Karla Black

Karla Black’s sculptures play with a sensibility or rather a lusciousness that recalls outdoor scenes in Impressionist painting. A delicate play with light and shadow, glittering materials, captivating colors, festive ribbons, cakes, and knick-knacks, they are a feast for all the senses, referring to works like Claude Monet’s Ze Dejeuner sur I’berbe (1865-66), Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Bal au Moulin de la Galette (1876), or Edouard Manet’s Nana (1877).

Text Susanne Figner
All images Courtesy by the artist and Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan

None of the mentioned elements is actually present in Black’s oeuvre; her sculptures are abstract, and textiles do not belong to her material repertoire. And yet the works imply a sensuality that oscillates between materiality and immateriality, between form and formless,’ between bourgeois and bohemian.

Her pieces begin with bodily processes in the studio, that Black relates to the primeval expressiveness of early childhood. Sheets of cellophane are placed on the floor, and the artist walks across them or touches them, leaving behind invisible traces of fat that are paint-resistant; cotton pads soaked in nail polish are kneaded by hand until the color is equally distributed; pieces of aluminum are rolled, folded, and placed upright, so that they just barely hold their balance. These performative actions define a significant part of her sculptures and are shaped by an animalistic quality, a process of “acting out,” resulting in the material’s formlessness. The paint on the previously touched sheets of cellophane goes on in irregular patterns and refers structurally to dirty surfaces; the cotton pads massaged with nail polish take on a shriveled form not unlike dried fruit; the crudely folded pieces of aluminum only stand upright because a clump of Vaseline serves as a weight inside them. The formless is balanced by the choice of color, their composition and their “freshness,” as Black calls it. The sculptures are primarily monochromatic in pastel shades of pink, light blue, and yellow; at each new installation, new pigments are used, providing the works with the aforementioned quality of “freshness.’’ Here, Black refers to modernist reduction, to Alexander Rodchenko’s Red, Blue, and Yellow (1921), while in her “transparent drawing sheets” (cellophane) the artist evokes the color field paintings of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. And yet she shifts the zero point of painting: She not only pursues optical reduction, but explores the material qualities of paint and other materials, their internal dynamics and their seductive potential. The placement of her sculptures is thus complemented by theatrical qualities: like rococo paintings, the result is an impression of a kind of performance or presentation in that the sculptures serve as both set and cast.


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