Karla Black’s abstract sculptures explore material and physical experience as a way of communicating and understanding the world around us. She is interested in ideas of play and early childhood learning as well as the raw creative moment when art comes into being. She explores the capabilities of materials as well as the limits of what sculpture can be.
Usually made in response to the space where they will be shown, and often created with ephemeral materials, her works have ranged from delicate cellophane, paper and polythene hanging pieces suspended with ribbon or tape to large-scale floor-based sculptures made from plaster, chalk powder and soil.
Black skillfully draws out and plays with the physical properties of everyday materials such as soap, eye shadow, cotton wool, petroleum jelly, toothpaste and lip-gloss. She uses these in combination with traditional art supplies to invite us to understand them in a new and different way. Although many of the materials used may serve as a reminder of the intimate, daily acts that are commonly associated with women, such as applying make-up and domestic chores, Black does not select them for this reason. Instead her concern is with the physical merits of matter: its texture, colour and feel, rather than any cultural connotations. Similarly the artist’s regular use of pale pastel colours, in particular her fondness for baby blues and pinks, is not intended as a comment on gender.
Many of Black’s sculptures have the appearance of hovering on the border between existence and collapse. Sometimes they seem as though on the point of breakdown, or conversely, as if they are floating unaided. This is true of her 2010 hanging work There Can Be No Arguments. A dusting of baby-pink plaster powder clings to the surface of a large polythene sheet, transformed from its original state into a delicately draped, elongated knotted form. Suspended from invisible thread, the work appears weightless and drifting, but as with all of Black’s works There Can Be No Arguments has a commanding authority despite the apparent fragility of the materials used. Its ambiguous title, a seemingly definitive statement, invites us to consider the relationship between the use of language as a means of communicating and our understanding of the world through physical experience.