ARCANA - A new collection of original canvases by Sarah Shaw
Whistleblower Gallery (Oct. 14 - Nov. 10, 2023)
ARCANA II (Moocna thoc) , 2023
Oil on canvas
170 x 130 x 3.7 cm
“Being a painter in an electronic age means you are automatically involved with ways of looking and seeing in which technology plays a vital part. In the same way that in the past I have used various means to find a kind of controlled chaos – creating my own Rorschach tests to respond to, throwing rags at painted surfaces – turning the canvas upside down to see what emerges - I’ve embraced AI in this show as a tool to generate interesting imagery – not to replicate but to use as a jumping off point. I enjoy the clash of the new and the ancient and was interested to challenge myself with responding in paint to these polarities. These paintings push and pull, and flirt with AI but ultimately assert themselves undoubtedly from a human head and hand…” Sarah Shaw, 2023
In these monolithic new paintings (some of the largest that Sarah has created), and in contrast to many of the works we have seen over the last two years, people and things are writ large. But even though these characters are out in the open after the plague years, they are still presenting in fragments; in the process of coalescing, but not quite there yet. A Piero arm reaches out from behind a curtain, its hand disappearing into an improbable painterly pocket; another arm hangs at a painful angle, hypnotised into pins-and-needles crookedness. A figure appears to be embracing itself, or is it two people? All around them are sizzling flashes of graffiti, slipping glimpses of oversized typography, and architectural detritus. It is figuration, not as we know it, but as the hypnogogic visuals you get as you’re falling asleep.
By contrast, the small studies reacquaint us with those familiar huddled figures from two years ago, but this time they emerge from a tangle of urban graffiti and graphic elements, blinking and fizzing with anxiety, unused to having the spotlights turned on them.
Sarah makes no secret of the influence of cinematography on her work. Most recently, the films by Ari Aster (Midsommar), Ben Wheatley (In the Earth) and Mark Jenkin (Ennis Men).
From the former, a hypnotic fertility that fruits these hallucinatory, painterly pagan bodies. From the latter, a focus on red. Not just as an accent, but as a glitchy recurring motif. From all: a sense of the uncanny; a wilful and witchy past that we can’t quite escape, rubbing up unnervingly against our
sanitised present in those places where the membrane is especially thin and worn away.
These works blend the old with the new in a continual cycle of reinvention, rebuffing any notion of getting comfortable. The apparent confidence with which Sarah is willing to makeover a passage if it comes too quickly or undeservingly belies the anxiety that is always there in service to the
work. These are big, bold, brave paintings, not least in their exploitation of generative AI that many others in her position may be cowed by.
Figurative painters are often observed as relics and remnants of a bygone age; left behind the times, ploughing an increasingly lonely furrow. These latest paintings throw a painterly spanner in the works. They are full of the past, this is without question, but consigned to it? Absolutely not. Sarah
dredges up these halcyon days, runs them through a Wicca filter, and then reanimates them, pulling them buzzing and glitching into an electric present.
We hope you will enjoy seeing this stunning and intriguing collection of new works.