In Conversation with Sophia Narrett: The Unabashed Erotic Embroidery Artist
I first encountered Sophia Narrett’s work when I met her during her residency at the Museum of Arts and Design in 2016. I was both fascinated and impressed by her erotic embroidery, and from that moment I made sure to try and see her work whenever possible. I recently had the pleasure of conversing with the Brooklyn-based artist about her recent work on view at SPRING/BREAK Art Show, her personal history with erotic embroidery, and her upcoming solo exhibition Certain Magic that opens at BRIC on May 11.
Alexandria Deters: You recently exhibited at SPRING/BREAK with Marie Salomé Peyronnel for a second time, can you tell me more about the work you a showed this year?
Sophia Narrett: Right Before is one of the most involved works I have made, I worked on it for about eight months. I meant for the characters and scene to describe various aspects of one romantic relationship. I also showed a single rose, and a scene where two figures are helping a nude woman begin to climb a tree stand (See You in Hell). In a smaller piece I called Pretty, a woman wearing something between a wedding dress and lingerie is lying on a pink and red carpet. Her pose implies a specific power dynamic: she is an object of desire, she’s on the floor. There is humor in the over-the-topness of it, but as with most jokes there is something serious there too.
You received your MFA in Painting at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014, but are primarily known as a textile artist. What originally drew you to embroidery and has your background in painting influenced your work?
I found my way to embroidery by chance. I had some thread in my studio that I was using for sculptural experiments on the side of my painting practice. One day I tried doing a simple drawing in the thread, and from there I was obsessed. Over time embroidery solved a lot of the formal problems I had in painting, and came to be the most authentic way for me to express my narratives.
Coming from a painting background, I have always understood my work in the context of the history of figure painting, and in the world of images more generally. I was already working almost exclusively in embroidery by the time I went to RISD, but I knew I wanted to study in a painting department for my MFA. I love that the question of how the medium can communicate the content is a constant in the painting dialogue.
"Over time embroidery solved a lot of the formal problems I had in painting, and came to be the most authentic way for me to express my narratives."
One of the things I love about your work is it's unapologetic sexual subject matter. Have you always been interested in erotic art? Where does that inspiration come from?
My work has always been about love. To truly connect with another person is the deepest way to transcend isolation and pain. Sex can be a physical way of experiencing this (or in art, a visual way of depicting it). Most of the figures in my work are meant to symbolize a feeling. In Right Before, I think of the circle of women as a metaphor, they are meant to represent ultimate joy and pleasure.
The work that interests me most does often tend to be narrative and erotic in some way. I’m fascinated by other people’s relationships to fantasy. I find it compelling when a work exudes a spirit of vulnerability, strangeness, and generosity.
"The work that interests me most does often tend to be narrative and erotic in some way. I’m fascinated by other people’s relationships to fantasy. I find it compelling when a work exudes a spirit of vulnerability, strangeness, and generosity."
You are one of my biggest embroidery artists inspiration/heroes and your work has had such a wonderful impact on my practice. Who are some female artists that inspired you?
Thank you that means a lot! Lisa Yuskavage is one of my favorite artists. It’s hard to put into words how much I love her work. It can be sad, sexy, funny, and beautiful all at once. Her images are wonderfully haunting, paintings like Figure in Interior (2008) and Mardi Gras Honeymoon (2015) have stayed with me. Angela Dufresne, who I was lucky to work with at RISD, is another favorite painter. I also love the emotion and materiality in Allison Schulnik’s work.
Your latest solo exhibition Certain Magic opens at BRIC on May 11th. Can you expand on the theme of the show and what we should expect to see?
As in Right Before, the characters throughout the images add up to a story about one version of intimacy. The narrative considers romance as both a mode of escapism and a way to share experiences. While this is about a genuine connection, there are also situations where things go wrong. Menacing figures depict the element of risk, the lurking possibility of manipulation or confusion. This toxicity is inseparable from the joy, both elements define the dynamic I’m describing. A laughing woman comes up from underground to witness an intimate moment occurring on a Twister game spray painted into the grass; there is a basement with tie-dye wallpaper, and several playful encounters in backyards. Play and indulgence shape the interactions as much as need and devotion do.
You can follow Sophia Narrett on Instagram @sophianarrett