In the 19th Century the social sciences of anthropology, ethnology and sociology all gained legitimacy. Photography was used to document such studies and seen to embody the new authority of empiricism.

Police photographic archives record the faces of the ‘accused’. Used to evidence the pathology of crime and criminals, photography was thought to connect outward physical appearance and inner character traits. In essence it was believed good people ‘looked good’ and morally bad people ‘looked ugly’. They searched for; “The harmony of moral beauty and physical beauty… the science of discovering the relation between the exterior and interior – between the visible surface and the invisible spirit it covers…” Johann Kasper Lavater. (Essays on Physiognomy: Designed to Promote the Knowledge and Love of Mankind. Vol 1. London. John Murray 1789)

Photographic images however are not objective statements of fact. They are subjective representations of the truth interpreted by the camera, the viewer and now, the painter.

The work in this exhibition is sourced primarily from police criminal archives – I am interested in the act of translation; from the apparent certainty of the photographic record to the malleable quality of paint, my work calls into question history, memory and story.

Sarah Ball 2012


ONLINE CATALOGUE (click below) :





Sarah Ball’s is a British artist born in Yorkshire, England in 1965. She currently lives and works in west Cornwall.

Her practice relies on the gathering of found source material, from newspaper cuttings, archival photographs and historical documentation, including criminal ‘mug shot’ archives. She selects subjects with, and without, known narratives. From these images, Ball paints intricate portraits that re-establish the imagined life of the often anonymous, unknowing sitter. Physiognomy is a primary concern. This supposedly outdated practice, whereby character or a persons morality are decided by the geometries of a face, was a common 19th century method, which dictated that an individual’s appearance was connected to their ethics and character. Sarah Ball’s paintings reflect her intrigue with these concepts and the history of the people she encounters. The painted portraits are placed on a neutral background with space around them, allowing for a metaphorical clean slate so that the viewer can investigate each subject close up in intimate detail with out prejudice. The viewer is compelled to empathise with the subject and draw their own conclusions and perhaps contemplate how we still continue to judge others based on aesthetics and assumption. 

Sarah Ball studied at Newport Art College in the early 80s, followed by a MFA at Bath Spa University from 2003 - 2005. She has exhibited widely and Internationally. Her work has been shown at the Threadneedle Prize, The Royal Academy, Somerset House and The V&A Museum. In 2016 Ball had a solo show at The House of St Barnabas, Soho Square and her work was shown alongside John Currin, Paul Macarthy, Juan Fontanive and Celia Paul in Dallas, USA as a part of Art for Aids TWO x TWO charity auction. She has held four solo exhibitions at Anima-Mundi. Works are included in collections worldwide. Sarah Ball is represented by Anima-Mundi