To say that there is a dreamy quality to Karla Black’s work is to certainly state the obvious. Her installations and objects are delicate confections of often fragile ingredients – powders, translucent fabrics, chalk, cosmetics, cellophane. But to dismiss the Glaswegian’s work as merely ‘delicate’ or dreamy, or worse still, ‘feminine’, is to ignore the absurd brilliance of her art.
Black lulls us with her use of otherworldly and unorthodox materials and her nauseating colour palette, surely borrowed from a Neapolitan ice-cream block and a bag of marshmallows. However, don’t be fooled by the seemingly soothing froth of her work. While her installation pieces may resemble a pastel nursery, or even an iced wedding cake, there is something powerful at work here: a desire to intercept our day-to-day experience.
“I think about art as a place to behave, as an escape, not just for me but for the people looking at it,” says Black of her work. Much of the thought-process behind her work stems from transposing Alberti’s idea of ‘painting as a window onto the world’ onto sculpture, but not merely onto this world, but another world. This is precisely what painting does; painting provides a snapshot, a glimpse of a different place entirely, transporting us to historic periods, surreal landscapes and abstract spheres. Black, then, takes this concept of aesthetic escape in paint, and arguably, brings it to life in actual space.
The dreamy quality is intentional then, but it’s not without a significant purpose. Black’s dreamscapes of blush pink cascades, drapes of sheer powder blue, iridescent plastic wrappers and candy-coloured bath bomb explosions permit not only an escape to the imagination but incite the body to escape to a wonderland too.
Black’s objects and installations are intended to register the body, not just the mind and the optical. One such work, There can be no arguments (above), consists of a dangling sugary-pink gauze canopy. Standing beneath the work, the viewer longs to reach up and tug at its knots, causing the billowing chiffon structure to collapse around them. Similarly, the powdery consistency of so many of her floor-bound sculptural ‘paintings’ call to be touched, allowing the sandy grains to pour through fingers.
While the playful corporeality of Black’s art is paramount to how these works must be understood, that is not to diminish the cerebral intensity of her work. These works, despite their whimsical pastel prettiness, are chaotic and messy as Black states so herself. As such, they articulate something of the dichotomous calamity and quest for beauty inherent in all art making. Black’s work unites these two opposing forces: the dust and disarray of the creative process and the beauty necessary for the work to be of aesthetic value. While Black claims for the absolute physicality of her work –“My work, it is just rooted in the physical, It just is a thing; it’s real. You don’t have to think, “What does it represent?” or “What does it mean?” It is just, like, it is here. And you’re here. And it is just that exchange, a sort of physical reality” – ultimately, her work describes the complexity of the creative process: the strangeness of imagination as it collides with the material world, rendering real the soft clouds, diaphanous substances, multicoloured mountains and candyfloss canopies of our dreams.