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Sarah Muirhead: Process & Series

These are the first of a series of acrylic paintings titled 'The Watched' attempting to capture the flashes of intimacy and fleeting moments left intensely etched in your mind when a relationship has gone or feels distant.  I chose to use Zelig as a symbol if idealised memories frozen as a record of something you still long for.  I wanted to use images from one place and one time so that they seem fleeting or surreal and not cumulative or evolving. The attention to detail is partly my own lack of restraint, I love patterns and textures in flesh and can't resist examining the tangled furls of hair in my subjects, but it's also my way of expressing the smell and feel of the person you are thinking of.  I want the viewer to imagine the touch of the person they are looking at.  Voyeurism in this sense fascinates me.  While one person is very much aware of being watched and perhaps even enjoys this, they aren't perhaps aware of the extent to which their image, or their idea is being veraciously consumed by the viewer or partner.  There is a confusing balance of power and a sense of altered, and slightly falsified identity and sexuality.  I want to look into more deeply both as this series grows and in other work.


Born in Glasgow Sarah Muirhead graduating from ECA in 2009 and Muirhead was nominated as one of '10 New Sensations' by a panel including Kirsty Wark, Kevin Spacey and Tracy Emin for a show which would be followed by Solo exhibitions in Lazarides, Axolotl Gallery and most recently the Leyden Gallery in London. Muirhead's subjects include performers, singers, dancers, artists, models, homeless people and friends. She has exhibited work in shows in the USA, Europe and in group shows throughout the UK and worked in medical illustration and portraiture as well as her main practice in innovative figurative art. 

Fascinated by the physicality and spirit of a body and it’s potential for pleasure, pain and expression, Muirhead focuses on idiosyncratic character and an anatomical, pulsing, critical view of the body in front of her. The image is an accurate representation but the close detail is an expressive pattern describing minute features. It's a record of close examination and her relationship with her subject rather than a slavish copy of their every pore. Using body paint and projectors to give her subjects something to interact with, her work articulates the anatomy of the body while creating layered imagery and provoking questions about identity and gender. The potential ambiguity and tension in the eye contact of a still image is compelling and provocative in Muirhead's depictions. The quality of flesh, its contrasting textures and translucence, the density and potential of muscle and the irregularity and dimples in fatty tissue are important in the way she describes any given subject. The bodies are a strange mixture of lurid, glistening attraction and true empathic realism. They reflect private selves and acknowledge the role of the voyeur in observing and recreating them. A period of serious illness detached Muirhead's idea of personality from physicality – now healed she wants to paint the two back together again.


Sarah was previously published in OCHO.

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