A Sarah Delaney painting is a portal into a conversation. You can read the questions, responses, reactions and tangents emerging as the piece develops. Although the medium is not a literal dialogue, the colour, gesture, pattern, and movement within the canvas reflect one expressive moment leading to the next. In Naramata, for example, early areas of wash, each only slightly overlapping, spur more specific strokes and lines in response. These are partially covered themselves by further patches or washes of colour, and then more thickly applied forms, interacting but not burying, the earlier compositional elements.
Delaney’s spontaneity of form suggests gestural abstraction, or action painting, while her expression is meditative and contained in scale. Her choice, placement and form of colour gestures offer a visual equivalent to a spoken exchange, where the development of ideas in succession says something beyond any single phrase or sentence. While colourists such as Rothko showed us the worlds within a single colour, Delaney arranges colour statements beside and atop of each other. She does not clutter them, but encourages their space and interplay, shifting stroke and shape in whimsical but sensitive responses. Two-dimensional visual art is typically non-temporal, reflecting a still instant. There is only a single frame, with no passage of time needed to perceive it. There is a distinction here from other art forms that do play out through time. Film, for example, involves a succession of frames. As is true for words in speaking or writing. Delaney’s paintings defy this distinction, as there is a clear succession, through time, of interactions.
The sense of events unfolding is central to Delaney’s broader intentions. While the variety of small marks and reactions that characterize her work are unforced and organic, they combine to tell a story. There is such intention and care, however spontaneously applied, that we recognize a statement without necessarily speaking the language. Each painting seems to say something specific. There is familiarity, yet each feels unique to one’s own viewing, and reminiscent only of itself. The work seems both knowable and ambiguous. Materially real yet mystic.
Delaney selects and creates colours, symbols, and simplified forms referencing the landscape of her home, British Columbia. She has a deep relationship with her surroundings, and her work embraces the stimulating locality within a wider breadth characterized by this large and varied province. There are no obvious tropes that would mark Delaney’s paintings as decidedly British Columbian, however across her body of work there is a palette that quietly impresses itself as northern and coastal. She notes elements of synaesthesia in her own perception and experience, associating letters or numbers with particular colours, and colours or smells as transportative to place or memory. And there is certainly something reminiscent and associative in the visual fragments Delaney collects. They are local. But she is careful to avoid any obvious or explicit reference to the geography, topography, flora and fauna that inspire her.
The dexterity of motion, speed and equipment in Delaney’s vocabulary within gesture alone affords her an accuracy and specificity in her commentary on patterns that occur in nature, without the need to represent them literally. She has taken in, for example, the character of lines in migration patterns of birds in flight, or animals on land. Painting lines reflecting her meditative observations flow naturally rather than self consciously. And because she frees herself and us from literal context, her patterning resonates with a range of scales just as natural patterns do. The views can be similar through a microscope and a satellite image. Delaney herself travels from close examination of her immediate outside surroundings to the arial-view photography of Yann Arthus-Bertrand and David Burdeny.
Delaney offers something contained and humble, yet generously resonant, in each of her pieces, suggesting qualities in the artist herself. We encounter a person and a practice deft at balance, alive between roots and flight, smallness and expanse, stillness and dancing.
Video by Louise Domenach