Studio Visit: Sarah Awad, A Dialogue with History…

Sarah Awad. Photo Credit Gary Brewer.

Studio Visit: Sarah Awad, A Dialogue with History…

By Gary Brewer


“You have to know how to use the accident, how to recognize it, how to control it, and ways to eliminate it so that the whole surface looks felt and born all at once.”

“Every canvas is a journey all its own.”

Helen Frankenthaler


“ – but there is no competition –

There is only the fight to recover what has been found

And lost again and again:”

TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets


Painting is a living language – painters share an intimate knowledge of this language through the experience of continuing to push it forward, to see if they can add something else to it. To use something another painter has done and without needing to understand that artists intentions per se, to take ones cue from a passage of color or a compositional element and to pick it up and run with it, to take it to another place. It is a linked verse through time in which the living language of painting is continually reborn. It is the spiritual transmission of thought and feeling transubstantiated by another into their own unique vision, reinterpreted into the present.

Indeed paintings are a life form, they are matter encoded with thought and feeling that comes alive in the mind of a viewer as they engage and read the subjective structures that, like dark matter, create a gravitational web holding clusters of ideas together, the syntax of thought.

Sarah Awad. Photo Credit Gary Brewer.

Sarah Awad loves painting, her works are lush physical and exuberant. She often finds inspiration in historic works of art, a Frankenthaler, Matisse or Diebenkorn, Raoul Dufy or a Max Beckman. Some element in one of their paintings may catch her eye and lead her into an investigation of how to build upon it. She mentioned, “I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but it is as if I want to take what they have done and push it further, to build upon it, to add something to the dialogue. I feel that painters have a deep understanding of painting and that they can ‘read’ another painters work, it is a dialogue in which I want to contribute something.” It is a dialogue with history that shapes Sarah’s paintings – she speaks in elegant painterly passages where intention and accident unfold in a sequence of actions.

Her works are large scale and move effortlessly between abstraction and figuration. She is interested in space; in having loosely applied areas of color coalesce into a spatial reading. She mentioned seeing Matisse’s show of paper cutouts in London. “I had always thought of those works as decorative until I saw this exhibit, they were transformative. Each of the cutout shapes were made of many shapes in the same color adding a complexity to it, they were so much more powerful than I thought. He created an incredible sense of space without using line, just shape and color relationships involving sophisticated uses of negative space. It changed my feeling about what was possible in my own work, of wanting to create space through color.”

Sarah Awad. Photo Credit Gary Brewer.

She finds her inspiration, a ‘subjective hook’, from a fragment of Matisse or Diebenkorn, she takes what she sees in their work and seeks to ‘own’ it, not concerned with their intentions per se, but with her own. Using a motif like the decorative ironwork in a Dufy, she will use that compositional motif as a starting point. She paints a passage and then adds something else in response to what happens, there is something musical in these works not only in the compositional interplay and counterpoint, but also in that they feel like improvisational musicians performing together, a riff by one musician is echoed by another who then follows there own intuitive path, adding their own synaptic rhythm to the music’s melody and structure.

Working flat on the floor with a platform on wheels that allows her to hover over the surface of the canvas, Sarah creates rich accidents that flow and bleed one into the other. She may allow that to fully dry, put the canvas upright and continue to paint on the vertical surface. It is the interplay of structure and improvisation. She said of a painting that she is working on, “I laid down this passage of blue and it came out beautifully, but it was too easy, so I added a kind of ugly brown to mess it up. Once I did that I had to figure out how to make it work. I added the pale grey passage that made the two areas work together. I like to solve problems, to create situations where I have to think of a solution.” It is a way to have her choices guided by a need to problem solve, it is a method in which intention asserts itself by necessity. ‘If there is not a problem create one and then fix it’. It is an approach to painting, to find a way to be drawn in and engage more deeply with the work, to invest more of her self into the process.

Matisse and Diebenkorn both wanted to have the process of creation to be seen, to leave a record of the choices that led to the final composition, it is a lineage that Sarah is engaged in. “I want to be in a dialogue with these artists that I love. Not to quote them or follow their lead but to take a fragment of some painting and to explore it, to add to it and through that process to discover something for myself.”

In Sarah’s work each painterly passage is a record of the painting coming into being. Sarah allows broad areas to remain under-worked to give it room to breath. She wants the series of choices that she has made to realize her paintings to be seen. It is a history of its own making, a dialogue with history and a dialogue with the viewer to leave the work open and naked, so that the flesh and bones can all be seen.

Her paintings are ambitious; when she spoke of the power of painting as ‘transformative’ she herself is seeking nothing less. To explore structure and space and to do so in dialogue with artists whose work she admires. It is not homage or adoration but the deep love of painting, of capturing a glimpse of something, an opening into a new space, the moment when something catches your eyes and soul and becomes an alchemical starting point in a journey of discovery.


Sarah Awad will be in the Kamakaze exhibit on July 27th at PØST, curated by Julia Schwartz, opening 7-9, 1206 Maple Ave 5th fl.

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