Sara Pearson is a Toronto based artist who graduated with a BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design University. The paintings and sculptures in her upcoming exhibition, ‘PROSPECTOR’, are inspired by geological and gemmological formations, reminding us of the strange and sublime beauty of nature. Gemstones, as coveted objects, present a complicated relationship between the natural world and us; as we hunt, collect and refine them, they become instilled with human values. In this body of work, Sara Pearson deconstructs and reinterprets their forms, removing facets and breaking stones into abstract shards, highlighting internal depths and building new structure. By pulling apart our vision of the perfect gem, she removes preconceived notions attached to it and focuses us on its extraordinariness.
‘Everything is Stardust’, (2016)
Q: The word prospector is defined as an explorer with a specific purpose, to look for mineral deposits. What does the title of the exhibit mean for you in terms of this body of work?
I like the dictionary definition. When I am working, I am in essence searching for and processing mineral deposits, even though it’s only in a visual sense and I’m tucked away in my studio. I actually feel though, that the role of a prospector isn’t so different than an artist in her studio. I feel that part of what I do in my process is exploratory work, hunting for the right concept, colour, mark, and shape; having that “aha” moment can be like finding treasure. Historically too, the idea of a prospector conjures the image of a solitary figure in the vast wilderness. I can relate my practice, and in some ways myself, to the solitary explorer. There are many laborious, hours spent alone in the studio, but like a true obsessive prospector in the wild, to an artist, solitary does not equal lonely.
I also just want to add, that if anyone else finds prospecting as fascinating or romantic an occupation as I do, I am currently reading a wonderful book about the much ignored role of female prospectors in the Old West titled, A Mine of Her Own by Sally Zanjani.
Q: Can you speak a bit about the process involved in creating your paintings?
My paintings are based on the optical phenomena of cut gemstones, all kinds, semi-precious or precious stones. I find myself often craving a colour and that will be my starting point in determining the composition of a painting. I personally have a small collection of stones, but because I am working on a micro-scale, I work from photographic reference. I collage and cut up the reference material to promote abstraction, and I sometimes alter colours to suit my vision. I get to satisfy both my love of working abstractly and painting in a classical manner through observation and traditional oil painting.
Q: Your works in sculpture seem to be a natural progression. What do you feel you are able to express in a 3D medium that perhaps you cannot on a canvas?
I think it feels more direct. With painting, I am always searching to find form or deconstruct form on a two dimensional surface. Three-dimensional work is inherently that already. I find the process organic and instinctual. I have so much to learn about the materials I have started working with though, predominantly bronze. At this point I am not working digitally with my sculptures, I am building them from the ground up and doing a lot of the manual work myself- it can be laborious. I am meeting some great people who are advising me along the way though so I’m excited for where this medium can take me.
Q: Nature is obviously a source of inspiration for you. Can you speak a bit about this, and how the way you regard the natural world affects and also complements your work?
Nature is at the core of my work. It’s really what I think about most when I am in my studio, but largely from the perspective of what my relationship was to nature as a child. Currently living in the largest city in Canada, I now feel distanced from it. We’re lucky in Toronto: if we have access to the car or care to take the train, we can head out in almost any direction and find ourselves in a more natural landscape. It can become pretty wild if we go far enough, but it’s not the same as having a forest for a back yard, being able to walk away from my kitchen into the dense West Coast rain forest. Stones and minerals were a part of that experience too; large quartz veins run across the small island I was born on. I’m not kidding when I say that I understand the attraction to living like a prospector in the middle of wilderness. Who knows what the future will hold!
Now though, my thoughts are about the wonderment and appreciation of nature that I had as a child. How able I was to be awed and humbled by the beauty of nature, to be excited and passionate about the world. I hope that a viewer of my work may stop for a moment and consider how the piece came to be, what natural object inspired the work, and how the earth formed it. I would like to inspire some thoughts about our environment and our responsibility to it, without the message being heavy handed in my work. I think that’s important.
Q: Your artist statement speaks about your connection with gems from a young age, due to your father’s profession. What is your further attraction to gemstones, and exploring them through your work? What do you love about painting them, that still fascinates you each time?
There are a number of reasons beyond just my father’s connection to gemstones that make me feel like they symbolize something in my life. I started painting gemstones in 2013, in my Thesis year at OCADU. That fall, when I designed my first piece, it was like the brightest light bulb switched on. I loved what the stones presented visually, but it also felt like it resonated so personally. I still find gemstones awe inspiring, and because I am getting to know them well through painting them, I am able to take more liberties with my designs. For now, I am continuing to experiment with abstraction and deconstruction in my paintings.
Q: I find your works striking for many reasons, but I have always loved the colours you use in your pieces, and how a sly triangle of pink or orange will playfully draw the eye in, and add that much more to the aesthetic of the painting. How do you decide on the colour palette for your pieces, and what do you believe the colours add to your works?
Colour plays a significant role in my pieces. As I mentioned, I often set out on a painting because I am craving a particular colour and I will search for the right stone for inspiration. There’s a lot of magic in the colours that occur naturally in a cut stone, and I have learned a lot from observing the refractions so closely. Lately I have been making a lot of choices rather than just painting what occurs naturally. I like to pay attention to both nature and my instincts.
Q: In your paintings, blurry reflections are painted alongside perfectly sharp and clear refractions: chaotic and asymmetrical triangles can all fit cleanly inside a prism with geometric precision. How does your work explore themes of opposing forces, harmony?
Gemstones are the perfect example of this scientifically; the light inside a stone is reflected and absorbed, translucent and opaque. It’s a world of opposites but ultimately it takes the form of a tiny, exquisite object. Gemstones also carry a very complicated history with humans. They are heavy with symbolism: they can represent the worst of our greed, our need to possess riches and display of status and at the same time they can be spiritual and metaphysical, offering calming and mentally clarifying properties. In my work I have touched upon this conceptually in the past and I may return to it again. For now, I am more interested in the relationship of imperfection/perfection.
Q: Who are a few of your favourite artists?
Barbara Hepworth, Nancy Holt, Monika Grzymala, Cornelia Parker, Torben Giehler, Julia Dault, Marcelyn McNeil.
The opening reception for Sara Pearson’s exhibition ‘ PROSPECTOR’ will be held from 6-10pm on Thursday March 17th, 2016 at Project Gallery (1109 Queen St. E). The exhibition will be on display Wed-Sun from 12-5pm until April 3rd, 2016.