Sara Twomey is an abstract expressionist artist http://saratwomey.com/ who lives in London, England. This particular interview is almost a textbook example of the creative process of artists and what they go through to create their art. Sara is a young artist who brilliantly articulates her process and what it means to her.
“Lots of people do think it’s easy; a child can do that, their five-year-old can do better than that! But yes, anyone can put paint on a canvas, but does that make it a painting?”
MICHAEL: Hi Sara, You're an abstract expressionist painter and I even like your abstracted cityscapes. What inspires you about abstraction? As you know, so many people think that it's easy!
SARA: Abstraction makes me feel like I'm completely lost somewhere and through painting, I am piecing together a code or a perfectly logical language, but only one I understand. It's always contradictory. I have no idea where the painting is going or taking me and at the same time, I feel certain it's right. So, allowing the painting to develop as a dialogue between me and it. I have to give in to it. Once I give into its crazy logic, the painting process quickens and I get from A to B fast. But throughout the process, there are so many unexpected walls and pitfalls of despair. It’s as if I’ve reached the limit of something, whether that's my own knowledge or the limit of a colour or a hidden structure, then an all out fight starts! Then I start to show that canvas who’s in charge and just when I think I’ve kicked its ass, the painting kicks my head in. It's always wanting me to go beyond what I know or push me over the edge or just teetering on the edge! I love how it can do that, nothing else makes me feel so alive!
The Cityscapes are early works. It's the Cityscapes that got me to abstraction. It was a natural breaking down of recognizable structures and a reduction of information. Before the Cityscapes, I painted very realist works, then after a few years, I naturally fell toward semi-abstract cityscapes as I had an obsession with the repetition of the shapes and structure. I knew I could use this as a simplified language, then after a few years of that, I found I didn't want to copy or have a plan or anything. I was happiest free falling, no rules.
Lots of people do think it’s easy; a child can do that, their five-year-old can do better than that! But yes, anyone can put paint on a canvas, but does that make it a painting? And in a sense, I think people are responding to the simplified pictorial language and the ease and freedom of the paint. They don't see what an artist has done and gone through over the years to break down the language of recognizable forms. It's why a child can paint something so playfully, because they haven't been taught the rules. Meanwhile, all I can do is try and forget the rules of painting or at least break them.
MICHAEL: I find it so interesting that people think they can understand an artist through their work when the artists themselves were trying to figure things out. What do you think about this?
SARA: The viewer sees a complete, finished painting in front of them. That's great for someone to have the finished thing. It’s a whole, a finished equation. Yet it doesn't reveal its history or its process that's hidden almost within the painting. But there may be a universal truth within the work that resonates with the viewer, regardless of who painted it.
But that's just one painting. For those people intent on really getting to know the artist, they would look at a body of work produced over a period of time. Then they may see reoccurring marks that are similar throughout each painting. This may be a clue to the artist or person.
MICHAEL: And so, what do you see about yourself when you look at your body of work thus far? What are you saying through your work?
SARA: When I look at my body of work, I see one failed attempt after another. I see each piece not as a finished product, more of a canvas that holds a space where I learned how the material of paint looks and feels and how it behaves when one color is mixed and placed next to another.
I can't help but be critical of the work, I look at them to learn, not as something to admire; they are full of faults and I can't rest until I get the paint to do what I want! So more experimenting is always needed! Each painting is a step closer to achieving this, but it always eludes me and I just want to get the painting I’ve just finished out of my way and get started on the next painting where the learning process can begin again.
I also think I'm dealing with something about light. And structure. But as well as light being captured in the way I handle the painting, I'm also exploring the way the light within the room plays with the surface of the material of the painting. I know I am dealing with loss and the everyday, nothing spectacular, just the human condition.
MICHAEL: Are you in London? How does the city influence you? Or does it?
SARA: Yes, I'm in London. I grew up in Dagenham and it was there I found repetition in the tower blocks, the houses. Things are very generic, the same. Now I find the city has places I know I will be influenced by; there is abstraction everywhere. I work a lot in the Docklands and it's a city full of repetition and material of glass, metal and built on the river. There is so much reflection playing off the surfaces in that part of London. I want to paint this into large abstract paintings!
MICHAEL: Wow. I can't wait to see those paintings! What's the art world like in London? Here in America, the art world is really confined to a few cities like New York, LA, Miami, etc., and the art world is a small niche here. Do Britons appreciate and understand contemporary art? Are you part of the art scene? Are people buying art there?
SARA: The art world in London is absolutely alive and kicking! London has hot spots with lots of artists. One is in the east end of London in places like Brick Lane. That's where the cutting edge is, but it's also where the posers are, as well as some world famous artists and anything new and importance is also placed on being the latest thing or the trendiest. It's a brilliant and fabulous place to go to look at exhibitions of new painters. Yet I’ve heard the centre is shifting to the west end of London.
Even though I attempt now and then to get out there, in that elusive art world, I get the feeling it's unreachable for me; it's for the other artists. It can feel so elitist and I can't stand that. I have to just keep painting because I'm never gonna be the latest or the trendiest artist, but I am a painter who has seen many natural shifts that have pushed my painting forward and that doesn't happen overnight; it's a long, drawn out, painful process and it takes years and years. I just have to keep focused on my practice. But that's difficult as I don't have a studio at the moment.
MICHAEL: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
SARA: I’ve started putting group shows together and looking for empty shops to exhibit in. And I’ve made a logo for a virtual gallery of other artists work. I'm starting to put this together and have a small group of women painters who have started to form a new gallery that represents them.
Yes and no, Britons are appreciative of art, whether they understand it or not. I have found it’s a frustrating experience to hear if someone dismisses a work because it looks like a child has painted it. But they always seem to be impressed with highly-detailed recognizable paintings. That drives me mad! That's when painting is not a painting, it's really a slavishly copied image and the act of painting is absent.
I'm not sure if people are buying art. I have run into a lot of painters all of whom are struggling to survive and keep their practice going. Maybe it's going great at the high end of the market, but from my perspective, it's a relentless slog just to get a few hundred pounds!
MICHAEL: Absolutely. So why do you keep painting? Maybe you can go to business school or become a doctor or lawyer, No? Why continue to be an artist?
SARA: I don't know why I keep painting. Maybe it’s because I can't stop and I’m always wanting to work out how to make another painting and it’s obsessive. So having a job really gets in the way! And nothing else compares to it or comes close to making me feel like I do when I’m fully engaged in a painting. Even when I’m away from the painting, I'm thinking about it. I must think of colour most of the day and I want to understand it more and more. So, a couple of decades and I’m a bit closer to understanding painting and colour. I’m aware that having a real job would give me security, because I’ve had them, but I keep getting my career going and feeling secure in my 9 to 5 and then I suddenly find I’ve been made redundant … again! So what I’m losing is a false sense of security, but what painting gives me is a whole way of life, a life I want to live and that’s my daily mission. What can I do in order to ensure I can paint some more!
Me, as a doctor or a lawyer? Hahaha! It’s never going to happen, continue with this pointless task. I wish I knew why I think it’s the most important thing in my life, I have no idea why.
MICHAEL: Where do you think your talent comes from? Do you come from a family of artists?
SARA: No one in my family does art, nothing, not my immediate family. I come from a working class family. But growing up, I used to be always interested in a painting a bunch of flowers in our living room. The colours were very bright and t was the only ‘real’ painting in the house. And it was the most beautiful thing. That is where I learned about painting.
Even though my mum and dad weren’t artists, they both were full-on wild characters. My dad worked at Fords in Dagenham, but before that, he sailed around the world three times with the merchant navy. He was always telling us stories of the sea and his adventures. My mum used to say it’s amazing how his stories could take her all around the world and she never left the living room. So it’s the imagination I am hoping to have in my paintings.
MICHAEL: Finally Sara, why do you think art is so important? Most people never really even think about art.
SARA: Art is so important. It has saved my life again and again. My life has no point if it hasn't got art in it. It’s always the one thing I go to that puts my mind where I want it to be. It keeps me sane and insane!
MICHAEL: Thanks Sara. This has been a very cool chat.
SARA: Thank you so much for asking me to do this. It's really good you did. Many thanks. It's been great!
Check out Sara Twomey at http://saratwomey.com/.