Sarah Emerson’s paintings present viewers with highly stylized versions of nature by taking patterns already visible in the natural world and painting them in pastel hues and pop, paint by number repetition. Inspired by themes ranging from battlefields, war propaganda, literature, and idyllic gardens, she uses the landscape for impression, abstraction, symbolism, and sentiment. Emerson manipulates scale and spatial relationships, twisting her subjects into flat emblems and shifting planes. The result is often visually enchanting compositions that combine candy-like colors with macabre narratives that leave the viewer with a sense of both wonder and melancholy.
For Underland, Emerson’s second solo exhibition at whitespace gallery, she focuses on creating a series of underworld reflections of the natural landscape. Each painting depicts a fantastical analogical study of an actual place combined with the myths and remnants of the real events associated with that location. Once on canvas the place is removed from reality; it becomes an image reflection or vague memory filtered, abstracted, and compressed into geometric shapes. For Emerson, the artificial underworld in her paintings becomes a story of its own, an apocryphal place mimicking and appropriating a reality of paradise and innocence lost. Each painting is a parallel plane with repeating symbols and “memento mori” motifs dressed up to camouflage a gaping darkness lurking beneath the surface.