Sonya Rapoport: Fabric Paintings opens 12/11 in SF

Sonya Rapoport: Fabric Paintings

December 11th, 2021 – February 6th, 2022
Casemore Gallery
1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 12–5pm

Opening Reception: 3-5pm, Saturday, December 11th, 2021

Sonya Rapoport, Bullseye, 1967. Acrylic on found upholstery fabric on shaped frame, 48 x 72 x 14 inches.

Sonya Rapoport: Fabric Paintings at Casemore Gallery features rarely-seen shaped canvases and strikingly bold paintings on patterned fabric by the Bay Area artist Sonya Rapoport (1923-2015). First shown in 1967, this work represents a radical departure for an artist who had previously been recognized as an Abstract Expressionist painter. This exhibition reveals the origin of Rapoport’s systematic abstraction of the female form and her first experiments with painting on found materials.

Rapoport’s paintings anticipate the Pattern and Decoration movement of the mid-1970s, which explored textiles and ornamentation. While shopping for quilting materials with her daughter, Rapoport encountered gaudy, commercially printed upholstery fabric, and challenged herself to create “ostensibly respectable abstractions” on this “kinky” substrate. The resulting dimensional paintings seemingly owe much to the sculptural excesses and junk-store aesthetics of funk art. Although Rapoport was not considered to be part of this movement, curator Peter Selz of the Berkeley Art Museum credited her with suggesting the title Funk for his seminal exhibition, which had opened earlier in 1967.

Sonya Rapoport, Incubation, 1964. Mixed media and collage on paper, 46 x 35 inches.

The curvy organic shapes in Rapoport’s Fabric Paintings can be traced back to large scale drawings and collages from 1964, with titles such as Incubation. A male critic of the day referred to these as “floral-sexual blends,” and made much of what he saw as “bosoms and derrieres.” In the early 1970’s Rapoport made these forms central to her practice, creating a set of stencils that she deployed as a feminist pattern language.

In 2012, Rapoport was invited to exhibit this work at Fresno Art Museum. Informed by a career of conceptual experiments, interactive new media work, and deep engagement with feminist themes, Rapoport created a new piece, ImPOSSIBLE CONVERSATIONS?. These collages superimposed photographs of her Fabric Paintings onto advertisements from The New York Times that targeted women, each matched with an evocative (or pernicious) marketing slogan. In an accompanying interactive “data-gathering event, Rapoport asked viewers to create their own matches, a tactic she had been using since gathering “soft material” about about viewers’ personal feelings, experiences, and domestic situations in her computer-mediated “audience participation performances” of the early 1980s. 

Sonya Rapoport, ImPOSSIBLE CONVERSATIONS? (one of ten), 2013. Photographic print and collage on The New York Times newsprint, 22 x 10.5 inches.

Sonya Rapoport: Fabric Paintings at Casemore Gallery spans 50 years of work from one of the most innovative artists to emerge in California. Featuring rarely-seen artwork, it traces the development of Rapoport’s feminist consciousness from her initial rejection of conventional painting through the sophisticated cultural criticism that characterizes her mature work.

An insightful and deeply researched review of the exhibition has been published via Art Agenda by independent curator and art writer author Danica Sachs:

“Here, in a selection of sculptural paintings made from 1964 to ’67, Rapoport uses upholstery fabric as her primary substrate, both for tracing the gaudy floral patterns in paint, and for stenciling curvilinear, abstract forms that mark the first instances of the artist’s transcription of her visual language into her artwork. Viewed alongside several drawings made during the same period, the exhibition reveals Rapoport as a process-based artist whose primary medium is information.”

Danica Sachs, Sonya Rapoport’s “Fabric Paintings,” e-flux Criticism, January 2022.