Sarah Hobbs is a talented artist who lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia. She creates stunning installations http://sarahhobbs.net/ and photographs and her work is highly-conceptual yet human. I wanted to find out what goes through her mind and heart while she works. Here’s our cool chat …
“… With exceptions, there are ups and downs to most everyone’s careers, times when your work is being shown and discussed and times when the phone never rings. But I am always present, going to openings and art fairs, to see what other artists are doing, keeping in touch. If I didn't, I would feel lost ...”
MICHAEL: Hi Sarah, Okay, wait. After looking at your website, I'm trying to even formulate my first question. Looking at your installations, I get the sense that because you are dealing with big and sometimes “unseeable” issues in the lives of individuals, there's no real way that you could really capture these things on canvas or in a drawing. Your expression really had to exist in a real or actual, human space (also called, a "room" LOL) so that we can really understand the impact of these things on our lives. Am I making sense?
SARAH: Hi Michael! That's exactly right. To further this point, the images are 4' x 5' so the viewer can feel as if they are stepping into the space. The setting places the scene in reality, but the situation created is an exaggeration. The space represents a thought process, a feeling or a subconscious drive. The materials are of an everyday variety, objects we recognize and use in our daily lives, but they are utilized to excess in the work in order to charge the space psychologically.
MICHAEL: How is it that a created space that's essentially an imitation or representation of life can get us to thinking about our lives when all we have to do is just look at our real lives and ... just think?
SARAH: It's a representation of the part of life that people don't tend to want to think about or examine on a regular basis. Introspection tends to be an uncomfortable practice. One of my goals is to bring that to the forefront and reveal a sense that one is not alone with their shortcomings. It's interesting to think about a gallery space full of people who may all be taking a look inward at the same time. It sparks great conversations, often personal ones.
MICHAEL: It certainly does which I think is great. Walk me through your process of creating a work of art and/or installation. Obviously, a concept or thought comes to mind and then, do you think about materials or real-world things to bring the idea into concrete reality? How do you go from inspiration to standing in front of something you've created?
SARAH: In the early days of creating this work, I always began with a concept. I researched phobias and neuroses, made long lists of them, and from there I conceived of the visuals. The materials would come next and then the space.
That worked well for quite a while, but at some point, I realized I was being too rigid, so I let things happen more organically. By that I mean that sometimes the space is the impetus or I may find an object that is interesting and that will set work into motion.
I try to be open to inspiration all the time. It can come from anywhere: shopping, movies, stories people tell me, books. For example, I have had the image of Miss Havisham's rotting wedding cake from the Charles Dickens classic, “Great Expectations” in my head for years. I am just now working on a photograph that, while quite different from the source, is inspired by that. It has taken me a long time to figure out how to employ that, but I finally hit on it.
MICHAEL: I totally understand. My writing process works that way.
SARAH: With the site-specific installations, the space usually comes first, primarily because the concept of the work is inherently tied to the space. When I created a set of installations in four units of a self-storage facility, each of the concepts had to do with someone storing items that they would not want anyone to find kept in their home. It was important to the idea that the place be a place in which one's secret could be safely kept. Self-storage facilities can be anonymous, cold and nondescript. That added to the overall feeling of the work.
For each piece, there is first a lot of hunting and gathering and sometimes making things such as in the case of the piece Untitled (Voluntary Mental Facility) in which I made over 500 God's Eyes. After that comes the setting up, which can take anywhere from a day to several weeks. In the case of a photograph, then comes the fast click of the shutter and it's all finished, except for the printing.
MICHAEL: Installations and photography are two different genres, but photos of installations travel much easier than installations themselves which must be assembled, taken apart for travel and reassembled at the exhibition site. That said, isn't it still better for people to see the actual installation on site rather than a photograph of it? OR ... Are the photographs more about the artistry behind the photo and thus, they're just as valid?
SARAH: For the most part, the photographs take place in specific domestic spaces, which so far have been impossible to recreate in a gallery or museum setting. It would also be impossible to have viewers visit seven different, and often far apart, spaces in homes. The impact is greater when the images are together. In the images, the feel of the rest of the space would not add to the concept. In the installations, there is an importance placed on other senses; hearing, touch, smell, the temperature of the space, the movement of the work created by an air vent, etc., that need not be in the photographs.
MICHAEL: When did you first realize that you liked art and that you would become an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?
SARAH: When I was a child, I always had a generous supply of art materials. I hardly used them because I liked looking at them in their pristine state and because I was not sure how I wanted to use them. I arranged and rearranged my box of 64 crayolas dozens of times, but hardly ever wore down their points. Both of my grandfathers had cameras. One was a hobbyist and the other had a Polaroid SX-70. It's a good thing because if not for them there would be no photos of my sister and me as my parents did not own a camera and still to this day don't know how to operate one sufficiently. I grew to love photography through them.
When I was a little older, I recall watching a movie with my mother in which the characters were in the Art Institute of Chicago. The film cut to several paintings and my mother named the artist and title of each. It amazed me that she knew all of that, so much so that I decided I needed to know how she knew. Thus my love of art history began.
It wasn't until I was in college, majoring in art history and taking photography classes, that I put my love of materials, the act of photography and art together, and figured out that I needed to explore my ideas and find my voice.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world and the art market and how they function? Do they make sense to you? Do you feel part of the art world or separate from it?
SARAH: Sigh. I don't know of any artist who is thrilled with how they function. The art world in terms of museums and galleries can be tough. Having a gallery represent you, being happy with that relationship, having shows in museums, gaining recognition - all of this is challenging. It is very much about who you know, but it is also very much about luck. The work is hopefully good if one has those two things. There are so many extremely talented artists who never get the recognition they deserve.
The art market is certainly a source of frustration. The practice of art and the selling of art are diametrically opposed. It is a necessary evil for artists as one needs to sell work to continue making work, but artists have no control over the market. One year emerging artists' work is selling like crazy and the next, collectors only want to buy established artists' work at auction.
Then, there is the concept of buying art solely as an investment. Knowing that your artwork is increasing in value is nice, but at the same time, knowing that it was not purchased because it didn’t speak to the buyer is deflating.
I work really hard at being a good business person and understanding all of this, but it is not a joyful part of being an artist. What is joyful, in addition to making work that feels successful, is the relationships with other artists, gallerists, curators and critics that I have cultivated over the years. When you get past the “who is showing your work” type questions, the conversations get deeper, get to the heart of work and the work of others. Then what you have is a community. This is what makes sense to me. The rest is just noise.
MICHAEL: I understand.
SARAH: I feel a part of the art world most of the time. Not at the highest levels, of course, but there are many parts of this world. With exceptions, there are ups and downs to most everyone’s careers, times when your work is being shown and discussed and times when the phone never rings. But I am always present, going to openings and art fairs, to see what other artists are doing, keeping in touch. If I didn't, I would feel lost.
MICHAEL: Finally Sarah, given all of this, what's the point of art? I mean, most people on earth won't ever even visit an art gallery let alone buy art. So what's the point?
SARAH: The point is that someone will see it, even if it is one person, and will be changed by it, even in a minuscule way. To be an artist is to be open to a life and a world that is utterly confusing, confounding and bizarre and to feel it, process it, try to make sense of it and find a beauty in it, then put something back into the world, a way of interpreting it, that has not been seen before.
MICHAEL: Yes indeed. Thank you Sarah. Lovely chat.
SARAH: Thank you, Michael. It was a pleasure!
Check out Sarah Hobbs at http://sarahhobbs.net/.