I work at the crossroads of chance and choice, engaging in both impulsive mark-making and deliberative planning and execution.
This interest in the dynamic between controlled and uncontrolled actions arose in my youth, when I first observed “speaking in tongues.” Also known as glossolalia, speaking in tongues is a phenomenon distinctive to Pentecostal churches wherein congregation members utter unintelligible syllables during a trance-like state.
First documented in 1901, glossolalia to outsiders can look as if speakers are “possessed” and not in control of their outbursts—but subsequent research has shown that practitioners do in fact guide aspects of these vocalizations.
As a college student, I saw parallels between the practice of speaking in tongues and the action painting of Jackson Pollock, which seemed aimless and accidental but was in fact well-regulated by the artist. Pollock experimented endlessly with speed, distance from canvas, and thickness of paint to achieve the uniform coverage and spontaneous look he desired. Nevertheless, he could never completely predict what would emerge from the tip of his brush or lip of his paint can.
My painting is also a collaboration between chaos and control, though more in the tradition of English landscape painter Alexander Cozens (1717–1786). It dawned on Cozens that spills, stains, and blots of ink could form the visual basis for painted landscapes. He defended his technique by reminding critics that Leonardo da Vinci himself recommended gazing at random surfaces or objects—“an old wall covered with dirt, the odd appearance of some streaked stones”—for inspiration.
I start painting by laying down lines in pencil, marker, or enamel quickly and instinctively. If I begin to see representational imagery, I may develop the painting in that direction, often paradoxically employing time-consuming techniques such as cut paper collage.
Other times I allow the painting to remain firmly nonrepresentational. In those cases I try to create ambivalent depth and spatial organization. I want it to be hard to tell what was added to the painting first or last, or which elements are in the foreground and which are in the background.
In either avenue of visual exploration, my end goal is a painting that's appealing enough to make viewers stop and look, and complex enough to hold their long-term gaze.
Sarah K. Horowitz holds an undergraduate degree in art, a master’s in journalism, and has studied under April Dawn Parker and the late Ray Smenner. She resides in San Francisco, California, with her husband and son.
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