Saul Baraitser is a textile artist who combines expressive painting and drawing practice with craft techniques such as embroidery, stitching and felting. Their current work takes the form of large-scale figurative compositions that suggest atmospheres which hover ambiguously between menace, threat, care and compassion. Unlike the taut, stretched quality of primed canvas, Baraitser’s hand-stitched curtains are free hanging, with soft, crenulated surfaces that invite a different response to mark-making. Self-made oil pastels offer the artist a quick and simple way to mark these tactile surfaces, yet they also possess an inherent richness and solidity. On the other hand, the time-consuming practice of stitching is used to create outlines, add enigmatic words and phrases, and to detail more intricate patterns. This combination of qualities allows for both the gestural and the formal – the artist moves quickly from idea to image, but evidently spends time in direct physical contact with the materials, which bear the marks of their fabrication and handling.
Thematically, Baraitser’s recent works explore human figuration and the complexities and contradictions within emotional atmospheres of interaction. The figures and poses are created from video-recorded, choreographic responses to a wide range of sources, including dreams. For the larger group compositions, this documentation is then used as source material to layer and iterate what often appears to be a lone figure into group compositions that do not necessarily cohere into a single ‘scene’. These figures – mostly faceless, some only partially realised – appear to be together, yet also unaware of each other, literally co-existing in parallel planes of both the artwork and the world it represents. Their existence as unique individuals is obscured or erased. Some share what appear to be uniforms or outfits, suggesting their shared identity as prisoners, workers or perhaps official members of a religious order or political regime. Backgrounds offer no easily graspable sense of place and are cursorily sketched in with ‘scratchy’ gestural marks, leaving the figures literally contextless. Other works offer prone depictions of isolated adults and children sprawled beneath detached onlookers, whose heads are cut off by the physical border of the work.
What unites these varied compositions is a dramaturgy of uncertainty and tension – these are literally ‘dreamworks’ that engage both conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings, revealing something inarticulate yet honest about the lived experience of relationality. Who are these figures? What is the relationship between them? Is that a kind or hateful gesture? The curtain as object suggests both concealment and revelation. Yet in these works what might be hidden in the ways we treat each other – through micro or macro acts of aggression or care – is literally if ambiguously inscribed upon the surface, allowing us to glimpse what is latent, emerging or ephemeral. Ultimately, these works pose simple but obscure questions: what do ‘we’ want to do with each other? Who is ’we’ here?