Vanity Matters is a large paper sculpture that is suspended from the ceiling. Held up by ribbon, it consists of a single large piece of paper, approximately three metres by two metres, hung in a manner that is reminiscent of a crumpled sheet on a washing line. The bottom section curves gently and rests on the floor. The paper has been folded many times to form parallel vertical creases all the way down. Other creases and crumples emphasise the object’s materiality while also, by contrast, lending it a fragile quality. The paper is coloured with delicate pale blues and yellows, in acrylic paint augmented by eyeshadow and eyebrow pencils.
This combination of ethereal lightness with an emphasis on the material quality of her work typifies Karla Black’s practice. Her work falls mainly, although not exclusively, into two groups: hanging pieces, such as Vanity Matters, and expansive floor-based works. Materials such as sugar paper, polythene and plaster powder dominate, but Black’s work also often includes basic toiletry substances that make reference to the body, such as athlete’s foot powder, talcum powder, petroleum jelly, lipstick, nail varnish, glitter hairspray, moisturising cream and, in this case, make up. The title of the work makes reference to the use of products associated with ideals of feminine beauty.
Black has acknowledged that her sculptures are rooted in a number of art historical antecedents, and in her interest in psychoanalytical theory, particularly the work of Melanie Klein (1882–1960) who pioneered early developments in child psychology. She has said of her work:
The sculptures are rooted in Psychoanalysis and Feminism; in theories about the violent and sexual underpinnings of both individual mental mess, as in neuroses and psychosis, and the formlessness of specific points in art history, ie German and Abstract Expressionism, Viennese Actionism, Land Art, Anti-form and Feminist Performance.
(‘Karla Black speaks about her work’, http://www.scottisharts.org.uk/1/artsinscotland/visualarts/projects/projectsarchive/ karlablack.aspx, accessed 8 June 2010.)
‘Michael Archer on Karla Black’, Artforum International, vol.46, no.7, March 2008, pp.342–4.
‘Interview: Karla Black and Michael Stanley, Director, Modern Art Oxford’, in Karla Black, exhibition guide, Modern Art Oxford 2010.