Sarah Ann Weber’s drawings, paintings and sculptures transport you to a place of fantasy, though rooted in reality and impermeability. Using gestural strokes, Weber creates movement through her work to explore both nature, decay, and the lack of predictability that is inherent to these processes. While her candy coated and pastel hues draw in the viewer, it is the complex layering of foliage, patterns, and shapes that hold your interest.
Weber’s active studio practice includes painting, drawing, sculpture and writing. Weber recently had her first solo show in Los Angeles: “Scenic View” at Club Pro Los Angeles. Recent two person/group exhibitions include “Cavity” with Brian Rochefort at Some.Time.Salon in San Francisco, “Toxic Gardens” at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery in Brooklyn, and “Psychonautics” at CES Gallery, Los Angeles. She has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, ACRE, and Ox-Bow, where she received a grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation.
An Interview with Sarah Ann Weber:
How would you describe the content of your work?
In my work I try to foster the hallucinatory experience of seeing a mirage, where knowing what is natural and what is fantasy is a disorienting but pleasurable experience. I like to create spaces that feel uncharted but also grounded with a specific sense of place. By sharpening recognizable forms and heightening colors to excessive, artificial degrees I am able to complicate and idealize my own surroundings and transform them into landscapes of wonderment. I invite the viewer to get lost when looking at my work, to daydream and indulge in allowing their eyes to wander.
Can you talk about the titles for your work, in relation to the content?
Many of my paintings and drawings begin as plein-air pencil sketches made in places where nature feels compressed: public parks, botanical gardens, etc. While the finished pieces stray from the real locales, I often title the work after them as a reminder that fantasy and abstraction are rooted in the natural world. When I am not working from a particular plein-air sketch, I meditate on a specific place and work with my thoughts and memory. The titles for these pieces are broader, but they still refer to a type of landscape and/or season that the viewer is able to assign their own moods and points of reference. Grounding my pieces in the real world opens them up so that the viewer can connect their personal thoughts on a particular place to the experience of looking at my work.
How did you begin working with fondant and what is your development with that medium?
Fondant is a familiar material that reminds me of home. My family owns a bakery on the south side of Chicago. Working at the bakery on weekends throughout high school and college, I learned how to make fondant from scratch and how to manipulate the material, which is most commonly used to cover cakes with its smooth, white surface. Fondant functions as a platform for decoration, and I was curious to use it as a material ground. Working with fondant in the studio, I am free to make a familiar material unfamiliar. Once the fondant hardens, it is as solid and unmovable as plaster, and yet it is defined by its organic nature. By creating artworks out of fondant, I force the viewer to confront the uncomfortable fact that all art is ultimately unable to stand the test of time and should be enjoyed in the present. While I began using the fondant as a painting and drawing ground, I now use the material in a more tactile, malleable way. I take pleasure in handling the material directly, and making repetitive, organic shapes becomes a meditative act, like painting or drawing and yet uniquely its own.
What is your studio process when creating a work? Where do you find inspiration (any particular artists)?
My studio process is intuitive. Initial marks are generally fast and loose. I start with gestural brushstrokes or quick pencil scribbles, and then I dig into these gestures with tighter lines and defined patches of color. I never know what a piece will wind up looking like, and I take my time building up layers and forms, allowing myself to get lost along the way. My studio is littered with art history books, many open to pages with paintings from the late Medieval/early Renaissance period. I also love looking at paintings by Charles Burchfield, Joan Mitchell, and the Chicago Imagists, to name a few. I feel a kinship with contemporary artists that work primarily on paper, like Elijah Burgher and David Rappeneau. In the studio I find it almost impossible to work without listening to music, a podcast, or a movie playing in the background. Musicians, poets, and filmmakers from Patti Smith and Eileen Myles to Sophia Coppola and Jean-Luc Godard allow my hand to break free from my mind and simply make the work.
Situating yourself under the description of a female artist can be restrictive. Both your medium and palette choices speak to a feminine connotation. Can you comment on this? Is this association intentional?
I am proud to call myself a female artist, but I would be lying if I said this was always true. Growing up in the age of the Spice Girls and Take Your Daughter to Work Day, I didn’t see being a girl as a disadvantage. That changed in college. The painting department at my school was dominated by masculine work; large, ironic paintings made by “art-bros” lined the walls of most studios. When my work was described as delicate or feminine, I understood it as an insult and developed insecurities. Throughout my early twenties, I was dismissive of my femininity, refusing to admit that gender had anything to do with my studio practice. While attending a residency, I had a studio visit with an older female artist that I admired. She accused me of denying my femininity, saying, “You wish you were a man, don’t you?” Her accusation rattled me, and I worried that she might be right. It’s difficult to embrace something that you fear might be holding you back. Ownership and pride in my female identity took time. While I have embraced the femininity and beauty that are inherent in my work, I still struggle with gender stereotypes and strive to push up against them. I personally do not see my medium choices as feminine, but I understand how they can be interpreted in a gendered way. My color palette skews towards the bright and the pastel and reflects the southern California landscape as well as my femininity.
Your work deals with a few topics, one being nature and the decay of natural world (I am specifically thinking of your vitrine work at Club Pro, filled with fondant petals decaying), but it also dealing with aesthetic beauty of nature and using abstraction to create pieces of formal beauty. Can you talk about this idea?
I hope that my works elicits a sense of entropy. I want there to be an overwhelming feeling of movement within each piece, whether things are growing or decaying. While I find beauty in natural forms as they decay, I am more curious about what brings an object to the point of decay. From a tooth rotting because of too much sugar to a flower exposed to too much sunlight, I escalate my forms so that they reach a state of overindulgence or decadence.
Is there any new direction your work is taking or expanding on?
My work is more evolutionary as opposed to series-based, so each piece builds upon the next. I am continuing to abstract natural forms and create environments that swing between being familiar and unfamiliar, but the compositions are becoming more complex. Lush interior and exterior spaces are melding together in the new work: patterned shirts and upholstered furniture blending into houseplants and scenery from outside windows. I am also including more of a figurative element. The figures are camouflaged by their environments and at times seem to be part of the scenery, dissolving into states of being lost and found.
Check out Sarah’s website and follow her @sarahannweber
-Guest Curator Alex Rojas is a curator, writer and arts professional based in Los Angeles
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