Sara Malpass

NIAD artist 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 //

exhibition history

Mud Pie Mansion, organized by Kristin Farr // NIAD Online Exhibition // August 2023

Lemon Art Work, organized by Seymour Polatin // NIAD Online Exhibition // July 2023

Exploring Arts Through Sound // organized by NIAD artists Kiesha White, Rebecca Jantzen, and Luis Estrada // NIAD Annex Gallery Exhibition // June 2023

Into the Brightness: Artists from Creativity Explored, Creative Growth & NIAD // Oakland Museum of California // May 2023

The Shape We’re in Feels Like the Colors of Hope, organized by Cynthia Branvall // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2023

Golden Hour, organized by Poppy Dodge // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2023

Empty Kind Of Full, organized by Tara Neuffer // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2023

Puzzles In Print organized by Delilah Ponton // NIAD Online Exhibition // February 2023

NIAD Ink: 35 Years of Prints organized by Andrés Cisneros-Galindo // Online Exhibition // December 2022

All That Is Solid Becomes Vapor ,organized by Emily Chao // NIAD Online Exhibition // October 2022

Feeling Language, organized by Kate Laster // NIAD Gallery Exhibition // October 2022

Told Through A Line, organized by Risa Lenore // NIAD Online Exhibition // September 2022

Question Mark, organized by Betsy Odom // NIAD Online Exhibition // August 2022

Touching, organized by Zachary Epcar // NIAD Online Exhibition // July 2022

A New Geometry, organized by e bond // NIAD Online Exhibition // July 2022

Summer Break, organized by Matthew Goldberg // NIAD Online Exhibition // June 2022

Saves Nine, organized by Megan Kiskaddon // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2022

Green Spaghetti, organized by Kayla Risko // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2022

In Love., organized by Meg Pohlod // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2022

Quiet, organized by Matthew Pawlowski // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2022

DESIRE DESIRE, organized by Diego Leclery // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2022

Superbloom, organized by Erin McCluskey Wheeler // NIAD Gallery Exhibition // April 2022

Luxe, Calme et Volupté, organized by Lou Mo // NIAD Online Exhibition // March 2022

WIN WIN 10 Silent Auction Preview Exhibition // NIAD Gallery Exhibition // February 2022

Eternal Idol, organized by Emily Harris // NIAD Online Exhibition // February 2022

Murmuration, organized by Alisa Golden // NIAD Online Exhibition // January 2022

Menagerie on 23rd Street, organized by Prajakti Jayavant // NIAD Windows Exhibition // December 2021

A Year Through the (Browser) Windows: A Retrospective of NIAD’s 2021 Online Exhibitions // NIAD Online Exhibition // December 2021

Small Press Book Bazaar // SFMOMA // December 2021

Another Fine Mess Age: Anthony Grant X NIAD // NIAD Windows 2020

Through My Eyes// organized By Scott Hewicker and Cliff Hengst NIAD Art Center 2020

A Kind of Movement // organized by Jay Wehnert Portland Art And Learning Studios 2019 

Hailing From Parts Unknown // organized By Curtis Turner May 2019 

Books, Man // organized by Mike Monteiro NIAD Art Center 2019

Recent Works From Sara Malpass // NIAD Art Center 2019

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


Star 82 Review Issue 10.1, edited by Alisa Golden // March 2022

Nat. Brut: I, Too, Like Purple (May 2017)