Sara Malpass’ works, particularly the daily lists on notebook paper, isolate an exploration of written language in visual art that is uncommon in that of mainstream contemporary artists, but prominent in the works of so-called outsiders. Her reductive, pragmatic language most often culls words from her current reading material or immediate interests, her piles of lists culminating as a living personal archive central to her prolific creative practice.
These are uses of written language, not as an appropriation of typography aesthetics, but for the utility of expressing ideas – handwritten text that affords a presence to language as mark-making as well as its hermetic, phonetic, and conceptual function, as is also the case in the works of Carlo Daleo, Kenya Hanley, and William Tyler, who pair it with imagery.
Currently, text in this form is already used more by mainstream artists than ever before, notably in the works of Deb Sokolow, Raymond Pettibon, or Dan Attoe. They owe this precedent largely to artists like Malpass throughout history – Joseph Yoakum, Henry Darger, and Gayleen Aiken, among many others. Malpass illustrates that this is not just an oddity, novelty, or merely a more simplistic or didactic activity than the contemporary mainstream engagement of text. Rather, it can be understood as much broader practice, which has been overlooked.
Read in sequential order, her ink on paper works transcend a mundane list of words and become hermetic poetry; the sound, form, and meanings of the text have an undeniable aesthetic identity. In her lists there are recurring qualities, mysterious phrases such as “castle work” and “circle work”, the complex phonetics of “payment check”, or densely packed syllables of “ordinary” and “television”. Malpass’ evocative cadence is reminiscent of the listing that occurs within Whitman’s Song of Myself: “Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread” and ”Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary.” The reader follows along a deliberate path that feels both intuitive and intentional. Rationalizing her process, one wonders if she is considering certain concepts such as long and short syllable pairings “inside”, “on stage”, “up date”; or collecting particular kinds of articulatory forms “reasons”…“bookish”.
These lists aren’t explicitly devised or executed as poems, but rather as singular objects, composed of the diligent cursive script of a writer who, as is declared in the piece above loves “…to write letters” and “…to write words”. Making this distinction could seem like splitting hairs, but is absolute and highly consequential – drawn in an aesthetic largely informed by principles and practice of penmanship, but implementing visual elements as drawing that are inextricable. Confronting, owning, or living with a Sara Malpass list establishes a relationship with a singular art object conceived with no known further intention or publication. (via Disparate Minds)
// Sara’s available work //
recent exhibition history
Where They Want To Go // organized by Erin McCluskey Wheeler NIAD Art Center January 2019
Together // organized by Laurie Reid NIAD Art Center December 2018
Exquisite Corpse: CG x CE x NIAD // NIAD Art Center November 2018
Prints: An Overview NIAD Art Center 2018
Putting Itself Together // Chicken Coop Contemporary Portland 2018
Future Cats Career Box // NAP Projects New York 2018
Give A Little Take A Little: Real Time & Space at NIAD // organized By Lexa Walsh NIAD Art Center 2018
Cyrano // organized By Em Kettner NIAD Art Center 2018
Can Did // organized By Julio Rodriguez NIAD Art Center 2018
The Witnesses // organized by Cliff Hengst and Scott Hewicker NIAD Art Center 2017
Virgins Viginizing // organized by Micah Wood NIAD Art Center 2017
The Fourth Dimension // organized by Marja Galpin van der Loo NIAD Art Center 2017
Sara Malpass // NIAD Art Center 2017
Souls And Scenarios // organized by Gina Borg NIAD Art Center 2016
Celebrating A Vision: Art & Disability // SFO Airport Museum 2016
Symbols Formally Known As Words // organized by Marja van der Loo Yali’s Café Oxford Street Berkeley 2016
We Can Do It! // Hurwich Library, Alliant University San Francisco 2015
Adventure! // organized by Scott MacLeod NIAD Art Center 2015
Absence of Deliberate Silence // organized by Lacey Haslam NIAD Art Center 2015
I <3 You: Valentines From Angela Rogers, Lisa Blevens + Sara Malpass // NIAD Art Center 2015
What Are Words For: The Language Pieces Of Sara Malpass // NIAD Art Center 2014
City In Motion // NIAD Art Center 2014
Serenade: Lists, Poems And Missives // NIAD Art Center 2013
Mud, Honey // NIAD Art Center 2013
A Light That Never Goes Out: Continuing Traditions In Abstraction // NIAD Art Center 2013
Nat. Brut: I, Too, Like Purple (May 2017)