About the canvas paintings
Sarah Arriagada applies layers of acrylic and oil paint onto carefully sewn small scale coarse canvases to create paintings that refer to intimate places – faces, body parts, and domestic interiors.
Arriagada forms organic, grid-like compositions based on her machine made seams that tie cut and loose jute pieces. In that way, she creates unified, assembled painting surfaces that are later primed and stretched onto wooden bars. By highlighting the curves and bulges of the fabric through thickly applied color gradations and contrasts, she visually reinforces the threaded lines and emphasizes the three-dimensionality of the pulled and spanned canvas.
In opposition to the paintings’ object-like qualities stand the flat geometric shapes such as rectangles, triangles, circles, ovals, and squares that surface and overlap each other like warp and weft in a weaving. Both floating and tightly knit, their interactions bring about associations such as deflated human body mass and plane architectural elements such as windows, curtains and doors. They also refer to the horizontal designs found in quilts and other stitched and patched handwork from the private realm.
Despite of the fragmented nature of these compositions, they deliver an experience of unity and harmony. Arriagada’s ritualized reenactment of separation and the growing of new and surprising constellations reveal both rhythm and syncopated moments – a shifting or displacement of beat as most often found in Jazz music – preventing predictability and inviting active looking.
Arriagada’s paintings have a strong physical presence, and with their scale comparable to that of the human head, we feel vis-a-vis with a counterpart. Their titles allude to people’s names, fortifying our belief that we are facing a person, flesh and all. Our fellows’ rich surface texture suggests the irregularities of our anatomy, such as scars, wrinkles, hair (fallen off a paint brush), pimples and other bodily imperfections.
Such as quilts have been created and used to tell stories (of birth, union, separation, migration, survival, family and tribal traditions and spiritual devotion) and to give guidance to our descendants – often hidden in symbolic and enigmatic imagery – our faces and bodies hold tales from our lives, past and present.
Needless to say, bodies and blankets have warmed and comforted us since the beginnings of humanity. The touch and a holding environment have always been key for our survival as a species. The sensory pleasures revealed by the tactile qualities of Arriagada’s pieces, and the ruptures and collisions manifesting in her sewn paintings show a karmic understanding of the human condition, telling ancestral and contemporary stories that are yet to be deciphered.
About the panel paintings
This new body of work was developed at the start of the global pandemic in 2020 and towards the end of a two-year long phase dedicated to meticulously elaborated, slowly emerging, abstract canvas paintings.
Appearing during a time of radical change on an individual and collective level, these panel paintings reflect a state of in-between, a liminal space, where ambiguity reigns and new possibilities form.
Biomorphic shapes emerge from curved, curtained corners, suggesting vases and other vessels resting on a window sill. References to the human figure, such as hands, arms and torsos, allude to a physical and psychic body holding space for unknown content.
The window motif’s monochrome surfaces don’t allow for an escape from these intimate, possibly claustrophobic spaces. Our gaze is reflected back to us, inviting us to concentrate our efforts on gaining insight into the interior, immaterial world within.
These paintings call to the forefront how complex it is to be – to be body, mind and spirit – in an ever-changing, uncontrollable world. Arriagada celebrates in stillness and concentration the mysteries, wonders and potentials of the conditio humana. She reminds us that even in a collective experience objectivity is an illusion, especially and literally in the realm of painting.
Art historian and critic Lori Waxman’s review of the panel paintings:
“Under the terms of the pandemic, many of our lives have gotten smaller: socially, physically, architecturally, geographically. But small can also be good. Think of jewels, short stories, bonsai, kittens, Indian miniatures. Forced to work from her living room in Columbia, MO, since the spring, Sarah Arriagada has painted a dozen-and-a-half 10 x 8-inch oil panels that alternately embrace micro looking and micro living. It isn’t the same thing. Where “Nike” bursts shards of turquoise, taupe and mauve from a central point, like a prism seen up close, “Femme Fenêtre” drapes sun-bleached curtains around a pale blue sky. Hands, clouds, curtains, diamond patterns, and vases recur, presumably because they do in Arriagada’s home. Paint is applied smooth and scumbled, in a few simple strokes or a complexity of layered ones, maybe with a surprise streak of lime or aqua. Reduced living can be expanded via intense looking.”