Big Cactus, Little Cactus

26 May — 22 Jul 2017 at the Galerie Huit in Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Big Cactus, Little Cactus. Courtesy of Big Cactus, Little Cactus
Big Cactus, Little Cactus. Courtesy of Big Cactus, Little Cactus
12 MAY 2017

Big Cactus, Little Cactus is delighted to present the worldwide solo debut exhibition ‘Big Cactus, Little Cactus’ by British artist, Sara Berman.

Since Berman (b. 1975) graduated last year with an MFA from the Slade School of Art, London, she has built a unique oeuvre comprising textile sculptures, paintings and works on paper. Her deep interest in the dialogue between design, commerce and identity has inspired such connections within her work and practice as she explores the tension between authenticity and construct.

‘Big Cactus, Little Cactus’ consists of new paintings, including three triptychs, a diptych, a pair of single paintings to be viewed together, and ink drawings depicting furniture design classics, objects, potted plants and patterned floors juxtaposed with glimpses of an individual person. The painterly assemblages evoke the surreal, an altered perspective of a domestic interior. Reality is both suspended and anchored as familiar desirables are abstracted in a game of narrative trickery.

The tradition of portraiture places the sitter central to the image, the subject its focal point. Trinkets and costumes symbolised wealth and stature and projected as much in the commissioned portraits from the 16th Century onwards – in Berman’s paintings, the protagonist is viewed in part, a discrete revelation of limbs indicate the presence of the feminine – representations of historical design pieces take precedence and the figure is held in the same regard as these cultural icons.

Formerly, a fashion designer, Berman is familiar with the constitution of a ‘look’. The photogenic Arne Jacobsen Egg chair, the Alvar Aalto vase, the Venini bottles, and the Richard Neutra dining chairs act as signifiers within her fictional constructs. They are considered pieces in a game – a system for building an allegorical image.

Structurally, accumulative layers of delicate colours bind the focal points within each composition. Motifs such as the hexagon, often painted in clusters and traversing each painting, connect the individual works. The cactus plant, another recurring motif is inserted in varied dimensions, creating a shift in scale within the same painting. In doing so, Berman deconstructs normal perspective and reassembles it, thus providing an alternative view.

In each of the triptych paintings, ‘Neutra’s Legs Eleven’, ‘Big Cactus, Little Cactus’ and ‘Spider Plants and Harlequin’ the overall image is composed of three separate narratives, conjoined and treated like film stills that run in consecutive order. The edges of each panel introduce a new ‘scene’ to assert the construction of a fiction. The use of multiple panels in certain set dimensions afford a further element in the game of constructed narratives.

In ‘10 Green Bottles’, the contours of the bottles that seem to float on the curved Saarinen table, reflect the curves on the seated female nude; the object and person are as one. Berman focuses solely on the interior in ‘Potted Venini’. The aspiration that the image projects through the portrayal of the Venini bottles and the archetypal Eames armchair is cast in the Art Deco mirror. The mirror performs a binary function in reflecting both the interior of the image and our own internal world.

‘Big Cactus, Little Cactus’, the exhibition, offers paradoxes in how a projection, an aspiration or an image is formed. Berman inserts the popular cultural icons into her constructs to suggest our analogous relationship with the commercial image, and its persuasive content. However, her decisive mark making and application presents a new hierarchy where naked sections such as raw canvas reveal a disintegration of the construct. Her succinct deployment of proportion, repetition and abstract motifs perform a different visual articulation within this context, giving pause to our own image and how it is made manifest.