Sarah Kogan: Take me to the Light

11 February - 5 March 2021
  • ‘When you choose to work with the Orpheus myth…you are searching, in the dark, with your breath and your fingertips,...

    When you choose to work with the Orpheus myth…you are searching, in the dark, with your breath and your fingertips, for an art so powerful that, like the art of Orpheus himself, it can suspend or, as it may be, reverse the laws of nature… We want to undo death’

    Hilary Mantel, ‘Ghost Writing’, 2007

  • Working through the isolation of the current lockdown on the three new paintings featured in this exhibition, I have been reminded of alternating threads of narrative from literature, mythology and real life that have played an important part in forming lifelong themes and preoccupations. These seminal narratives are ever-present in my work, emerging in unexpected places and abstractions, pulling me back to the images that sit somewhere, just out of reach. 


    One of the images that has resonated powerfully through both my perception of our current collective experience of this dark dystopian time and as a metaphor for my artistic process comes from a childhood book of Greek mythology that I read many times. It featured a black-and-white print of Eurydice silhouetted against the light as she follows Orpheus away from her death in the Underworld and back to life. The book depicts the classical version of the myth. Following a fatal snake bite, Eurydice descends to Hades’ Underworld. Wracked by grief, her husband Orpheus seeks to undo her death with his artistic prowess, by entrancing Hades with the beauty of his lyre playing, endeavouring to ‘move fate to pity’ (Hilary Mantel). Hades grants him his wish but insists on one condition: that Orpheus must lead her in blind faith, without turning, on a transcendent journey back to the light from the dark Underworld. As they near the completion of their journey Orpheus, in a heartbreaking act of physical human frailty, turns to exclaim to Eurydice at the reappearance of the sun, and condemns her soul back to the Underworld and eternal darkness, lost forever.


    The act of faith required not to turn, not to break the disbelief of the moment and look into the abyss, is a pact of commitment I make while working with paint on the beautiful, but deadly, surface of raw linen, where every mark must stand forever, indelible. It is the case in all of my work that the technique demands that I fully commit to each decision before it is made and then execute it as if it were the only possibility – as if it were made somewhere else, before I felt it or thought of it. In a sense the here and now becomes all that has ever existed and it is through this engagement with the present that I hope to ‘move fate to pity’ and undo death. 


    The possibility of living in those moments, as if immortal, has driven me to create a multifaceted motif as a device or shape-shifter that can be manipulated both psychologically and in term of the materiality in my work. You can see it in Cyclops, Revolution and Vortex and the Phosphene drawings, creating an illuminating pool of transcendent light, reminiscent of that which Eurydice is silhouetted against in my illustrated version of the myth. The power that this motif exudes is such that I can create a landscape or object of my own choosing, transcending the bricks and mortar of the studio. Conversely, it also contains shifting parameters and qualities, allowing it to assume the properties of an opaque, two-dimensional shape that sits firmly on the ground of the stretcher or paper, or can be bent and expanded to create the illusion of three-dimensional space and volume. In some works, this shape-shifter becomes the focus of the whole piece, without further marks or indicators being added – a darker presence where the clearly defined edge of the form or vessel holds the mercurial, fluid contents inside, as seen in The Dark and the Mercurial Nature drawings. 


    In my pursuit of the narrative, and with the desire to be my own protagonist, I have searched in the dark for art and love, the two guiding forces of Orpheus, always with the knowledge that the only way to hurtle on towards the white light, released from the Underworld, is by letting go of both our darlings and our demons, leaving both Eurydice and Hades in our wake.

  • About Sarah Kogan

    Sarah Kogan is a British artist and curator who works in London's East End. She is a trustee of APT Gallery and Studios. 


    Recent exhibitions include Karsten Schubert London's Room 2 (2019), Tom Rowland Artroom solo exhibition (London, 2019), Miniscule Venice (58th Venice Biennale, 2019) and the Arts Council England funded international touring exhibition Changing the Landscape (Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Cogliandrino, Italy; The National Archives, UK; Atrium Gallery, London School of Economics and Manchester Central Library, 2016-18). She was selected by Alison Wilding for Creekside Open 2017 at APT Gallery, London. Sarah Kogan has been a guest lecturer at Chelsea College of Arts, The Estorick Collection and the groundbreaking 'Art of Psychiatry' module at Bethlem Royal Hospital. Contributions to presentations and academic conferences include The Photographers' Gallery, The British Library, The National Archives UK and Roehampton University.