain in particular, is having a moment in Boston. I encourage you to see Schechet’s exhibition at the ICA, and Pitsch’s exhibition at Kingston. Please comment to suggest where else we may see ceramics continue to make their mark in fine art.

-Shana Dumont Garr

chandelier grouping detail2
Christina Pitsch, Objects of Desire, detail, mixed media, sizes variable, 2015.