Since graduating from the Glasgow School of Art in 2004, Scottish artist Karla Black has exhibited extensively throughout Europe. The works in this, her largest solo exhibition to date, initiated a conversation between material and immaterial forms in a constellation of 11 works (all 2009) that slip deftly between the grammatical structures of painting and sculpture. Installed by the artist in the large spaces of this former brewery, the works were redolent of Arte Povera and Minimalist practices. Black uses common materials in her understated installations, and regularly appropriates cosmetic substances designed to “improve” the body.
The first room contained four pieces choreographed into a state of constantly shifting impermanence. Dominating the large, naturally lit gallery was Platonic Solid, a landscape of plaster powder stretching across the floor. Usually combined with water to create solid forms, here the material defied its latent function, remaining instead a powdery field dusted with pink pigment and punctu-ated by pools of crushed chalk and lipstick. At one end, the plaster rose into a zigguratlike shape, but with the vulnerability of a sand castle. The work seemed to hold its breath. Reflected color bounced luminously off the white-painted brick walls of the gallery, as though the room were blushing slightly.
The accompanying three hanging sculptures in this room offered resistance to the horizontality of Platonic Solid. For example, Made To Wait was a curtain of cellophane hung at the room’s entrance, impeding visitors’ movement. Its light-catching surface was interrupted, or even violated, with marks of paint, toothpaste, hair gel, nail polish and moisturizing cream; the smeared, unstable materials changed appearance over the course of the exhibition.
The washed-out colors of these sculptures continued through two further galleries where sculptures were suspended or sprawled on the floor. Unpreventable Within spilled across the room as a froth of plastic wrap worked over with baby oil, gel and paint. Nearby was an awkward riposte, Preventable Within, a human-sizeconstruction of thick paper bound with thread and stiffened by chalk. In their casual defiance of stability and function, Black’s delicate works tentatively but persuasively veer between the formal properties of object and image.
Photo: View of Karla Black’s Platonic Solid (foreground), 2009, plaster powder, pigment, lipstick and mixed mediums; at Modern Art Oxford.