For Sarah Crooks Flaire, it’s all Linked
It is easy to imagine artist Sarah Crooks Flaire’s studio as a nautilus shell perched on a Whitman’s sampler box. Her space seems to unfold upwards into ever more beautiful and surprising spaces, while on the main floor an open, airy room serves as additional work and workshop space.
Her space, Evervess Art Studio, is a shifting reflection of Crooks Flaire’s own works, which, though heavily layered with personal and archetypal imagery, exist as if in a dreamstate. Looking at her work, one is confronted with the interconnectivity of everything; and, as she considers the impact and importance of seemingly simple life forms, the depth of her compassion and commitment to her art and the Jacksonville community is clear.
“I see an occurrence in nature and I gain insight into my own life,” says the artist whose current body of work takes place in a place both real and imagined. Red Pearl River is the imagined place where the artist situates her current, overarching narrative. The corollary to Red Pearl River is the St. Johns, and Crooks Flaire has an ongoing project that engages directly with the river itself: In the Mouth, the Oyster and I, is an attempt to bring awareness to the important environmental function the river plays in Florida.
Loosely put, In the Mouth, the Oyster and I is an interactive oyster bed with a component that the artist is calling a “waterspirit”; the spirit is a huge puppet. This waterspirit will accompany the creation of the oyster bed in Downtown Jacksonville. The installation/creation is being accomplished through a series of interactive workshops with children and families, and is funded through a Spark Grant Initiative through the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and Florida Blue. To help the waterspirit grow, there are collection bins for old water bottles at the entrance to the children and teens department at the Main Library. The next public event, How to Build a Waterspirit, scheduled for the March 4 Art Walk, accompanies the display of Beasts of Burden, the second in Crooks Flaire’s Red Pearl River suite, and where one of the most archetypal animals in the symbolic pantheon takes on the central role.
Like several other artists whose practice includes a deep engagement with the natural world, Crooks Flaire is often in the field. And recently, she has become a Master Naturalist, because, she says with a laugh, “Eventually you gotta go legit.”
But more than legitimacy, there is a sense that the artist’s naturalist status is a way for her to reconcile science with intuition, recognition with use.
These newest pieces are made using non-toxic materials in an effort to mitigate the impact of her own studio practice on the health of the natural world, as well as her own. The huge Red Pearl River drawings are executed in charcoal, graphite, and gesso on repurposed chinoiserie fabric. With these tools, she creates pieces that look as if they might illustrate Joseph Campbell’s theses, while acknowledging imperialism and colonialism. Red Pearl River takes it name from powerful words and symbols that resonate deeply with the artist. Red is an acronym for: “redirecting my energy daily,” she explains with a small smile that hints at the energy and focus required to be an artist. “I see the pearl as a symbol of the union of opposites, and as a bridge between the land and the sea,” she says, “because oysters clean water and provide foundational structure for the estuary [which is also] a habitat for ninety percent of baby fish.”
Article written by Madeleine Peck Wagner