There’s a diverting sense of horizon-shifting at play when standing before Sarah Crowner’s new works at Simon Lee Gallery. ‘Plastic Memory’, the New York-based artist’s first solo show in the UK, brings together new ceramic pieces and patchwork paintings, manipulation techniques she adopted some years ago to introduce, in her words, ‘immediacy and spontaneity’ to her painting. Untitled (all works 2016) greets us, white acrylic on white canvas cut into 22 non-identical pieces and re-sewn, then stretched taught. Inside its frame, arcs and triangles meet pentagons and other asymmetric shapes. In each section, a watery acrylic brushstroke moves in a different direction. It’s a dynamic interior boxed off by a wooden frame painted acidic red, neon almost, glowing against the white wall behind. It’s a smart, swift introduction into Crowner’s process: painting, washing, splitting, devising, reconstructing, tightening, offsetting and elevating.
This process is adapted to ceramics in Platform (Terracotta Pentagon Leaves) – a tiled platform raised six inches above the ground on a visible timber frame, which extends almost flush to the gallery’s L-shape floor. The tiles have been made and glazed by specialist Spanish ceramicists and differing shades of white emerge on their surfaces from their final firing. Each one is an irregular pentagon, a shape Crowner has set into a repetitive, slowly discernable pattern. The narrow gap between wall and platform creates a shadowy periphery similar to Untitled’s frame. Here, the floor is the pictorial plane, grouted platform mimicking stitched canvas. Both painting and platform are geometric abstractions that Crowner has arrived at by way of various applied-art and performative influences. In past works, she’s referenced mid-century decor: from an avant-garde theatre curtain designed by Polish artist Maria Jarema in 1956 to the background motifs of a 1950s Harper’s Bazaar fashion shoot to Josef Hoffmann’s fabric patterns. These references are drawn together in paintings and ceramics resembling the work of Sophie Taeuber-Arp or Lygia Clark, amongst other artists who cross-pollinated their painterly abstractions with experiments in sculpture, architecture, craft, textiles and performance.
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