Karla Black - Material world
The work of Karla Black, who creates sculptures from everyday domestic materials, is creating considerable buzz, as Liz Shannon discovers
If 2008 was a good year for Karla Black, 2009 is going to be even better. After several international solo shows and inclusion in Art Now at Tate Britain, the Glasgow-based artist is on the cusp of another busy 12 months. Solo exhibitions are in the pipeline at Modern Art Oxford and Inverleith House in Edinburgh, but the year kicks off in style with Black’s solo exhibition at Mary Mary in Glasgow.
Black’s work has generated a certain buzz and, for once, the hype is justified. ‘It’s important to state that I don’t make installations,’ she says when asked how she defines her work. ‘I make sculptures. Even the powder floor works are sculptures. They have edges and are each individual works, with their own titles, which allows them to retain the autonomy of modernist sculpture within their absorption of postmodern advances like installation and performance.’
As Black points out, these large-scale works often involve various types of paste and powder, spread over the floor, or coated onto huge, hanging sheets of paper or cellophane. The exact materials that constitute these powders and pastes are often only fully revealed in the exhibition’s literature. Common ingredients, many of which will be utilised in her upcoming show, include body moisturising cream, chalk dust, cotton wool, Sellotape, Vaseline, paint, eggshells and broken glass. ‘All of the materials are used out of a pure, physical desire for them,’ says Black. ‘I love touching and looking at make-up, moisturising creams and Vaseline but also paint, chalk and plaster. Picking up on connotations, or reasoning about the work, happens after the fact of formal, aesthetic considerations, after the pure enjoyment of materials and colour.’
However, this use of domestic material is not purely rooted in their tactile and aesthetic qualities. Black continues: ‘I am aware of the layers of meaning within the materials, of their relationship to the body, and to art history, and of what can be seen as their male/female divide. At base, however, the transformative and aspirational possibilities within make-up and paint are not particularly different.’
Black’s works are often quite beautiful: pretty pink pastes on light paper or delicate coverings of powder on a floor. ‘It has been pointed out to me by some people that they see the colours of the sculptures as “feminine”,’ says Black. ‘I think of this as a cultural judgement made upon the work from outside, usually in the knowledge that the work was made by a woman.’
Black’s artistic approach is in fact quite different: ‘I’ll think, “I like pale pink, I want to make this work pale pink” and so I will. The fact that these pale colours are judged in this way is definitely of interest to me. Whether male artists use pale colours or dark colours their work is not judged as gendered. Franz West likes pale pinks and blues.’
The titles of Black’s sculptures are often as evocative and intriguing as the objects themselves, although text occupies a secondary position to the physical presence of the works. As Black explains: ‘I love abstract art mostly because it provides the possibility of a total absorption in the physical world, by being as far away from language as it is possible to get.’
Karla Black, Mary Mary, Glasgow, Sat 10 Jan–Sat 14 Feb.