Artist Sarah Cromarty died last month. She was 37 years old. This was a blow to the heart of the Los Angeles art community. It was a blow to the cosmos and a blow to the searchers looking for a magical vision beyond what we can see. Klowden Mann Gallery is hosting Wizards, Healers, Portals and Prophets: A Tribute to Sarah Cromarty to celebrate her life, her art and her spectacular vision, which is unlike any other.
Sarah Cromarty lived with her fiancé, writer and improv actor Tommy Mabson, in Echo Park. Visiting her was like walking into one of her paintings. For the past 15 years her studio has been in her house, which is a swinging ’70s party pad with smoked mirrored walls and shag carpeting. The main room is a huge party room with a built-in bar, built-in pig-roasting oven and huge dance floor. She adopted special-needs dogs, and a studio visit began with a frenzy of four crazy little dogs in diapers or with missing eyes or tongues hanging out of their mouths greeting you at the door. Sarah had a big heart for elderly and damaged dogs that needed love.
Sarah received a BFA from Art Center in 2005 and an MFA from UCLA in 2012. At the age of 25 she had her first solo show in Los Angeles at Six Space. I met her in Chicago when she had a show at Bucket Rider gallery. I was taken aback by her work when I first saw it. The strange landscapes were like nothing I had ever seen . They looked like they could have been painted in the 1970s or in the 2070s. I quickly fell in love with her vision.
In 2010 I was thrilled to host a solo show of hers at Circus Gallery called “Diamonds and Rust.” In a preshow event to her show we took a group show to Burning Man. We loaded up my hatchback with a hundred grand worth of art including work by Marnie Webber, Jim Shaw, Ry Rocklen, Dawn Kasper and others, and drove it to the cultural dust storm. We put the work out on the playa but our gallery art didn’t even get noticed when it was surrounded by dusty naked weekend warriors riding fire-breathing dragon cars. But Sarah was a retired raver, and we came back and installed one of the most profound works of art I have ever experienced: Death of a Raver. It was her self-portrait riffing on Paul Thek’s Death of a Hippie, complete with wide-leg jeans, glowsticks and a pacifier. I fear that, like Thek’s masterpiece, this work might be lost forever.
If ever there was an artist’s artist, Sarah was one. She was very productive and admired by her peers for her unique vision. You will never mistake her work for another artist’s work. Galleries took note. She has had solo shows at Briggs Meliksetian Gallery and Night Gallery, and recently joined the roster at Klowden Mann, where she had two solo shows.
Sarah’s work has a few motifs that she would continuously circle back to: fantastic nature scenes, wizards, hands, talismans, magical portals. Her paintings are covered in glitter and jewels. She has a style unlike any other artist’s I’ve ever seen. Her work is gaudy and soulful. The brilliance of Sarah’s glitter and rhinestones could hold their own against all the diamonds at Tiffany’s.
Sarah developed a unique style of painting. She often used cardboard to build up dimension in her work. Cardboard might be an inelegant material, but Sarah never hid it from the viewer. She used it to give depth and distance to her mysterious landscapes. She would build up layer upon layer to push a nude, bearded wizard 10 inches off the panel, thrusting him into the foreground of the painting. In the middle ground she painted lush, tropical palm trees. I never thought of Sarah’s palm trees as L.A. palm trees — they don’t have enough exotic adventure. In the background you would find a dreamcatcher or a metaphysical portal. A dreamcatcher is meant to give you good dreams and be protective, while a portal leads you to a mysterious, unknown realm. In Sarah’s paintings I think that these two things are the same. Sarah was the queen of portals.
In her recent show Wishful Thinking at Klowden Mann, the subject of Sarah’s paintings turned toward hands. Hands holding a crystal ball. Hands holding a talisman. Hands holding paintbrushes. Worker hands. Sexy hands with killer nails. They are her hands. They are the hands of the artist and the hands of the sorceress.
Wizards, Healers, Portals and Prophets: A Tribute to Sarah Cromarty is a chance to celebrate an incredible artist and visionary. The subject of the show is just what the title says it is. Sarah and her paintings are all of these things. With Sarah’s passing, the queen of the portals has moved through hers.
Wizards, Healers, Portals and Prophets: A Tribute to Sarah Cromarty is on view Dec. 1-22. Klowden Mann, 6023 Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 280-0226, klowdenmann.com, Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; free.