Sara Malpass (b. 1967)

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

Long Term Exhibition // organized by Katie Johnson Rep Nancy Skinner’s Office Suite Oakland 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

Wild Ones // Women’s Cancer Resource Center Oakland California 2014

Local Motion, Part Two // Hercules Public Library 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