Spring 2023 Studio News
Spring came quickly in Philadelphia this year, and I'm feeling the energy of new growth in my studio.
My recent work juxtaposes burned and engraved abstract line drawing on wood panel with small representational landscape vignettes placed in and in top of the image. In a recent zoom studio visit with artist & curator Annika Earley (see her wonderful project Cicada Curatorial), the phrase "soft parameters" resonated so clearly as a description of my process. I've always been drawn to the rule-based procedures of minimalist and conceptual artists, but found that approach too rigid for the type of open-ended exploration I'm most interested in. Clear parameters do exist in the types of moves I make in my drawings, but yes, they are soft - with spaces to push at the edges and sometime bust right through.
I'm a union organizer in addition to a visual artist, and I think a lot about the social and economic contexts we live and work in, as artists and as everything else. I'm always thinking about the importance of art-making in preserving our humanity in the face of deeply dehumanizing forces. Working with process-based and improvisational approaches allows the unknown and mysterious to enter the work. It means accepting everything about what might happen, even when it doesn't exactly line up with what I think "should" be produced. While I do sometimes start with a reference image, or a plan for a focus on a particular set of moves, insisting on the freedom to find my way in a given moment is an inherently liberatory position.
I've been excited to share my work in a number of ways this spring:
New Commissioned Burnt Offering
I completed a commissioned piece for dear friends, who I worked with to set the "soft parameters" for a new Burnt Offering piece on tiled wood panel.
Drawn: Sarah Morejohn and Zoë Cohen at Mount Airy Contemporary
Reproductions of drawings from my Collective Action series were installed through April 15 in this tiny reproduction of a carriage-house gallery, curated by Colleen Keefe and Andrea Wohl Keefe. The online exhibition can be viewed here
2022 Year in Review
In 2020, I moved my studio back into my West Philadelphia home after five wonderful years at the 1241 Carpenter St studios. In this time, I've developed a number of new bodies of work in drawing, broadly defined:
I developed the Organ Series during the initial lockdowns of 2020, in these intimate works I use watercolor to juxtapose organic forms with more structured ground. I started working on Collective Action around that time too - these are large-scale graphite drawings on paper which I build on slowly. The Accumulation drawings are an ongoing series of quicker sketchbook line drawings. The Burnt Offering works are my most recent project, in which I use densely gathered wood-burned lines on panel to create a central form.
All of these works are both deliberate and improvisatory. They continue my interest in pattern and repetition, and in the meaning of materials, and engage a language of mark-making that reflects my responses to the natural world, the human body, and the power of collective action. Despite their abstraction (or perhaps because of it), I consider these works to be Jewish at their root - you can read some of my developing thoughts on the use of burning and the title Burnt Offering here.
In 2022, I had the opportunity to exhibit work in a few wonderful group shows. In March, two of my Collective Action drawings were selected for Undercurrents, a wide-ranging group show at the Ely Center for Contemporary Art in New Haven, CT, curated by Kristina Newman-Scott. And in May, the first piece in my Burnt Offering series was included in Modular Mosaic at the Brooklyn, NY artist-run space Underdonk, organized by Elisa Soliven and Leonora Loeb.
This year, I also had the opportunity to travel to Portugal in July, visiting Lisbon and a few small medieval towns to the south. I was deeply inspired by the use of tile in public space and in more traditional visual art settings, and the influence can clearly be seen in some of my recent work. Finally, some of you know that I am also a union organizer for faculty and staff in higher education, and I was honored to support the staff of the University of the Arts, many of whom are practicing artists, in their successful union election in May.
As the new year approaches, I'm excited to begin work on a private commission for a new Burnt Offering drawing, and to continue to experiment with the possibilities of drawing in and on a wood surface. I am looking forward to inviting more of you into my studio, either in person or virtually.