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Sarah Smelser


When asked about my work, I often say that it is about an abstract sensibility.  This is an honest answer, but not a complete one.  It is also about relationships, contrast, balance, and organizing space.  I casually or perhaps coincidentally make reference to cartography, the body, cycles in nature, quilting and textiles, and mundane objects.


More deliberately, I consider the systems, structures, and patterns that are both natural and man-made in our surroundings.  In the last few years I have traversed the United States several times and left the country for the first time in a decade.  The motion of travel, the grandeur and subtlety of geography, and a welcome feeling of displacement have led me to consider the relationship between one’s sense of self and one’s sense of place.  Specifically, I am interested in the way the landscape of childhood prepares the way one approaches the world as an adult.  Having grown up in northern California, I carry the redwoods, eucalyptus trees and the sight of the bay with me, and use them as a filter through which to experience the vast openness, ferocious wind, and orderly farmland of central Illinois. 


These ideas are present in the work, sometimes overtly, on the surface, and sometimes privately, deep down below.  However, the imagery is also initiated by an urgent curiosity and is sustained by the excitement of studio discovery.  Just as I compare and relate types of landscape, I examine types of form and the ways in which they speak to one another.  I often categorize forms by placing them into opposing camps: fast or slow, solid or particulate, square or curved, impulsive or meditative.  At times these forms of conflicting character simply exist together in a space and stand in contradiction to one another.  Perhaps they read as different places, genders, or moments in time.  Other times they relate, react, acknowledge one another, collide, veer apart, or perform an ambiguous task.  My imagery is evidence of an interior dialogue. It is also an effort to tread a line between elegant and awkward, deliberate and intuitive, skilled and naïve.

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