Sara Sosnowy, Blue, 1995, artist’s book: acrylic, oil stick and powdered pigment on paper, 13 x 12 x 2 inches (33 x 30.5 x 5.1 cm), closed. © Sara Sosnowy / Photo: Laura Mitchell
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Sara Sosnowy is known primarily for her paintings, which are beautiful and expansive, unfurling exuberant color across the walls. Blue, an artist’s book from 1995, is different. While this book showcases Sosnowy’s interest in intricate pattern and retains traces of her sensitive hand, it also works on another level: it conceals rather than displays.
When Blue is in its chrysalis-like box, only a shimmer of color in the taupe fabric exterior and the embossed word BLUE hint at the expressive color inside. Only when one removes the book from its box and opens it does this color assert itself. The blue expands to fill each page, sometimes with a soft dusty wash of color, sometimes with a rich velvety coat. The compositions change from page to page as well. Some of the drawings in the book consist of a single element, a circle or a line, but most pages are covered with undulating waves, lines, grids, and dots. These patterns and elements are either built up with collage elements under the blue pastel or scratched into the thick surface of the pages. The heaviness of the pages as you turn them and the heady scent of the oil stick that Sosnowy uses add to the richness of our experience with the book. The lines and dots shift and dance as one turns the pages; the color flows in and out like waves.
For me, that’s the most exciting aspect of this work, that our interaction is so necessary. We need to open the book, to turn the pages, for it to fully exist. Through this page turning we reenact the seriality that plays such a major role in Sosnowy’s work. For many years, Sosnowy has created sets of paintings and drawings in which each work grows from a particular color, pattern, or rule. Through turning the pages of this book we immerse ourselves in the poetry of this seriality; we help to re-create it.
Sosnowy told me that one interesting aspect of making this book was the need to take the binding process into account when planning the drawings. The book is composed of long sheets of paper, each with two drawings on its front and two on its back. These long sheets were stacked, folded in half, and bound together. This means that Sosnowy’s drawings appear in the book in a different order from that in which she made them. This disordering happens again as we open the book: by turning the pages, we can skip ahead and we can return to earlier drawings. We become a part of the artistic process; we create our own series and become aware of the relation of the works to each other, how the patterns shift and expand and contract throughout the book.
When I looked at the book and turned its pages, part of me wanted to read these shifting patterns as a story–not because there’s any hint of representation in these works in the traditional sense, but because the act of turning pages in a book feels so charged and natural, because that deep blue is so significant-feeling. The book becomes a story of the color blue, a spell-book, a family photo album of blueness. Sosnowy has often talked of the meditative aspects of her works, and others who discuss her paintings and drawings use phrases like “trance” or “dream-like state.” But to me, never is this state more accessible to us as viewers, never do we come closer to sharing in the artistic trance that must accompany the creation of these intricate works, than when turning the pages of this book, when reading and telling the story of the blue and the blue and the blue.