Math. Science. Art.
Science isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Kendall, but when I had the pleasure of talking to Sarah Knill about her work, it was clear I was talking to a scientist – and mathematician, sculptor, painter, photographer and innovator.
Long before meeting Sarah her work had caught my eye, not just for the stunning end result, but for the way her sensual compositions draw you in and insist you examine their incredible (perhaps slightly insane?) level of detail.
When searching for an innovative piece to feature in the winter edition of Portfolio magazine, Sarah’s work came up again, revealing the unusual, intense process behind the paintings.
Beginning with a blank sheet of paper, Sarah creates an ink drawing of flowing lines and deep contrast with a quick movement of the ink dropper, followed by a careful buildup of value “through proximity of lines and dots, layers of ink accumulation.”
She then selects a small portion of the drawing to recreate in thick sheets of Lexan, a clear plastic-like material. Softening the Lexan with a heat gun, she gouges and shapes the material using palette knives and small sculpture tools.
Step three involves photographing and then enlarging small sections of the sculpted Lexan.
Finally, Sarah painstakingly paints from a small section of the photo, applying layer upon layer of pigment from a very limited palette to create range and depth of color.
How did she develop such a seemingly convoluted process? “I am inspired by the exploration and experimentation that happens in science,” says Sarah. As an undergrad at the University of Illinois, she had a strong interest in math and science, searching for visual ways to document numbers. She also enjoys experimenting with materials, a curiosity which benefitted from having a family in the tool and die/plastics business, supplying her with a steady flow of scraps to work with.
Of course, not all experiments will succeed. Sarah tells of her attempts to use plastic burrs left over from manufacturing that fell off her paintings, or steel sheets that simply proved too heavy to move.
And yet she pressed on, developing this technique as a student in Kendall’s MFA Painting program, which pushed not only her technical skills, but guided her through the process of turning her experiments into finished artwork. “The opportunity to work with all of the painting faculty and other MFA students… being in this environment and talking about our work with each other daily helped flesh this out,” Sarah says. “One of the very best things about being part of graduate community is all the different minds working together.”
In pursuit of experimentation and discovery, Sarah created an entirely new, innovative method, high in concept and yet entirely accessible.
“My artistic practice records momentary events and their immediate generations of outcomes, as well as provides visual documentation of the research into the physical compositions of those moments and their offspring,” she writes in her thesis. The idea, she says, relates to time spent looking at microscopic imagery. “There is a remarkable amount of ‘stuff’ that resides outside of what we are able to witness with the naked eye.”
In other words, she held a moment still long enough to take a closer look. She invented her own world, based on the minute details of her drawings. The correlation between the proportions of her work and those of standard laboratory slides is intentional.
The painstaking process can take up to eight weeks to complete, usually resulting in the ink drawing, the Lexan “slide,” and the final painting.
Since her graduation in December 2011, Sarah has continued to experiment, currently exploring the forms created by dropping ink into water and oil. She is also passing on her curiosity and expertise as an adjunct faculty member at Kendall.
I look forward to seeing what her next experiments reveal.
To see more of Sarah’s work or to contact her, please visit sarahknill.com.
Words: Elena Tislerics
Pictures: Matt Gubancsik