Simchowitz gallery is pleased to present Ode To, an exhibition of paintings by the New Mexico-based artist, Boramie Sao (b. 1990, Long Beach CA). The title could be defined as a lyric poem, or tribute to a person, place or thing; and yet it also underscores the importance of place within Sao's work, especially within the context of place as being something more sensed than understood—that indistinct region of awareness that cannot be so easily defined. For Sao, who is a first generation Cambodian-American, that ambiguity has been essential to her artistic practice.
The exhibition features over a dozen paintings, works on paper and poems penned by the artist, which were made between the years 2020-2023. Sao moved to Taos, New Mexico in 2020, which provided a great deal of inspiration for the works. 'Taos holds space for those who are willing to work for it,' she says. 'It isn't for everyone, but it really spoke to me in a way that I can't even describe. The land is so open, the colors are so soft, and yet there's an intensity and harshness too.'
Sao, who works almost exclusively from small pastel sketches, uses a combination of free-flowing, organic shapes with a spare-but-measured symmetry to create a curious tension between the suggestion of recognisable images and outright abstraction. While they clearly reflect the exteriors of New Mexico, with a desert-hued palette and soft forms, they also suggest something more—an interiority and self-containment. Some of her titles might suggest narrative tropes or figures (i.e. Propinquity, Second Skin, Drifter's Story), yet ultimately the work itself moves toward a meaning that can only be sensed or felt. Their soft, undulating forms, each playing off the other in ways that leave out more than they leave in, and the knotty questions they raise, often point at something that feels more like the artist's state of mind. 'I can look at each painting and know exactly where my head was at when I made it,' she claims. 'There are shapes that reoccur and symbolise certain things to me, but I don't always need the viewer to know that. And there are shapes that disappear too, shapes that I don't see again for a very long time.'
Ultimately, Sao sees each painting as a form of meditation that 'seeks its own truth' as she explains. The diptych, Dark Night of the Soul (2022), for instance, which is composed of two abstractions, one light and one dark—each being the mirror image of the other—is a work that depicts an array of curvilinear, globular forms that seem to be working against each other, while being in the process of coming. 'For me that piece is about transformation and movement,' says the artist, who was born on a full moon, and whose first name translates to 'full moon' in Khmer. 'You have to move through the darkness to get to the light, and that is something that I relate to for obvious reasons.' Indeed, Sao's family has its own share of darkness. During the late 1970s, Pol Pot's Communist regime was killing millions in their home country—many targeted victims included intellectuals, artists, teachers, musicians, doctors and the like. Sao's family found refuge in the US, first landing in Texas in 1980, then Arizona and finally, Long Beach, California—where the largest and oldest Cambodian community in the nation resides. And while ancestral traumas can be very real and relevant, she purposely circumvents them in her own work. 'That history has played a big part in who I am,' she confesses. 'And it might not be obvious in my work, but I know it's there.'
Boramie Sao is a self-taught Cambodian American artist from Long Beach, California, currently residing in Taos, New Mexico. Her work often reflects upon the challenging landscapes of the high desert, and its natural beauty, which often translate to quiet, serene artworks of undulating forms, soft colours and allusions to figuration. Her shapes and colours are designed to tell stories in subtle, interpretive ways, which are occasionally reflected in her titles. These beguiling artworks are ultimately reflections of the artist's state of mind, her search for truth, and an almost sensuous calmness of being. 'Ode To' is Soa's first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. Prior to that she exhibited at the Revolt Gallery in Toas New Mexico in 2021.
Press release courtesy Simchowitz Gallery.