Outside the gallery world, graffiti is a common visual expression of youthful exuberance. Its isolated, calligraphic intensity is just like the young person who made it—demanding the recognition of personal self-expression, context be damned. That same reckless and almost unbearable intensity can be found in the first Chicago solo exhibition of Sarah Sohn, a recent MFA graduate from SAIC. Her brushwork is calligraphic, with a single, ornate character smack in the middle of a blank canvas, overwhelming the edges. But the aggressiveness is quite different. It’s less like the angry waving of an arm than the healthy, happy, slithering convolutions of an intestinal tract. The results are a bit disgusting, but her bravura brushwork is so suggestive and translucent, you can’t stop following it. It’s the love song of the inner organs. Reflecting her recent academic experience, she also presents a series of color variations on the same form, much like the red-yellow-blue variants one might find in a bag of gumdrops. But it’s her stand-alone pieces that compel the most attention. The current show also offers a gallery of her drawings, variations on the same kind of calligraphic/organic theme, though more like the inner workings of cellular biology. To be completely surrounded by this intense, erupting work on all four walls made me quietly scream. This show is not for the faint-hearted, or those who come to art for the delectation of beauty away from the hectic world. This is the hectic world, the hectic inner world that keeps us all alive, and it is good to be reminded of that. But isn’t that what we share with earthworms and mosquitoes? Don’t we want art to show us what is distinctively and wonderfully human? Apparently, the artist is preparing to go in a new, more narrative, perhaps even mythic direction following her recent study of Kathakali dance forms in the eccentric southwest coastal state of Kerala, India. She is definitely an artist worth following. (Chris Miller)
Through October 19 at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, 325 West Huron.