Art Star: Sara Cwynar

Our inaugural Art Star, Sara Cwynar, turns junk shop finds into phenomenal photos

New work from her 2013 Darkroom Manuals series: "Metals and Tanks"; "Two Minutes"; "Pour"

Cwynar tells us she styles her locks with Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray, $30


Sara Cwynar is blessed with the gift of arrangement. The Vancouver-born, New York–based 27-year-old sped up the ladder in the graphic design world to get a job at the The New York Times Magazine (along with Bloomberg Businessweek, one of the most coveted spots for a designer) because of her talent at re-seeing and rearranging the familiar parts (headline, subhead, story, photo) into a fresh, make- you-double-take new whole. This past April, she quit to work on her art full-time—“I was installing shows on my vacation,” she says—and the fruits of her decision are on view at a Cooper Cole Gallery solo show in Toronto (Sept. 5–28).

As the title of one of her two books, Kitsch Encyclopedia, suggests, Cwynar is a collector of everyday objects. But, as with her graphic design magic, by reordering the obsolete and ordinary into colour coordinated groupings, she makes it extraordinary. Toy basketballs, thread spools and remote controls, in rich hues of lemon yellow, tropical green or poppy red, became colour-field mirages that make the viewer suspect the items have been spray-painted, or the photos retouched. Plastic figures frequently, like razors or bingo coins. “I’ve always been attracted to the myriad ways that colours are simulated,” she says. “Roland Barthes [describes] in a Mythologies essay how plastic never manages to simulate natural colour; it always fails, and has a distinct, particular plastic-y quality. I think it’s beautiful, this continued failure to accurately represent nature.”

"Color Studies- Red" (2012)

“Color Studies- Red” (2012)

Cwynar, who has also had images in the Museum of Modern Art and FOAM Photography Museum in Amsterdam, works away in her studio until the mess is prodigious—art supplies spill from under her bed into hallways and burst from cupboards and drawers. Pennies, plastic peaches, elastic bands and other ephemera are collected from her parents’ basement, eBay, flea markets and random neighbourhood junk shops: “The dollar stores here are just monumental.” At least 100 objects, from blue plastic forks to red candles, go into one colossal 3D bouquet she constructed and photographed for her new show. She also plays with reconfiguring pages from photo manuals from the ’50s to the ’90s, asking us to remember and value the discarded analogue process and, by extension, that old version of life itself, which, perhaps, like nature, we can’t capture, much as we try.

Sara’s Favourite Things


1. Sculptor: Letha Wilson photo-sculptures combine images of the American West with industrial materials.


2. Designer A.P.C. “It feels fresh, but you can wear pieces that are 10 years old.” Denim shorts, $190, apc.fr.

2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival - Day 3

3. Fashion Inspiration “Grimes’s wacky style. She does whatever she wants; it’s inspiring.”

Picture 002

4. Accessory “I switch out my Filson bag every few years, but I really like them a bit beat up.” Backpack, $295, Alibi Boutique, Montreal.


5. Colour “I like collecting pink things simply because they’re ‘women’s products.’ It’s absurd that pink still manifests itself in so many different ways in consumer products aimed at women.”