Last Thursday, May 12th, at the opening reception for Contact 2011: Fragile Ground at Norman Felix Gallery, I had the chance to meet and interview the fabulous Ontario-based artist Sarah Tacoma. Sarah has eight wonderful pieces in the show, most of which are large-scale, panoramic landscape photographs taken in northern Canada.
These “dreamscapes,” as she calls them, are meant to capture nature in such a way as to “draw attention to the beauty and fragility of Canada’s north and its people.” Sarah mounts her large images on a sturdy frame of birch board, and coats most of them with a thick, shiny layer of resin.
While I am not usually a giant fan of landscape photography, Sarah’s approach manages to create almost a new genre out of it – one which I absolutely adore. Her work creates a delicious, tactile juxtaposition between the coarse, naturalistic sides of the birchwood mounting, and the glistening resin glaze which here and there drips ever-so-delicately off the smooth surface of the piece and down its roughened sides. The landscapes themselves are genuinely spellbinding, for they seem to offer privileged glimpses of lonely, beautiful, and remote vistas that feel at once peacefully mellow and wildly free. They provoke a very personal sense of nostalgia, as though they gently recall half-remembered dreams, or hint at long-lost memories from childhood. I found myself swept away by the romantic wistfulness and natural authenticity of Sarah’s work, lost in the daydreams from which her art seems to be woven.
Sarah described to me the process involved in applying resin to her pieces, a task which apparently is not only challenging and painstaking, but in fact can be life-threatening if done improperly.
The thick, poison-fumed resin must be applied like viscous molasses, spread carefully and evenly over the surface of the piece from behind the protected visage of a gas-mask. It must then be heated to a very specific temperature using a blowtorch, which is the most delicate part of the process. Under-heating the resin will fail to harden and set it, meaning it will simply slide off the surface like a sheet of melting snow, while over-heating it can in fact cause the entire thing to burst into flames.
Sarah recalls having made both mistakes before, citing one instance of over-heating as a happy accident, and explaining that she felt the marring caused by the flames actually added a new level of interest to her piece. Personally, I can’t say that I would be likely to consider any artistic product of mine worth the all-consuming, near-death terror caused by my piece exploding into flames beneath my hands – but I suppose that would be why I write about these things from the safety of my laptop, and leave death-defying risks in the name of art to braver souls than I.
Most recently, Sarah has begun to experiment with a new medium in order to steer away from the risks associated with resin – she is opting instead for the eco-friendly, baby-safe (yes m’am!) medium wax. By covering the surface of her pieces with a thickly mottled coating of wax, Sarah creates a hazy, blurred, and distant effect apparent in her piece Flowers (pictured above). It is quite common for photographers to experiment with varying degrees of blurriness and sharpness in their images, and most use either computer programs like Photoshop or simply their camera’s settings to achieve this. Sarah’s method however is a creative, tactile, and authentic approach to achieving a very appealing version of this effect. She deliberately applies thick layers of melted wax in certain areas to create a cloudy, distant appearance, while leaving other parts almost entirely exposed and well-defined. As a result, the viewer somewhat feels as though they are observing the scene through a pair of rose-tinted, rain-speckled glasses.
If you like Sarah’s art (and how could you not?) be sure to check out her website and see the rest of her lovely work! Also check out the Norman Felix fan page to see pictures from our Contact 2011 opening reception.