All I ever wanted to do was make a painting that you could immerse yourself in,” Sarah Crowner tells me. We’re in her studio, in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. It’s early October, and the space is full of designs and props for Garden Blue, Jessica Lang’s new ballet for the American Ballet Theatre, which opens in a couple of weeks with set and costumes by Crowner. She’s just back from Pittsburgh, where two new works of hers—a 23-by-18-foot canvas and a 64-foot-long wall of handmade tiles—are appearing in the Carnegie International. In a few weeks, she’s off to Veracruz, Mexico, to christen the swimming pool she’s designed for an artists’ residency there. The pool, “two wave shapes put together but skewed,” as she says, was her response to a request for a sculpture in the landscape. “I thought, What do artists want to do after they work?” It’s a striking, mostly blue tile basin, the deck paved with pinkish, unglazed Mexican terra-cotta—hard to imagine a more immersive work of art.
Crowner staked her claim as a fresh voice in contemporary painting at the Whitney Biennial in 2010. Her large abstractions, made of boldly colored canvas shapes that she pieces together on her industrial Juki sewing machine, have an impromptu handmade look that pulls the viewer into them. They make you think of Ellsworth Kelly or Matisse’s cutouts or Marimekko fabrics, but they’re more unpredictable and not as well behaved. For a show at Casey Kaplan last spring, Crowner altered the floors with half-foot platforms. “Neither your feet nor your eyes can take anything for granted,” wrote The New York Times’s Roberta Smith. The show was, Smith wrote, “a breakthrough.”
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