In viewing the exhibition currently housed by the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center gallery, audiences have the opportunity not only to admire art, but also to take part in the artistic process itself. “This is a Life Worth Living,” a collection of pieces by Rhode Island-based artist and Brown alum Sarah Jane Lapp ’94, features 15 paintings and two jigsaw puzzles— the latter of which audiences are encouraged to assemble, disassemble and reassemble together.
The collection of paintings in the gallery span a variety of sizes, colors and styles. Some are visually complex, with layer upon layer of acrylic or gouache; others are more visually straightforward but equally as thematically nuanced — such as “Today’s Sliding Scale Price Menu,” a simple checklist written in ink. Two paintings, “Aquatica” and “Mumma’s Big Green Heart,” are accompanied by a puzzle version of the work.
The exhibition’s namesake, “This is a Life Worth Living,” sits against the far wall of one of the gallery rooms. The large, vibrant painting was finished in 2013 and “launched my puzzle project,” Lapp said. “That painting was a big turning point in my practice as an artist.”
While undergoing physical therapy and confined to relative inactivity in southeast Massachusetts, she decided to rent a puzzle from the local library. This puzzle not only helped Lapp eventually finish the painting, which, up until that point, had been an ongoing project, but also inspired her to begin making puzzles out of her work.
The puzzle “really changed my life. I wasn’t really a jigsaw person as a kid, but this experience of slowly assembling something in an incremental fashion was very therapeutic,” Lapp said. “I noticed that (medical spaces) were often bereft of anything of beauty or interest, … and I thought it’d be really nice to have a creative, meditative activity in this context.’” Lapp added. This idea evolved into “the puzzle project.” Eleven of the artist’s works are now available in jigsaw form, and Lapp has helped initiate a number of projects in their wake. For example, Lapp now provides puzzles to the Miriam Hospital oncology unit for patients to put together when getting infusions. “For me, that’s a rewarding relationship — to find spaces where the puzzles expedite feeling and communal action,” Lapp said.
Lapp’s exhibition, which will be on display through Sept. 15, supplements a current shift in the curating process at the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center. In the past, a designated gallery board would make formal calls for art and choose which artist to feature from among the submissions. “What we found was happening was that a lot of the artists selected weren’t from around here,” said Felicia Salinas-Moniz MA’06 PhD ’13, who helped curate the exhibit. “(So) this year we’re trying something different.” Instead of issuing a call for submissions, gallery coordinators have been reaching out to artists from within the local community. “I really enjoyed seeing how folks come together and collectively try to put the art together. ... The act of creating the puzzle becomes also an art piece. It’s an idea that I think really works well in a university community,” Salinas-Moniz said.
The curators also found Lapp’s puzzles to be an exploration of playfulness, fitting for the start of the school year. “One of the things I appreciate about (Lapp’s) work is that she’s delving into really difficult issues, but there’s a playfulness in puzzlemaking,” Salinas-Moniz said. “I think at the beginning of a … school year, having that playfulness and hope is a good way to start.”