Born 1974, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
From a distance, Sarah Crowner’s geometric paintings can look like flat, sleek abstractions from the 1950s or ’60s. Up close, they become patchworks of canvas pieces that Crowner has cut up, reorganized, painted, stitched together on her Juki industrial sewing machine, and stretched taut. The use of her hand—the introduction of craft into the realm of fine art—provides a humanizing interpretation of the modernist aesthetic she is drawn to. Meanwhile, her visible seams impart a tactility associated with sculpture and the traditional needle arts of sewing and quilt making.
Crowner painted with oil paint until around 2007, when the process began to feel slow, heavy, somehow irritating. She sensed the need for “some tactile or immersive element that would allow me to get into the work, to touch and manipulate it,” she says.1 She took a break to work with clay. This led her to develop her current methodology, which enables her to “engage with the physicality of the material.” Recent works are inspired by leaves, flowers , or the weeds growing around her studio, but the starting point for other abstractions could be snippets of midcentury design, especially by lesser-known modernists. For example, her 2015 arabesque paintings evolved—intuitively, as is her wont—after she encountered Ray Johnson’s backdrops for a 1957 Harper’s Bazaar fashion spread . Another work was inspired by a 1956 stage curtain by the Polish artist Maria Jarema.
Other influences include the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark , the Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and the American artist Ellsworth Kelly. Like avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, Crowner moves freely among disciplines. Often she installs low viewing platforms , sometimes covered in her handmade tiles, in front of her paintings. The spotlight imagery in her 2013 Highpoint diptych Untitled (Spotlights) (cat. no. 89) reflects her interest in dance and theater; she designed the set and costumes for Jessica Lang’s ballet Garden Blue (2018), for the American Ballet Theatre.
In some ways, spotlights also figured in Crowner’s childhood. Her father was a producer for the daytime television program The Mike Douglas Show. When the show relocated to the West Coast in 1979, the family moved to Los Angeles. Her mother was an accomplished quilt maker who taught Crowner, at age eight, how to sew. She received a BA in art (1996) from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an MFA (2002) from Hunter College, New York, with a period of study at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, in Paris. Besides a 2019–20 Rome Prize, she has received grants from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (2019) and Skopelos Foundation for the Arts (2008). In addition to the solo exhibition “Beetle in the Leaves” (2016), MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, Crowner has participated in exhibitions at, among others, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans (2019); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2018); Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2017); FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2015); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2014); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2013); Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2013); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2010). Crowner is based in New York.
—Marla J. Kinney
Sarah Crowner, email correspondence with the author, August 2020, facilitated with the kind assistance of Rosie Motley, Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York. ↩︎