Sarah Sutton @ raw & co.
Science fiction notwithstanding, cybernetic organisms may never become a social
problem, designer jeans may never hug genetically designed thighs. But we already live
in a world where technology supplements biology in countless ways, where natural and
man-made forms make beautiful (if sometimes strange) conceptual music together every
Thoughts like these inspire artist Sarah Sutton, who draws delicately complex gizmos,
then hooks them up to blots and bruises of water-based paint. The results are both kinds
of funny, as Sutton invents a series of non zero-sum visual equations. In her sketches an
aesthetic game theory of sorts emerges; a delightful visual illogic is the main winner, while
image recycling is the order of the day.
Sutton currently is finishing up an MFA at Kent State University, where the art
department has long been a home for innovative contemporary abstraction. Associate
Professor Martin Ball, for example, whose own graphic exercises involve whirling abstract
flourishes, has been an influence. Ball is particularly interested in new approaches to
drawing. He curated the 2001 exhibit Accumulations in the School of Art Gallery, which
brought together thirteen cutting edge talents based in New York, Los Angeles, and
Sutton’s seventeen squishy drawings are related, visually and conceptually, to works by
several Accumulations artists, like David Dupuis and Nina Bovasso, whose styles are
based on pop design or imagery. Bovasso’s often room-size drawings reference
everything from 19th century fine-de-siecle decorative conceits to 1960’s floral motifs,
while Dupuis’ small scale, Nintendo-like horizons witness hermetic, single-file journeys
across naked white paper.
Sutton finds new territory in this range, using the rich, almost floral evocations of
watercolor staining to cross-pollinate the senses: something of scent, and something of
music bleeds from the small wounds she makes in our visual expectations. When, for
instance, an irregular array of hundreds of carefully drawn, tiny brown links swim up-
canvas and snag against the firm edge of a brash burnt-orange drip in Tree of Random
Knowledge, the effect is like an echo: a few notes from a soft song, rolling in a dusty
drawer among loose pearls.
Soft Machine II shows a flexible gray tube with a shiny nozzle, curled around on itself like
a French horn or an elephant’s trunk. It’s actually a very literal drawing of a 1950’s style
fabric covered vacuum cleaner hose; but somehow it’s got itself mixed up with an
amorphous green blob. Maybe the vacuum hose should be sucking up the blob, but
instead it seems to be part of it. Sutton’s less than needful things, floating in their paper
sea, deploy skeptical thoughts: Maybe machines are draining reason and order from the
world. Perhaps the jewel-like stones painted on the breast of the green blob are all that
remains of some great thesis, all that’s left of Descartes.
Often Sutton quotes from medical illustration. Soft Machine I shows a cross section of a
spinal cord, looking like an exotic gauge. It juts straight up from a pair of tuber-like, sepia
tinted objects, while an electrical cord runs off to one side, connecting to a floor-mounted
Fertility Network is also overtly scientific, though you might not recognize its derivations
if you skipped biology class. Five magenta, slightly floppy rings circle the base of a bunch
of what look like pale green grapes, which for their part culminate in a lovely, iris-like
water-color blot. What is it?
Answer: The rings are ovaries, the stems are fallopian tubes. The grapes are fish eggs
(go figure). But really, a painting would be the best answer.
Something Zen-like claps in the empty two-dimensional space that Sutton lightly tattoos
with brush and pen. She likes to listen to Brian Eno, Thelonius Monk, and John Cage,
and it’s easy to believe the sounds of these masters have somehow made their way into
the works at raw & co. These pictures, neither narrative nor abstract, are all about
disequilibrium, and absence or isolation, and what’s left over when the music stops.
[The Cleveland Plain Dealer 11/18/05]