Art historian and critic Lori Waxman on 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.”
About the panel paintings
Sarah Arriagada’s panel paintings explore the mental and physical space where closeness and intimacy touch on questions of boundaries and self-preservation. She applies and partially subtracts layers of oil paint onto small scale wood panels, bringing together softened, abstract and figurative elements into richly textured, kinetic compositions. Her bold brushwork and serene color compositions allude to intimate scenes of the domestic realm, depicting curtained windows, rounded vessels and the female body living in the shallow room of the paintings’ physical edges and corners.
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.