ArtFunkl Alumni Profiles No.2: Sara Maia

A first glance at the vibrant work of Portuguese painter and installation artist, Sara Maia captures the imagination, and invites the viewer to draw closer. It is only then that the tableaux of strange figures, occupied in unidentifiable pursuits, start to unravel.

From a distance Sara Maia’s paintings are colourful and and full of child-like characters, however, on closer inspection the scenes reveal their dark side. Some of the figures turn out to be harnessed or connected to sinister looking contraptions, while doctor like apparitions loom over them, others, which seemed at a glance to be human, turn out to be more like plastic dolls, with round ball joints and simplified limbs, hands are not really hands but are claws, or are missing altogether with arms frighteningly truncated at the wrist, and this is just the beginning. The works are crammed with strange goings-on, and the images depicted are open to many interpretations. Some would find them disturbing, others comical. They both tell a narrative, and reflect the viewers personal preoccupations, constantly offering the challenge of new ways of understanding.

Sara Maia’s colourful universe speaks of an inner turmoil masked by industry, movement, and a wilful acceptance that the world is not what it seems. There are bizarre and mysterious undercurrents, which can be read literally, as representations of a dreamworld, or metaphorically, as a commentary on society, politics, the arts, or anything else one cares to assign.

The works are created using a varied palette of media. In the early 2000s, acrylic paint was Maia’s preferred means of expression. She has subsequently expanded her range to include india ink, on plaster, or various mixed media surfaces. This has led to experiments with collage and installation. She works energetically, multiple layers of material, paper, card, tracing paper, plaster and board, are drawn on with a deft and confident hand, to gradually build up a wild cacophony of images, mural like in form. One can sense a torrent of ideas, as if her paint brush has been incapable of keeping up with the ideas taking shape in her head. There is also a sense of urgency about her production. A need to record it all before it disappears, as dreams fade away minutes after waking.

This is not work you can ignore. It engages you, and demands your time and energy. The surfaces are full of activity, seemingly chaotic, but which are, in fact, ordered and rhythmic. There is a flow to the composition, some parts come forward immediately, while others receded for approach later in the process. This allows a gradual absorption as the viewer scans from one intense detail to another, creating and recreating complex lines of narrative. These are fluid and can be different on every examination of the contents.

Maia’s work is full of multiplicity, seeming to be communicating one idea, then splintering into subsets, and subsets of subsets, which reveal further dimensions in the message. It is as if the dreamlike has merged with reality, and it is impossible to tell exactly where the separation lies. The line between the two is indefinite, it shifts and mirrors the viewer’s thought process.

Since her residency at ArtFunkl in 2011, Sara Maia has developed and intensified her practice. She has worked on several large scale installations, as well as continuing her practice in drawing and painting. She sometimes works in monochrome, and sometimes in hyper intense, highly pigmented, cartoon-like colours. Her latest installation in Lisbon reveals a natural evolution of form. Rather than working with abstract torn pieces of paper, or card, she has used hundreds of sheets of paper of uniform dimension. These are mounted along the top only, creating deep lines of shadow beneath the lower, unsecured edge. The regularity of the paper creates a grid, and suddenly Maia’s work has lines of boundary, which she can choose to employ or to override, and which add a new and exciting dynamic to her work.

More work by Sara Maia can be seen on her website SaraMaiaPaintings.