Sarah Kaiser-Amaral's "Fear." Photo: courtesy of the artist.
Artists throughout the course of time have pushed the boundaries. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque fragmented subjects in their Cubist works. Marcel Duchamp created the “readymade,” a term he coined in which mass-produced objects were decidedly pieces of art by the choice of the artist. The list goes on. Considering this theme in a different vein, Chicago-based artist and Evanston Art Center instructor Sarah Kaiser-Amaral creates an exhibition about boundaries in her upcoming show at MLG Gallery, aptly titled “Boundaries.”
Kaiser-Amaral’s oeuvre, which includes pairings of figures, animals and patterns, conveys the relationship between humans and nature, brevity of life and persistence of time. However, her new body of work focuses on boundaries. It’s a fitting topic that applies to most aspects of life. There are boundaries in social and political spheres—both physical and invisible—as it relates to immigration, race, gender and globalization. Others include boundaries at work, home or those we set upon ourselves. But how does the artist see it?
Boundaries in Art and Life
For Kaiser-Amaral, the exhibition theme has personal ties. First, there is a familial link, as she is part of a blended family: a stepmother to two boys. She is “mindful of the lines that are drawn around them and their biological parents,” she explains in an email interview. Second, Kaiser-Amaral describes the boundaries at work: being a female in a “male world.” At times females “have to ‘Lean In’ and work extra hard to be a part of a world that is not always welcoming to us,” Kaiser-Amaral quotes Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In.” Finally, the loss of a loved one can also create a boundary, suggesting a divide between the living from the dead. According to the artist, motifs of fences, fields and landscapes in her work recall the loss her grandmother.
The variety of subjects in this exhibition convey the multi-dimensionality of the boundaries theme. Of the included figural, landscape and still life paintings, the images of birds duly reflect the show’s title. The artist draws a parallel between birds and humans. “There is a pecking order in life,” the artist says, “and those who challenge that will have to fight to keep their position.” Keeping with this analogy, “Fear” depicts one bird about to attack another that shrivels close to a tree branch, while another darts in from the side, seemingly to intervene. The images of birds depict these animals “asserting their boundaries.”
Sarah Kaiser-Amaral's “Forbidden Fruit.” Photo: courtesy of the artist.
By way of contrast, her still life painting “Forbidden Fruit” tells a familiar story. The title alone refers to everything in life that we want but cannot have, which is also revealed in the imagery: paring peaches with a blue and white dress. What does this mean? The artist says this juxtaposition reveals the gap between freedom and constraint.
Through another lens, fruit, a vanitas symbol, could reflect the transience of life. Could this be a juxtaposition between permanence (the dress) and impermanence (the fruit)? That is to say, a boundary between life and death? It is up to the viewer to decide. “I like to leave room for visitors to project their own experiences into the work,” Kaiser-Amaral adds.
The Importance of Color and Brushwork
The artist’s use of color and brushwork are aesthetically engaging. Nature's influence exudes the calming quality in her work: a harmonious, earthy color palette. The painting “Coming Home” is a landscape that underscores Kaiser-Amaral’s choice of color: unkept yellow and brown fields are met with a gray sky with billowing clouds. Or take works like “Vulnerability,” which bring together a tranquil, gray background with a hint of light burgeoning in the center.
Looking closely, visitors will see the details her brushwork conveys. “Fear” consists of a mostly gray background with hints of emerging light. This is a soothing backdrop to the forefront of activity: a red-winged blackbird beaming in from the side, charging towards two additional birds. The artist’s brushwork reveals the delicate layers of the bird's spread wings; its extended legs imply the speed of travel. The attention to brushwork is also a reference to time. The artist says, “I convey the effects of time . . . the images I paint are timeless, distant and dreamlike.” Kaiser-Amaral captures a decisive moment in "Fear"—right before action takes place. Other paintings such as “Red Capped Robins” are more tranquil, as two red robins sit calmly on a wire.
Kaiser-Amaral’s interests are also revealed in her work as an instructor at the Evanston Art Center, where she teaches an anatomical figure drawing class, “Seeing the Body.” Since she studies bird anatomy, Kaiser-Amaral says she occasionally compares the anatomy of animals to humans in class. To that end, the aesthetic quality of Kaiser-Amaral’s work will initially pull viewers in, but the narratives that unfold will make viewers think about how boundaries apply to life and the world today.
“Boundaries” opens at MLG Gallery on July 11, 2015, from 6 until 9pm. Please RSVP to: [email protected]. The show will be on view until August 15, 2015.
Amy Haddad is a Chicago-based freelance art writer and blogger. She writes for the Evanston Art Center and Newcity, and has contributed articles to Create Hub, The Art House, the Columbus Museum of Art and NTQ-Data Limited. She has a personal art blog, Art Diversions, and tweets about art @amymhaddad.