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'Snake Man', color woodcut and lithograph by Alison Saar, 1994, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu
|Birth name||Allison M. Saar|
February 5, 1956 |
Los Angeles, California
|Field||Sculpture, Installation art|
|Training||Scripps College, Otis Art Institute|
Saar was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Laurel Canyon, California. Her parents were Betye Saar, a well-known African-American artist, and Richard Saar, an art conservationist. Both parents encouraged their three daughters, all artists, to look at a wide range of art. They were given books on art and were taken to area museums. They also saw Outsider Art, such as Simon Rodia's Watts Towers in Los Angeles and Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village in Simi Valley. During high school, Alison began assisting her father in his restoration work. Dealing with artifacts from different cultures―Chinese frescoes, Egyptian mummies, and Pre-Columbian and African art―taught Alison about properties of various materials, techniques, and aesthetics. She received a BA from Scripps College (Claremont, CA) in 1978, having studied African and Caribbean art with Dr. Samella Lewis. Saar’s thesis was on Southern African-American folk art. She received an MFA from Otis Art Institute, now known as Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles, CA) in 1981.
Her work has been exhibited internationally with key exhibitions at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, L.A. Louver Gallery, Phyllis Kind Gallery in New York City, and Pasadena Museum of California Art. She was an artist in residence at Dartmouth College.
Her sculptures and installations explore themes of African cultural diaspora and spirituality, and her studies of Latin American, Caribbean and African art and religion have informed her work. Saar’s fascination with vernacular folk art and ability to build an oasis of beauty from cast-off objects are evident in her sculptures and paintings. Her highly personal, often life-sized sculptures are marked by their emotional candor, and by contrasting materials and messages that imbue her work with a high degree of cultural subtext.
Art critic Rebecca Epstein writes, “Marrying soft with severe is the installation ‘Suckle’: 15 hanging cast bronze skillets if varying size, with an ample female breast emerging out of each pan bottom. Engaging the material via cooking, nurturing, and sex, the piece is literal but also ironic and iconic, its inherent grace stopping it miles short of cliché.”
“Saar juggles themes of personal and cultural identity as she fashions various sizes of female bodies (often her own) that are buoyant with story while solid in stance. [Her works often embody a] balance of strength and tenderness, in form and idea.”
- Alison Saar: "STILL . . ." Solo Exhibition, Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design. Review in Art in America.
Saar is a recipient of a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, an Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a City of Los Angeles (C.O.L.A.) Artist Fellowship.
- Phyllis Kind Gallery, NYC
- L.A. Louver Gallery
- New York Foundation for the Arts: Interview with Alison Saar
- 2009 Half-Hour TV Interview on The Creative Community
- KCRW Art Talk with Edward Goldman, "The Painful Beauty of Alison Saar's Stories," 2012