At the beginning of this year, the Norman Rea Gallery exhibited ten young artists. One of these was a small canvas by young art graduate Sarah Barratt from a project known as the ‘Granny Shopper’ series.
The works are inspired by what Sarah describes as ‘granny shopper’ bags – the kind of plastic plaid patterned holdalls found in laundrettes up and down the country. Sarah’s practice involves painstakingly copying this pattern onto canvases of all sizes in oil and ink, mimicking the tacky material.
“This series followed quite a long obsession with drawing Tesco Value, Bettabuy and Smart Price goods. I tend to pick my source material from markets, pound shops and charity shops and found the pattern and texture of the granny shopper bags very alluring. In particular, I liked the association of the bags’ function with laundrettes, markets (particularly Whitechapel market), migrants and students. A few years ago Louis Vuitton made a range of bags based on these granny shoppers which I found hilarious.”
Mimesis is a significant aspect of Sarah’s work. “I have always been a realist painter; I find the discourse surrounding abstract art painfully esoteric and academic, and it is natural to me to paint from everyday life. Realist painting can be as critically engaging as other art forms,” she explains.
“A primary motivation (of mine is) to look at the relationship between repetition, labour and work, certainly in relation to, say, someone who works in a factory, which I did as a student, and then someone choosing to undertake something so arduous and repetitive in my spare time.”
But as with any object mass produced by hand, each new piece is unique and just as significant as the mimesis are the idiosyncrasies. Each canvas is produced using ball point pens and oil and then coated with a thick gloss often taking years to dry perfectly. Every fingerprint and smudge is visible on the surface of the canvas and as all Sarah’s paintings remain unframed, such mark become unavoidable.
“In this series of work, the anomalies are important traces of slippages, of concentration and celebratory of mans’ effort, however imperfect, over the machine. In ‘The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Walter Benjamin states, “even with the most perfect reproduction, one thing stands out: the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in the place where it is at this moment.” It is this ‘aura’ that is most pertinent in this series of works; the study of the traces of time and effort within the work.”
Such deliberate ‘slippages’ in the work echo the imperfectly screen printed works of Warhol in which difference and individuality surface within the seemingly identical prints. Yet the geometric patterns in her work perhaps remind me most of work by Agnes Martin. I ask her if she considers that a fair parallel to draw.
“Certainly on reflection I can see the similarities. Her pencil grids with colour washes are exquisite and remind me of Bridget Riley’s studies on square paper, where she produces colour washes and works out the composition before producing them on large scale on canvas.
She often makes colour paper cut outs which she arranges to work out her composition and hands pencil drawings with pencil annotations to show her assistants where the colours should go.
“I think I like Riley’s studies more than the final works themselves. Bridget Riley is perhaps one of the earliest influences visually on my work.
“In my painting, it is the gaps where painting and representation blur that provide the most interesting points of reflection,” explains Sarah.
“Why do artists feel the need to represent that which we can see with our own eyes? For me, it is a mixture of fetishising things that I like or make up my sense of identity, and specifically to this series a way of engaging with the idea of the artist as a worker.”