Joan Mitchell Center AIR Program

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Alison Saar

Los Angeles, CA
1998 Painters & Sculptors Grant Recipient

Artist's Statement (2013)

The Joan Mitchell Center artist residency is of interest to me in that the recent work has re-kindled my interest in early African American artisans. This interest originally stemmed from knowing that my maternal ancestors were from Lake Charles, Louisiana and in my first visits to New Orleans and Louisiana I was immediately struck by the ironwork of the city, much of which was made by slave and freed slave artisans.

In my recent exhibition, titled Still…, at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art, I premiered eight new sculptures addressing the prevalence of racism, ageism and sexism. Incorporating glass elements, I constructed four “Stills” that can be manipulated by the viewer, in attempt to distill the stereotype and define the essence of bigotry. For example, ­50 Proof, a glass head and heart, half full, weeps black tears into a washbasin, evoking the stereotype of the tragic mulatto. Mounted on a washstand with an enamelware basin, she has the option of two bars of soap, one white and one black. Another piece attempt to distill the stereotype of black males as either athletes or janitors, Black Lightenin’ spills red fluid from the wrist of a pair of glass boxing gloves into a janitor’s bucket and mop. 

Other new works investigated issues of longing and the conjuring of ideas. Undone, for example, features a black female figure sitted on a chair hanging from the wall, 16 feet above ground. Her long transparent white dress reaches to the ground where the hem is stained red. Within the tent of the skirt, a thick red root/cord stemming from between the figures legs extends and branches out nearly reaching the floor. Tied to the cord tendrils/arteries with red rags, are dozens corked of milky white bottles full of fermenting or festering notions. This piece speaks to the creative process, where ideas are often subverted and aborted only to be resurrected when fully matured.

What I would like to propose for my residency at the Center would be to continue in this trajectory and my investigation of new materials such as glass and cast and wrought iron. Beginning with researching at the Armistad Research Center, the history of African American blacksmiths and ornamental ironworkers in New Orleans and then applying this research to my current work addressing issues of race and gender and creativity. In addition to my research I would also like to meet and possibly work with New Orleans contemporary artists and arts organizations such as Creative Glass at YAYA in New Orleans, and the blacksmith Daryl Reeves. I hope that The Center would help me make these connections with the New Orleans art community and that during my residency I could perhaps work with students or invite the public to my studio to see and discuss my work.

  • 50 Proof, 2012, glass, copper, rubber, steel, soap, cotton textiles, enamel basin and water, 63 x 27 x 20 inches.

  • Weight, 2012, wood, rope, cotton scale and miscellaneous objects, 80 x 65 x 24 inches.

  • Undone, 2012, fiberglass, cotton dress, found chair and objects, 198 x 72 x 60 inches. 

  • Black Lightning, 2012, glass, shoestrings, found mop and bucket and water, 65 x 40 x 24 inches.

  • Suckle, 2006, cast bronze, 6 x 12 feet.

All works are copyright of the artist or artist’s estate.