Gargantuan women appear suspended in soft coloured, bruising backgrounds, their bodies twisted in acrobatic movement and dynamic gestures. These are the works of British artist and former fashion designer Sara Berman whose practice explores the depth and distortions of materiality in relation to how we view and inhabit the body. She focuses specifically on female experience, and is deeply informed by her intimate understanding of fashion and textiles in terms of how we wear, understand and perceive clothes. Taking Space, Berman’s first solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery, presents a new collection of paintings that are both gentle and forthright, whimsical and imposing, expressing the complex tensions of womanhood while also gesturing towards a joyous sense of liberated physicality.
Each painting begins with the motif of the harlequin. Traditionally, the harlequin is portrayed as male — a sly, but lovable joker, dressed in a bright diamond-patterned costume. However, the same character as a woman becomes a trickster whore. While this articulates a familiar double standard, Berman’s interest lies in how our perspective of self and others might be impacted by external appearances. She begins by stretching the canvas very tightly over the frame before painting the distinctive pattern of the harlequin's costume as a base layer onto the canvas, which becomes “a map” or “the soul” of the composition. She then works over the pattern with further layers of paint, scraping, wiping and pushing to create a kind of bruised surface through which the outlines of the diamond shapes are illuminated by light. “The colours I choose are generally soft and gentle” she says, “but the making process is very physical, almost violent. I feel, increasingly, as I get older that being a woman is a violent thing.”