Backwater Blues (2014)
- Woodcut on chine collé, 27 3/8 x 14 3/8 inches. Edition of 30. $1,500.
- Woodcut, 32 x 19 inches. Edition of 30. $1,500.
- All printed and published by Tandem Press, Madison, WI.
Alison Saar’s art addresses race, gender and class inequalities through powerfully built female figures, often nude or simply clothed, looking out with a stolid, haunting gaze. Though known primarily as a sculptor, she has created dozens of editions over her three-decade-long career, most frequently in woodcut. Wood forms a bridge between the prints and the sculptures, which are carved and embellished with “historically charged, richly tactile materials—coal, tar, wood, rope, antlers, ceiling tin, old tools,” as described by Art in America. ((Leah Ollman, “Alison Saar/Los Angeles: Otis College of Art and Design,” Art in America 100, no. 10 (November 2012): 176–77.))
Two of Saar’s new editions translate this canny use of found objects to printmaking. Used sugar-sack quilts serve as the printing surface for Mirror, Mirror: Mulatta Seeking Inner Negress and Cotton Eater (alternative versions of these images were also produced with chine collé and solid-color backgrounds, respectively). Saar explains she was drawn to the quilts because of their role as recycled bedding (they are worn thin and repaired to the point of disintegration) and also as a metonym for “the dark history of sugar and cotton…in fostering the slave trade in America.”1
With the exception of Backwater Blues, which is a meditation on the plight of Hurricane Katrina’s victims, all of the new editions allude to classical literature. The central figure in Cotton Eater was inspired by the lotus eaters of the Odyssey: absently munching on cotton bolls she evinces a “state of apathy…but her stomach is distended by malnutrition,” Saar explains. Cotton represents not just the slave trade, but the myriad empty promises made to African-Americans over the centuries. Shorn–which shows a nude woman standing in a pile of her own hair with a shard of glass in her hand–alludes Demeter’s grieving over the loss of her daughter in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It seems fair to assume that Mirror, Mirror: Mulatta Seeking Inner Negress purposely evokes Snow White and the fairy tale’s implications for female self-critique rooted in European standards of beauty: while the woman gazing into the mirror is light-skinned, the face that stares back at her is dark.
- Saar in Tandem Press Newsletter, Fall 2014, http://www.tandempress.wisc.edu/news/fall2014.pdf