Frame 61

Sarah Coote

Frame 61
Sarah Coote

"The subjects of these paintings are men who I have known in my adult life, who made me question the role of desire and intimacy."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?

I grew up in Philadelphia and received my BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013. Currently, I am based in Richmond, Virginia and I am expecting my MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Painting department in May 2017. 

Your paintings depict faceless figures with an off kilter composition, could you talk about these figures and the inspiration for them?

The subjects of these paintings are men who I have known in my adult life, who made me question the role of desire and intimacy. I use the crop as a tool to control the ways of seeing and direct perspective, to craft a scene and query the level of threat or love gaze between the one looking at the subject and the direction where the subject is looking. 

I have always loved working with the figure in painting. Painting from an image of body, and cropping the source photograph obstructs the full view of a person, altering our ability to “know” one’s subject. I am directing the gaze of the viewer, and directing (like a moving camera) where I am looking to construct a new narrative and abstract the body sourced in a photograph. 

The surface of the painting is a concern, as it is the skin of the piece. Occasionally the canvas gets covered with a scrim or screen, encasing the image and dissolving the full picture resulting in a disruption of wholeness. Through a feminist lens I use the method of collage and cropping to reclaim space by constructing a new frame in pursuit of queering of gender construction and levelling of hierarchies.

You also create playful wall sculptures made from what looks like household objects, could you talk about the thoughts behind these and how they relate to your paintings?

The porous paintings are a series of works that are made from found materials and used cleaning supplies. Things like used sponges and dirty rug mats are painted and decorated with various found adornments including underwear lace, charms and beads among other materials. 

I am attracted to the poetics of these objects - how they operate as characters in a domestic space, their ability to hold water, wipe and collect filth from a surface and grip a carpet, feeling the weight of a body but never touching it directly - the significance of what these objects do in a house, do for a person, do with a person & what it means to dress them up after use. They are really fun to make for their weirdness, and bringing crafting into my practice is a departure from the paintings that keeps me engaged with a lightness in my methods and research. 

Formally the soft edges, colours and marks on the surface and the absurdity of the things themselves are exciting to me. I can play with these materials and actually engage in a process of touching while making the works. The paintings are expressive and deal with image of body, the small wall sculptures and porous paintings are made with my body and employ more physicality.

July 2014, 2016

Morning, 2016

Blushing, I Imagine myself feeling deeply loved, 2016

New Orleans, 2016

Porous Painting, Cranberry Pills, 2016

Porous Painting, High Alert, 2016

Porous Painting, Stained and Soaking, 2016

Porous Painting, What’s in a Name, 2016

What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?

With use of expressionism and abstraction of the figure, and focus on the body as subject I hope to entice the viewer in experiencing their present selves in relationship to others. With that effect I also wish to tease, or seduce one to wish to peel back a layer or see past a glaze of paint when they know they can’t. I think about power and pleasure, staining and imperfection, impurity and I wish to offer this query to one when looking at my work. Fragmentation and fluidity through holes, queering memory, humor and a focus on gender and sexuality and how they inform identity are my main concerns.

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

The visual and written work by Dorothy Iannone, Julie Doucet, Henry Taylor, Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Kathy Aker, Eileen Myles and Hélène Cixous have been important for me in the last year. I recently revisited the collection of Marcel Duchamp’s ready made sculptures in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I was reminded how pivotal those works were for me as a younger artist, pieces including "Etant Donnes", "with Hidden Noise" and "Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?" In particular.  

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?

As I am still a graduate student, and I spend most of my time during the week in my studio at school. If I am not teaching or attending class, I will work during the mornings and afternoons painting, reading & writing and then leave to make dinner in the evening. 

What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I am currently working on a series of paintings and sculptures for my thesis exhibition at in April that will travel to New York in June. And then I will be relocating to a new city undetermined. I am also co-directing a curatorial project space in Richmond called Bruce Martin Gallery that will be hosting a few exhibitions in the upcoming months.

Images courtesy of the artist
Interview publishing date: 09/02/17