26/7 – 6/9/2019



The reference for Sarah Ball’s exquisite portrait paintings come from in-depth research of an anonymous and eclectic range of historic photographic archives alongside more ubiquitous contemporary sources such as social media. These source images become a starting point for a methodical process of understanding, assumption and translation, where the aesthetic ‘mask' and what lies beneath become the focus of engagement. 

Ball's muses are mostly surrounded by muted backgrounds, which engender a profound sense of solitude. This aspect envelopes delicately rendered passages of oil paint, perhaps detailing the protagonists clothing or hair, often giving emphasis to a defining characteristic of the sitters visual identity. These intrinsic details are captured with intensity, revealing an intimacy combined and juxtaposed with more minimalist elements which reflect a greater sense of absence or disconnect. These components enshroud the luminescent skin of the subject, always anchored by deep pooling eyes which further captivate. However, Ball’s works also offer up a challenge to the viewer, often by confronting societal assumption and prejudice. Previous exhibition subjects have included historic photographic immigration archives alongside 'mug shot' archives of the accused. With ‘Themself’, Ball’s broad lens is focussed upon idiosyncratic explorations in to the outer presentation of the 'self' which support, subvert, enhance, manipulate, exaggerate or elaborate upon traditional, binary norms, in areas including gender and sexuality. The artist, and in turn the viewers, response is key, where both are drawn in to an empathetic, unspoken dialogue with the anonymous protagonist of the work. ‘Themself' relates to the conscious and subconscious factors which affect our assumptions and interactions, when forming the socially constructed characteristics which define us all in the 21st Century. 

Joseph Clarke, 2019


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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 historical documentation, including criminal ‘mug shot’ archives and immigration archives and more recently social media. 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 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 upon 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. 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. Works are included in collections worldwide including The Rachofsky Collection and the British Museum permanent collection.

Sarah Ball is represented by Anima Mundi where she has held five solo exhibitions to date.