A drawing… a line! Portrait of Sarah Navasse-Miller
#DRAWING She was born in 1985 into a family of master glassmakers who would pass on to her a taste for art history and figurative compositions. After a Master’s degree in Art History from Paris I, Sarah Navasse-Miller flew to the United States to study Visual Arts at the American University in Washington. Represented by the Vitoux Gallery, she also exhibited last year at the Palais de l’Institut de France as part of the David Weill Prize and at the DDessin contemporary art exhibition. These drawings with intertwined bodies are visible this summer at the Vachet-Delmas Gallery.
Marlène Pegliasco: Sarah, could you present your career path?
Sarah Navasse-Miller: I grew up in a stained glass workshop where both my parents were involved in the restoration and creation of stained glass. Since the age of 5 they invited me to propose models on which they themselves were working. At 13 years old they presented one of my proposals for the first time in a call for projects, and it was this one that was selected for a municipal dance hall. I also saw many old church stained glass panels scrolling on the bright tables of the workshop, mainly from the 16th and 19th centuries. These images fascinated me by the contrast between the monumentality of their compositions and the meticulousness of each piece of glass, painted in 3 or 4 layers of grey, and in which are sometimes hidden fingerprints of the painters, or details full of humour or delicacy invisible to the viewer 12 meters below.
So I started working in the stained glass workshop, learning drawing on restoration sites, where fragments of hands, feet or faces were eroded. For the compositions, it is the design of the lead networks that taught me a lot: these refined lines circulate through the stained glass. Beyond their structural role (holding all the pieces together), they also allow the eye to circulate in the composition, a little like Fra Angelico’s hidden geometries… In addition to this workshop work, I started studying art history that nourished me and opened me to other worlds.
Little by little, I moved away from stained glass to develop a more solitary practice of painting. I found a greater freedom than the lead work of painting on glass, and a space where my research could be more spontaneous and immediate. So I went to the United States to study at a university where I was awarded a scholarship for the Master of Fine Arts. I have worked on painting, direct observation most often, in relation to the body in its most common and strange aspects at the same time.
It was only when I returned to France three years later that drawing took centre stage in my practice. Arriving in a small studio without a workshop in Paris, I decided to unwind rolls of paper on the wall and work on the drawing as I would on painting. By limiting my means to paper, pencils and erasers, I opened a denser exploration where each drawing asked new questions, and it was with a series of works in this small space that I entered Casa de Velasquez in Madrid, an exceptional place that allowed me to gain confidence and fully develop the threads that I was beginning to follow, at which time I thought of returning to painting, but I have been drawing ever since. I realized that the painting on glass of the stained glass windows was the source of my drawings, often monumental, with a work of light and erasure.
Marlène Pegliasco: Why this predilection for the human body, very ethereal and almost ghostly forms?
Sarah Navasse-Miller: I have often asked myself this question about why the body fascinated me so much, and there are certainly several leads that I will try to explain here.
The oldest part of a vague but literally anchored memory in my body: I had a lobectomy of the lung when I was eight years old. I was drawing during my stay in the hospital, and I have a memory of something visceral between what I felt from the wound on my own body and what was going on on the page. Beyond the external form of the body, it is therefore a state of feeling, of the organic mechanism and of the awareness of what the body envelope hides that interests me.
In my painting work, it was all the strangeness and beauty of imperfections that fascinated me, the omnipresence of smoothed and stereotyped images of bodies disturbed me, and I lacked representations that sublimated the traces of time and the hidden parts or points of view of the body.
Finally, what I am working on today is the way the body speaks, even before the appearance of words, thus expressing our relationship to the world, our fears, desires, fears and joys. A detail in the shape of the shoulders, the placement of the neck or feet can affect us for almost unconscious reasons. All these aspects accumulate over the years: the visceral aspect, the ordinary and strange envelope, and the unconscious language of the body. The challenge is to renew this research and to constantly nourish it given the antecedents it has had in art history since the dawn of time!
The ethereal treatment of the bodies in my work is the direct result of the tools I use: graphite. In all cases, it is silvered and captures the light. The deepest black of an 8B will always be bright. The almost ghostly aspect makes me think of the magic of old stained glass windows that have been eroded: the greyness can be almost invisible, and only perceptible under certain lights. Time makes elements disappear and forces the viewer to pay particular attention, as he must scan the surface to look for traces that cannot be detected immediately. Erasure therefore invites a slowing down of the gaze. It also often allows to play on several readings, hiding elements in this space between appearance and disappearance.
Marlène Pegliasco: What role does drawing play in your creation?
Sarah Navasse-Miller: Currently, drawing is at the heart of my creation. By limiting my means, to graphite and paper, I pushed more doors than I imagined. At first, I worked on values, allowing to show or hide things in the glare of light or darkness. Then I played on what the drop shadows could say about things that weren’t there. I also think of the richness of the trace, of the layers superimposed as in painting, or of the erasure. Today, my attention is more and more focused on the paper’s support, shape and texture. I currently work with a wide variety of papers (in their shade, flexibility, thickness, fibre…) that I cut or tear and glue, and which work like filters or skins, or which draw silhouettes. The richness of graphite writing and textures also seems to me to be becoming more and more infinite.
I would say that I consider drawing as painting: My palette is that of the leaves I use, my materials are their natural texture or the one I give them through the layers of pencil and eraser work. I quickly noticed that I was more comfortable with large formats, and I feel like I’m just starting to learn to tame the small ones. For this reason, I think a lot about Goya’s paintings like that of the Flight of the Witches (30x40cm in the Prado) which carry within them an amazing monumentality, space and movement for such a small surface. Graphite and paper are therefore my main tools, but they feed on various sources and lead me on a path that continues to open up possible avenues of exploration.
Marlène Pegliasco: Tell us about the two exhibitions you are presenting at Galerie Vachet-Delmas in the Gard and Galerie Vitoux?
Sarah Navasse-Miller: The exhibition at the Vachet-Delmas Gallery “Homo Ludens, the man who plays” focuses on an element that was already partially present in my work: the idea of the game as a space of duality between seriousness and fiction, between fear and desire, between pleasure and danger.
Homo ludens is originally the title of a work from the early 20th century by a Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga, finding a third qualifier after Homo sapiens (man who knows) and Homo faber (man who makes). The game is described as “an accompaniment, a complement, or even a part of life in general. It adorns life, it compensates for its shortcomings, and in this respect is indispensable”. In my drawings prepared for this exhibition, it is not only the variation of a series of games that I wanted to show, but it is above all game situations that allow us to explore our relationship to the world.
1,2,3 Sun for example shows a person bent over himself hiding the eyes of both his hands. She seems to be walking on an island of organic waste. The position of the body can evoke that of Adam and Eve leaving Masaccio’s earthly paradise in Florence. The position also evokes a flight or blindness in the face of what is happening in his environment where fragments of fallen wings litter the ground. The child’s play that gives the piece its title is therefore only an entry point for a plurality of readings.
I am also interested in the sensations created by game situations. The disorientation you may feel with your eyes blindfolded during a game of Colin-maillard, the world that changes when you are hidden under a sheet, the tension or excitement when you hide and fear being betrayed by your own breath… All these experiences show how mental space transforms our environment, our body, and our relationship to the world. This is done in the game, but also in everyday life where we constantly project our fears and desires onto our immediate environment. The drawing space is then the ideal place to explore these situations: the surface of the sheet can accommodate the illusion of several realities that confront and speak to us, just as in the logic of dreams. Huizinga also points out that the word “illusion” derives its etymology from “inlusio”, meaning “entry into the game”. Drawing therefore holds an ideal place for the exploration of this theme!
Finally, another part of the game that interests me is what it reveals about the nature of the human being: Softness, curiosity, accuracy, or predation and pride closer to the Greek hybris. Huizinga speaks of an “aspiration of triumph” in man, which means that competitiveness has always been the driving force behind the evolution of history. In my series “Le chat et la souris”, portraits of men or women are juxtaposed with birds in various and more or less realistic ways. The attraction between human beings and animals plays in this series on tensions of admiration and predation, thus underlining the animality of the man playing like a cat with his mouse.
The exhibition in Paris in November at Marie Vitoux’s will pursue some of the directions opened here. The game will always be present there with the title “On a thread”. On the other hand, it will be more about unstable fragilities and balance, directions and interruptions. I would like to add to this, in addition to the work of papers acting as thin skins, an installation integrating fragments of paint on suspended glass.
I am currently taking a few days in this wonderful village of Sauve where the Galerie Vachet-Delmas is held before returning to the workshop where I still have a lot to do to give shape to this. Maybe the via ferrata and climbing cliffs of the region will feed some of the upcoming pieces..
Portrait of a draftswoman
If you were a drawing? A drawing by António Lopez Garcia, that of a young woman lying on a shore of strange proportions.
Your favorite technique? The gum on a graphite film.
The most unusual support? In my last experiments I might mention a 4cmx6cm sheet, unusual for me who likes 2 or 3 meter formats!
“Drawing is like…”? Play. Playing to walk around without a map or GPS in an unknown place that attracts us.
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