Essay – Lush, Plush and Slush

Essay from exhibition catalogue:
Lush, Plush, and Slush – The Painted Forms of Sarah Munro

Andrew Paul Wood

Sarah Munro’s work is all about association-chains of temptation plucked out of the “real-world-visual-soup”. The gleaming idol; the red-headed whore in Toulose-Lautrec’s Paris, the shiny red proverbial apple with which the Serpent tempted Eve, and Eve in turn tempted Adam – the notion of beauty is permanently enmeshed in temptation. Visual pleasure retains the taint of lust, covetousness or parochial self-interest cloaked in a cheeky swagger, but Munro is less about that sort of hunger. There is none of the ‘80s post-structuralism deceptiveness that “context” is the same thing as “meaning”. These suave, but straightforward and not duplicitous shapes shy away from facile readings. They are succulent, architectonic hieroglyphs that fanfare their ‘is’-ness in a primal tribute to art-historical past and technological future, playing to globalised free market economics. Munro cherishes aesthetically pleasing material effects and flirts directly to our basest aesthetic instincts with her strangely arbitrary shapes; like the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they inscrutably keep their secrets.

Munro’s aphoristically minimalist biomorphic sculptural forms – sleek fibreglass shapes with lustrously glossy surfaces saturated in bold-yet-diaphanous colours that seem sampled from the more expensive lipsticks and nail polish, designer house paint or luxury sports cars, bridging the gap between minimalism and pop art. These sculptures with their CAD modeled lines suggest industrial production, but no function or purpose. Marcel Duchamp thought that any manufactured object could be art, and Andy Warhol suspected art’s elitist status was unwarranted. Munro likewise considers painting an object not to be privileged over a car, or lipstick – they are all simply slick, coloured surfaces to be ogled, consumed and appreciated.

The artist’s appreciation of the skills and abilities of others is an important part of her practice; Munro operates in the spirit of the Bauhütten. Here that utopian spirit of cooperation is translated to something more akin to a surfboard manufacturer: hand-laid and hand-finished applications of fibreglass and resin over blocks of foam. Despite the dependence on cutting edge design and manufacturing technologies in Munro’s work, the ‘collaborative’ artistic process under one master’s name is a product of the Renaissance studio.

The subtly gradated colour, reminiscent of the difficult taffeta effects favoured by Mannerist painter Pontormo and rediscovered in the ambiguous colour fields of Mark Rothko and Edward Ruscha, is sprayed on in layers, then coated with more layers of high gloss and laboriously hand polished. It is undercoated and prepared in much the same traditional process as a canvas, panel or fresco, but at the same time reminiscent of the kind of craftsmanship that goes into preparing the bodywork on a Ferrari – my favourite being the 599 GTB Fiorano: the car is first painted silver for luminous reflectivity, over which are applied no less than six coats of fiery-hot-sex-scarlet-woman-bloodlust-cherry-popping-lady-in-red is applied. This is finally topped off with a layer of bubblegum pink lacquer for immaculately glossy shine. The cumulative effect says “HOT SEX”, which is exactly the message the marketing department is trying to sell.

With silhouettes like supersonically aerodynamic injection-moulded plastic Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, Munro’s sculptures come in candy-coloured pastels, high-keyed dayglo-neon pop fluorescents and Las Vegas slinky-kinky tertiaries compressed by sinuous Coke bottle va-va-voom concave and convex curves like a tight dress on a loose woman, or the hard-edged lozenges of vampish, sharply faced costume jewellery. This is bling. The window of the viewer’s attention is bombarded by the play of plum shading on harlot scarlet; fiery Jaffa orange against sunset blushing peach; lavender and ice-blue on azure; elegantly restrained grey and silver on white; acid apple-green; or opaque hotrod magenta and chocolate in a series of hedonistic, pulsating, retina-grabbing theatrics.

With both car and sculpture the clever contours can only be achieved with hours of grinding back, filling and smoothing. Although the works themselves are static forms, many movements and shifts occur the longer one spends in front of them. From one angle they could be Robert Smithson’s geoforms, from another it could be bodywork from a 1985 Lamborghini Countach. The sleek curves and cunning shadowing set up Escher-esque optical illusions that morph and flex from concave to convex in polymorphous perversity before our eyes.