Images of the work of artist Sarah Crowner remain dominant in my mind both for their aesthetic quality as well as because I recalled seeing her piece Ciseaux Rideaux (2012) on view at the Walker Art Center this past summer. Born in Philadelphia in 1974, Crowner received her BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her MFA from Hunter College in New York City, and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.
She is known predominantly for her geometric compositions created through a pseudo-collage technique in which she sews together angular pieces of painted canvas. The facture of her work elucidates questions about the nature of painting in itself: Ciseaux Rideaux, for example, was incorporated into an exhibition at the Walker entitled “Painter Painter,” whose premise was focused around the use of paint as a medium in an era of contemporary art in which artists tend to work without any strict obligation to a medium — an era in which painting as a medium in itself has been put on the defensive. Ciseaux Rideaux is a set of two paintings created by sewing together canvas painted on by oil and gouache, creating a visual field of varying colors from bright to dull and various textures from sensuous to smooth (nearly mechanically so). The asymmetrical yet pleasing composition of both pieces in the diptych allow for they eye to be visually arrested, yet belong to no one focal point, almost democratizing the colored areas of the canvas. Interestingly, the focal effect is much different when the composition becomes symmetrical, as in a 2011 Untitled piece, made as a diptych in the same manner, in which the eye follows the hard edges and suggestive colors of the geometric shapes towards a bright red triangular form at the bottom of the canvas towards the center of the two pieces. Instead of diverting the eye from a focal point, the effect instead is a focus on the wall space on which the piece is mounted that bisects the diptych, including it in its form and therefore evoking questions about the nature of painting in the context of the painted “white cube.”
To me, Sarah Crowner’s work seemed important to me and she immediately struck me as the artist I wanted to focus my paper on upon recognizing her work. In seeing her in the gallery space at the Walker a few months ago, in the context of the “Painter Painter” exhibition, I read the piece as simply an alternative exploration of the effects of painting as a medium. It made me question what exactly was painting, and whether Ciseaux Rideaux could be classified as a painting, a collage, mixed media, or what have you. (My time engaging in discourse in the art department at Cornell has taught me to disregard these questions, as they seem a non-issue in the realm of contemporary art at this point, regardless of the stark separation of media in our curriculum.) Additionally, although I do entirely appreciate the value of temporally or socially significant pieces of work, I have always been inherently drawn to a sort of purist art that deals with aesthetics devoid of time and place. Crowner’s work seems to achieve this, and I believe it to be as culturally significant as any didactic piece that blatantly reads as social commentary.