One of the most significant assemblage artists working today, Betye Saar (born 1926, Los Angeles) addresses spirituality, gender, and race in her art. Part of the strong Southern California tradition of artists using found objects (including Edward Kienholz, John Outterbridge, and Noah Purifoy), she combines items typically discovered at flea markets and secondhand stores into conceptually and physically elaborate creations. Saar’s creative process, however, does more than reflect on the outside world; she ruminates on and plays with objects and ideas, making sketches inspired by specific items in her possession. These sketches form an essential part of what she considers the mysterious transformation of object into art.
Saar has kept sketchbooks throughout her career, laying out quick visuals for works, jotting down ideas about materials and potential titles for finished pieces. She has also kept more elaborate travel sketchbooks containing exquisitely beautiful watercolors and collages, many with motifs that recur throughout her work (hearts, eyes, hands, lions, celestial bodies.)
Saar’s creative process starts with a particular found object—a cot, a tray, a birdcage, an ironing board—since she feels objects have stories to tell. These objects are ordinary, used, slightly debased, things the rest of us would simply pass by. After identifying a primary object, Saar surveys her stockpile of other found materials to see what feels appropriate to combine with it. Only when she has arrived at a vision of the final work in her mind’s eye does she make a sketch. “The sketch is to remind me how [a piece] is going to look when I get it put together.”
This exhibition offers the first public opportunity to view Saar’s sketchbooks and to examine the relationship among Saar’s found objects, sketches, and finished works, shedding new light on her art.
This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.