Sophia Narrett was a painter before she began “drawing with thread,” as she told Hyperallergic. Dense with figurative detail, her embroidered bas-reliefs weave together not only fabrics but also various daydream-like narrative threads.
In Soul Kiss, a solo show opening at Los Angeles’s Kohn Gallery on November 13, Narrett presents her most recent works. Per Narrett’s associative style, interpretations are bound to vary by viewer. In what looks like a large Rorschach, one might see a hallucinatory experience of isolation. One might just as well see a fairly run-of-the-mill orgy.
The smaller works show human encounters at closer range. In “Sweethearts,” the first piece Narrett created for the show, a nude female figure hugs a clothed man — all while straddling a mailbox, as if delivering a particularly zealous valentine. “I’m interested in what happens when one figure is clothed and one is nude,” Narrett explained. “Does it imply that one figure is in control, or is it more complicated than that? When is it control and when is it worship?”
Narrett’s interest in the post-wave feminist possibilities of role play, and in craft itself, are ironically traceable to a single source: “I think, more than anything, the activity that my art practice relates back to is playing with dolls,” she said. “My dad and brother made me a dollhouse growing up, and I was always sewing little curtains or pillows for it.”
Narrett sees parallel play as more than a girlhood phenomenon: “I’m interested in the idea that in taking on a fictive role, you may be experimenting with what you truly want to be…[By] architecting this space of play, you can reach some sort of truth within yourself or with the other person.” But she stops short of the notion that use of once-gendered materials is a social or political act in itself today: “I wouldn’t say that my using thread is not a feminist statement or is just a material…[But] I came to embroidery very serendipitously. I didn’t go out to engage in those materials consciously.” It was only months after working with needle and thread that Narrett learned about her medium’s feminist history, and how women artists “really paved the way for craft material to be in the art world.”
True to her beginnings as an artist, Narrett draws most of her inspiration from an array of painters, from Cecily Brown to Edgar Degas. Indeed, in the woman on the mailbox, one might see traces of Degas’s faceless bathers. But where Degas’s nude objects were confined to too-shallow bathtubs, Narrett’s are, by contrast, very much free to roam.