By Arthur Hawkes
In a Papakura barn, Sarah Louise Keber watches paint dry. Keber is obsessed, not with painting, but paint.
“I even watch it dry, literally, for fun: how it drips over objects and creates layers: it will always do its own thing.”
She dips and drizzles found objects – skulls, scrap metal, bones, clothing – creating thick, layered paint sculptures with multi-coloured stalactites. A new form is created from a pre-existing substrate, its final shape the product of “chance, gravity, suspension, and time”.
She studied at Massey, earning her BFA in 2015. This is where the early experiments with paint began: oobleck (a non-Newtonian fluid made of cornstarch and water) dancing on an upturned hi-fi speaker sparked the idea of applying different viscosities of paint simultaneously; a job in a pizza shop inspired her to use sauce bottles for more directed application.
She then studied for an MFA at the Glasgow School of Art and lived in Scotland for five years, exhibiting seven times in the UK. She returned to New Zealand in August 2021 after suffering burnout from her work as a special needs carer during covid. She also badly needed a studio, and couldn’t afford one in Glasgow. “I’ve always had a studio, it’s essential to my practice. It’s something I’ve worked to prioritise in my life.” Using a special rigging system, she pours paint and waits for each layer to dry. It’s a messy, time-consuming process, requiring a dedicated space.
Sarah Louise Keber, Untitled, 2018 Sarah Louise Keber, Bucket Series, 2018
The object itself, the skeleton of the final sculpture, is an integral and significant component: “I dip objects that come from different phases in my life and represent different journeys, people, or feelings. All my art is autobiographical because of this.”
One work, which will feature in Abstract (Here is the Thing) at Ahuriri Contemporary, in Napier (25 March until 20 April), was brought with her from Scotland. “Snapped is a piece of steel that I found in the metal workshop at Glasgow School of Art. I've been working on it for the past four or five years.”
Sarah Louise Keber, Untitled, 2018
The title refers to the fact that it finally broke from its suspension from the sheer weight of the many layers of paint: a sign, she says, that the piece was finally complete.
First published in Art Zone #90