Multimedia artist and Oklahoma native Sarah Clough recently earned her Master of Fine Arts degree at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and now brings her exploration of light, color and texture back to her home state. Mixing chaotic expression with methodical intention, The Bright Side — at Mainsite Contemporary Art, 122 E. Main St., in Norman — features gallery-wide mural paintings rooted in graphology and semiotics.
“My major in undergraduate school was in English, so words and writing were initially my starting point,” Clough told Oklahoma Gazette. “Language is at the foundation of each piece I create.”
Lurking under the surface of each work in the exhibition, letters amalgamate with countless layers of paint and texture. Layers are at once a transparent history of the artist’s work on the canvas and a story ready to be rewritten by each viewer.
Pursuing a career in art was never Clough’s original plan, but a return to her childhood passion as an adult pushed her to reconsider.
“I’ve loved painting and drawing since I was really young but never had any formal lessons until I was an adult,” she said. “I took an introduction to painting course at Oklahoma City University several years back, and that’s really what set me on this path.”
Although she has lived in Baltimore for several years, Clough never lost touch with the art community in the Oklahoma City metro. After completing her thesis project at MICA, she approached Mainsite with her graduate work and new ideas.
The beauty of Clough’s nonlinear entrance into art is evident in her layered, large-scale pieces. No singular theme or meaning can simply be discovered; instead, The Bright Side emphasizes the experiential aspects of art.
“I created these works to interact with audiences,” said Clough. “The game hide and seek came to mind when envisioning how audiences would see the different layers in each piece.”
Deconstructing reality and mixing meanings, the murals create an immersive experience. From a distance, neon letters take on an almost material form. Viewed closer, each mural contains seemingly thousands of different stories, ideas and sensations.
Viewers can choose to see each work in a number of ways. Because of their different fluorescent and phosphorescent paint layers, the pieces change according to the time of day.
Upon entering the exhibition, visitors can also choose to decode and discover meanings with special ultraviolet flashlights, simultaneously revealing and concealing parts of each painting. Ultimately calling into question the nature of perception, Clough’s work challenges and delights the senses.
“It’s exciting to give audiences a certain level of control,” said Clough. “I used to feel like contemporary art was this exclusive, kind of ‘you get it or you don’t’ genre. Giving the viewer different ways to see work makes art less impenetrable and more open to interpretation.”
Graduate school significantly connected the artist to an equally layered network of people and ideas. Clough attributes her time as an MFA student in Baltimore to her love for the dynamic, subjective nature of contemporary art.
“Working next to other artists was a mind-opening and challenging experience,” she said. “Learning about the recent history of art and receiving critical feedback on my work was invaluable to my growth as an artist.”
The original concept for The Bright Side emerged out of her MFA thesis project, and many of the works she produced at MICA are on display at Mainsite. Clough’s first solo exhibition, however, frees her work from sometimes-rigid academic settings and allows each piece to take on a life of its own.
“It’s been so rewarding to see this exhibition through different perspectives, different times of day and, most importantly, in different lighting scenarios,” said Clough. “It’s empowering for viewers to create their own subjective meaning, and Mainsite has helped facilitate that possibility.”
As timely as ever, Clough’s works reveal the unfeasible nature of a singular meaning while creating an appreciation for the many languages, mediums and meanings available to viewers.
Just like her ever-changing artworks, Clough’s future is optimistically open to possibility.
“You know, my plans change every year,” she said. “I used to be set on only teaching art, but now I’m very much invested in continuing to create. I want keep learning and give myself the space to explore new ideas.”
The Bright Side will be on display at Mainsite through Jan. 12. The gallery is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 6-10 p.m. the second Friday of each month, and admission is free. Visit mainsitecontemporaryart.com.
The Bright Side
11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 6-10 p.m. the second Friday of each month through Jan. 12
Mainsite Contemporary Art
122 E. Main St.
Print headline: Bright craft, Artist Sarah Clough’s first solo exhibition finds a home at Norman’s Mainsite Contemporary Art.