Sarah Cunningham: Flight Paths
1037 N. Sycamore Ave.
Thursday, June 20 at 6:00 PM 8:00 PM
Ends Aug 24, 2024
For her first solo show with Lisson Gallery in Los Angeles, the British artist Sarah Cunningham presents a new body of work entitled Flight Paths. Named after a diptych that seemingly defies gravity, the gallery presentation captures this young painter’s soaring, spontaneous gestures in full flow. In the two panels of Flight Path (all works 2024) and throughout this exhibition, Cunningham explores aerial and bodily movements, flipping directions and orientations until reaching that moment when verticality and horizontality shift or tilt beyond recognition – when up becomes down, or left suddenly turns right. The direction of travel in these works fluctuates between sweeping side-to-side brushstrokes, suggesting the
lateral arcing of airplane contrails, and top-to-bottom marks that either open up the canvases to the sky, in Clouds
Closed for Target Practice for example, or delve down into the ocean, in the submarine composition, Choral
Chorus. The artist’s frenetic and free movement of paint speaks not only to her constant, performative process
– employing both time and movement in pursuit of a new formlessness in painting – but also to her material
experimentation – removing paint with rags, holding two brushes in each hand at the same time, or even
approaching the picture plane from one side when working on the surface. Cunningham is also known to rotate
and even reverse her paintings, often making her oversized pictures on the floor. There are other boundaries and pathways within the exhibition, from the first few paintings representing morning
light or the dawn of the day, on to the second half of the show, which moves towards dusk and nighttime. While
this could represent the passage of time that many of these works go through – with many of them only slowly
progressing from clean canvas to final picture over the course of months or even years – the diurnal passage from
day to night is fundamental to Cunningham’s practice. Due to the long, late and strange hours that she tends to
work, she shows remarkable sensitivity to the fluctuation of light effects, ranging from the golden tones of
paintings such as Sunrise with Spirits or Sunrise with Birdsong, through to the crepuscular, autumnal hues of The
Deepest Hour. This latter diptych, in particular, takes the exhibition firmly from day to night and into outer space,
the artist tracking shifts in the solar system. A further perspective on Cunningham’s intense painterly process and preferred method of ‘taking flight’ is
through spiritual release, akin to the shamanistic ‘soul flying’ documented in ancient accounts of ascension or
religious fervor (often brought on by ritual prayer or hallucinogenic means). In works such as Ghosts in the
Throat, Cunningham’s own visions – perhaps assisted by her self-imposed sleep deprivation and protracted
painting sessions – allow her to transition towards a higher, dreamlike state, which she describes in a passage
about painting this work: “As I continue to apply paint, there is an uprising of tiny, spinning ghost-like figures
before my eyes. They were floating above the painting they had travelled out of, the thing they had so long and
relentlessly hidden within. Deep down, I knew that these ghosts would be unrecognizable to most, they would be
impossible to untangle from the paintings’ splatters and earthy, worn-down clusters. Yet I could see them,
hanging onto the last ray of light, weaving together, set swaying against a cotton sky.” It is in this feverish
moment when she can access both inner and outer worlds, summoning the psyche and the landscape
simultaneously, combining aerial views with what is hidden below.
  • Curate LA Partner