"‘Experimental’ is a good one. I like ‘Materiality’ as I think that’s a common thread through all my work and finally ‘Female’ because everything comes from my experience."
First of all. Sara, if you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?
I feel slightly overwhelmed by that question. I actually find my own practice like a dance... I paint and draw and weave and sew and knit and pivot from one to the other. So maybe ‘Experimental’ is a good one.
I like ‘Materiality’ as I think that’s a common thread through all my work and finally ‘Female’ because everything comes from my experience.
You changed career, from a designer to an artist. Tell us about this time?
I started my brand in the 90’s which was a very particular moment in fashion. It was incredibly free and experimental. After the crash of 2008 the landscape of the fashion industry was very different. By 2012 I was really done and felt I had an opportunity to get out. I felt guilty about this as i had a solid business but I also couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life in an industry I felt was becoming increasingly narrow and uninteresting. So I applied to Slade and by an utter miracle I got in.
Tell me about your studio? What is it like, what is your daily routine?
Well my studio is in Kilburn - a large industrial space and I love it - despite it being freezing all year round. I am pretty regimented, a left over from running a business I think. I have 3 kids and after dropping them at school and having a quick swim in the Highgate Ponds (even when it snows- especially when it snows!) I would go to the studio around 10 and stay all day until 5 or 6 or even 7.
I always prided myself on this very strict regime but Covid and lockdown has changed things for me. In the past I never worked on paintings at home and I generally didn’t work at night (despite it being the best time for me) as I felt I should always get home to be with the kids. Since lockdown I have been painting and making from our sitting room and I surprised myself by finding it very productive. There is something about being in the home that seems to imbibe the work with the complexity of domestic life. It feels wild that after years of exploring the female body in the domestic space I have only just realised the value of making the work in that space.
Also the opportunity to work into the night is much more easily realised if I sometimes work from home. So I am not sure how things will work when we come out of this period of time. I am also not sure how I will feel about the work I have made throughout. It may feel exciting now only for its lustre to fade with hindsight.
Where/ who do you draw inspiration from?
I am pretty open and steal stuff all the time. I am very interested in clothing and textiles. I collect strange garments- often with a historic )and often restrictive) element such as straitjackets, stockings, workshirts, collars. I collect vintage linen sheeting from institutions (hospitals, schools, religious institutions, domestic institutions) and use them as the supports for my paintings. I guess there is a pattern of considering restriction. The domestic and the female body seems to snag me again and again whether it be the interior setting or objects, clothing and textiles associated with the home or domestic work. Craft and so-called domestic craft interests me as well as everyday object which have been elevated through high design or commerce.
How do you think this inspiration comes out in your work? I know one of your tutors for your MFA was Lisa Milroy?
I don’t know that I am best placed to say how effective my work is in conveying my explorations. I am so close to it.
Lisa was my tutor and now I would call her a friend. I was always a fan of her work and she was a major draw in my choosing Slade for my MFA. She was a brilliant tutor for me but it is more now, in a friendship (where I doubt either of us think much about that old student/tutor dynamic) - that our shared interests provide enjoyment and inspiration.
Talk to us a bit about your process, Sara, I understand you also create ink drawings, and collage?
I think of myself as a maker and my practice swings from painting to textile based sculpture encompassing weaving, knitting, collage, drawing and assemblage. Essentially I am interested in materiality and how I can explore that language. I used to be slightly concerned by my own inability to connect my various interests in a straight line that would define my practice but as the years go by and I circle around these various ways of exploration I feel less inclined to attempt such definitions. My background in fashion means that I have a deep sensitivity to the semiotics of clothing and the body and this language informs all my work.
I am relaxed about allowing the pivot from medium to medium as I believe in trusting the process.
"I am very attracted to rules and boundaries in my work. I use them to question my decision making and hold the work in place whilst I attempt to push in other directions."
Tell us a bit about the space and shape that occupies your work? There is often the boardgames like grid patter, harlequin symbols and there is often this fabulous geometric pattern in the background?
The harlequin motif came from an attempt to deal with clothing again. In the aftermath of closing my business and embarking on my MFA I didn’t feel able to address clothing in my work. It felt too loaded at a time when I hadn’t reconciled my position.
I was looking at Picasso’s Seated Harlequin at the Met and in doing a little light research I found that when a man takes the role of Arlecchino he becomes the jester but when taken by a woman she becomes the ‘trickster whore’. I felt this was a good place to start with readdressing clothing. Over time that appropriation shifted and morphed into a sort of abstracted motif in the work and more recently I realised I was using it as a grid system or way in and out of abstractions.
I am very attracted to rules and boundaries in my work. I use them to question my decision making and hold the work in place whilst I attempt to push in other directions.
I know you have a fantastic relationship with colour. It is so evident in your finished works. Tell us a bit about colour, about Pantone, and about your palette?
I enjoy colour and my palette goes through fairly uninhibited phases. It is just another game to engage in with rules to break and remake.
What memorable responses have you had to your work? And which artwork would you like people to remember you for?
My best responses come from experiences of real engagement where I discover something about the work through the eyes of someone else.
My ego is pretty enormous when it comes to my work so being remembered for adding something to the lexicon of making would justify my efforts. Maybe. A bit.
What do you hope your work says?
Today am curious. I am confused and fascinated by my female body. I want to climb inside the work and figure it from the inside out. I am an archeologist.
Tomorrow I might want my work to say something else. I might even want it to shut up!
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working in my typically circular fashion. I have a couple of paintings I am making (a process which involves selecting and sewing the supports), I have a weaving on the go and I have just started collecting and preparing for a new textile work.
What would be your dream project?
I don’t have one. I am a big believer in grabbing opportunities when they happen and I do enjoy moving outside my comfort zone to collaborate or create something unexpected. I am very aware of the privilege of being in a position to keep making at this time.
Favourite historical female artist?
Impossible question! But if pushed can give 3....
Alice Neel, Anni Albers and Eva Hesse. But what about Helen Frankenthaler? And all the other giantesses?
Favourite current practicing female artist?
Again 3 ... Nicola Tyson, Sheila Hicks, Tachabalala Self ... but soooo many more in reality.
Who should She Curates interview next?
I would love to learn more about the work of Alexandra Bircken.