Monday, May 28, 2007

Art Space Talk: Michael Kalki

I was introduced to the art of Michael Kalki while interviewing Jan Wentrup- owner of the Galerie Jan Wentrup (

Mr. Kalki is known for his expressive paintings that involve the relationships of individuals and their combined relationship to the world. Kalki's paintings reveal a world that is socially unconnected. Fragments of bodies and personalities collide within the context of dream-like landscapes. His work conveys a lack of interpersonal communication and the breakdown of society- a conflict between the human condition and the technology of the modern world.

Brian Sherwin: Michael, When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

Michael Kalki: I can’t remember when it wasn’t important.

BS: How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

MK: An artwork is "social" in the sense that it needs ( or it exists with...) the viewer, audience. And I think influences go in both ways, as the art reflects society and is part of public interest.

BS: Would you say that these fragmented forms are a reflection of how you view society?

MK: I would say that among other things my paintings have something to do with our life.

BS: So what is the meaning behind it- the fragmented figures? Can you go into further detail?

MK: Other things on my paitings are fragmented too. It has to do with what I want to show and what I don’t want to show. In such way as I paint a special expression of a face. And I’m only interested in this expression and not the whole figure. Distortion is one possibility of appearance and it’s a kind of exaggeration which leads to caricature There is no connection between the fragmented parts on the painting. It’s an encounter of fragments from various realities.

BS: Do you see contemporary society as fragmented... distorted.... as in we allow too many complications to occur in our daily lives?

MK: Yes and it’s beautiful.

BS: Is it your hope that people will see the imperfections of your figures- in their fragmented state- in order to reflect on their own lives?

MK: I don’t see imperfections in my paitings.

BS: In other words, are your paintings a message about 'finding identity'?
MK: It’s more about loosing identity than finding it. But of course I would appreciate it, if my work would have an impact in someone’s life.

BS: Are you influenced by Dada? The fragmented figures and dream-like landscapes remind me of some of the work created by German Dadaist.

MK: I like Max Ernst and John Heartfield.

BS: What other German artists or art movements have influenced your work?

MK: Cranach, Dürer, C.D. Friedrich, Holbein,

BS: On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

MK: I can’t say, it’s always different.

BS: Can you share some more of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

MK: Art should be "beautiful" and make you think.

BS: What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

MK: Every exhibition is important, but the first gallery show was of course a unique experience.

BS: Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

MK: No ritual, but Schnitzel and Kaiserschmarrn in one special restaurant close to my studio helps to get a good mood.

BS: Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

MK: I graduated at „Kunstakademie Düsseldorf", Germany in 98, and did postgraduate studies at „Central Academy of Fine Arts Beijing", China from 98 to 2000. The degree fom Düsseldorf helped me to get a grant for China and China was quite an adventure.

BS: Can you share any of the adventures you had while in China? How did that experience influence your art?

MK: It’s difficult to pick one. It influenced my life and therefore my art. I can’t say where those influences are obvious, there’s some of China in my subconscious. But when I send images of my work to my friends in Beijing they always say they would look like a chinese painting.

BS: Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

MK: I think it’s difficult to make a painting and I found that always challenging.

BS: If painting is difficult, what drives you to continue painting?

MK: I was discussing that with a friend recently and we came to the conclusion that now it’s just too late for another bright career, maybe.

BS: Where can we see more of your art?


BS: Any tips for other emerging artists?

MK: Stay focused!

BS: What can you tell our readers about the art scene in Berlin?

MK: Berlin is convenient for artists, because you still find affordable space to live and work and there is a kind of competition, because there’re so many artists from Germany and everywhere living here, and I think that’s good.

BS: I've been told that it is hard for German artists to gain exposure internationally and that it is nearly impossible to do unless the artist is represented by a gallery. Is this true?

MK: I wouldn’t say that it’s harder for German artists but it is complicated without a gallery.

BS: Has politics ever entered your art?

MK: Yes. For example I put the face of Lech Walesa- the polish leader of the Solidarnosc movement in the 80s which was the beginning of the end of the cold war- in one painting.

Mr. Kalki is a very talented painter. I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with him. I'd like to personally thank Jan Wentrup for introducing me to Mr. Kalki.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Art Space Talk: Lisa Kokin

I observed the art of Lisa Kokin while attending the Bridge Art Fair preview party. Lisa Kokin’s work in mixed media installation, artist’s books, assemblage and sculpture is about memory and history, both personal and collective. Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and groups exhibitions in the United States and abroad. A recipient of a California Arts Council Individual Artist’s Fellowship and a Eureka Fellowship from the Fleishhacker Foundation, Ms. Kokin’s work is in numerous public and private collections. She is represented by Jenkins Johnson Gallery in New York, and Donna Seager Gallery in San Rafael, California.

(Nineteen SixtyButtons and mixed media, thread, imitation sinew, 81 x 50)

Brian Sherwin: I observed your work at the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago. Can you discuss Nineteen Sixty, a piece that you had on display?

Lisa Kokin: Nineteen Sixty is part of a series of buttonworks that I began several years ago after my father died. I needed a few years to pass after his death to begin to think about how I wanted to pay tribute to him. I began by making a small button head based on a photo. I have been collecting and using buttons in my work for a long time and had always wanted them to play a more important role in my work but until that time I hadn’t known how to do that.

Most of my work begins in an unpremeditated and spontaneous way. I like the mystery of that process. After making a few small portraits of my father I decided to work larger. I liked the increase in scale and the way the process began to resemble painting. I’d be very close to the work sewing the buttons together and the image would be very abstract. Once I backed away several feet, the image crystallized into something recognizable. I liked that interplay. These early pieces led to a series based on old family photographs. After working with other people’s photos for so long it was interesting to take out mine and work from them. Nineteen Sixty is based on a photo of my mother and me on a country road somewhere in upstate New York or New England.

(Passage Buttons and mixed media, imitation sinew, waxed linen, chicken wire)

BS: You use a lot of found materials in your work- photographs, buttons, books, old toys- when did you decide to use such objects in your work?

LK: I was a student at California College of the Arts in Oakland in the late 1980s. I had just gone back to school to finish my undergraduate degree after a hiatus of 13 years during which time I had worked exclusively in batik with political content. At CCA I learned how to make paper. I found I was always trying to age the paper by using tar, dirt, sand and other materials. At some point I decided to give up trying to age something that wasn’t old and just use materials that already had the patina of time built into them. It was a difficult psychological leap for me because I came from a textile tradition which was very labor intensive. I initially felt that I was cheating by using something already made, even though I was aware of Duchamp and the long tradition of artists using found objects. I’ve discovered a way to use found objects in a labor intensive way. I don’t worry about cheating anymore.
(Trophy Sewn found photographs, found text, 9 x 9 x 4-1/2)

BS: I've read that your parents were upholsterers and that as a child you would often play in their shop. Do you think these early memories played a part in your artistic direction? In what other ways did your family influence your artistic growth?

LK: I definitely think that my early family experiences play a large part in my artistic direction. I learned to sew on a machine when I was about eight or nine. I was surrounded by fabric and other sewing items from an early age. While I was still making the batiks I started stuffing and sewing them. That was the beginning of incorporating sewing into my work and I’ve been doing it ever since. I use it as a method of attachment, as a means of embellishment and as a linear element similar to drawing, among other ways.

I grew up a train ride away from Manhattan and my parents took me to museums at an early age. I was fortunate to learn about art by seeing the original works. My parents were politically progressive and we talked about world events at the dinner table. They were very supportive of my decision to be an artist. They sent me to the Art Students’ League on Saturdays. My father got up at an ungodly hour to drive me to the train station, and I would spend the day at class and at museums. I was encouraged and supported every step of the way and for that I am extremely thankful. Also I think that being raised in a secular Jewish tradition contributed to my affinity with those outside the mainstream. This led to the incorporation of political content into my work, which when I was younger took a very literal form and now is more subtle.
(Two Stories About HomeMixed media artist's book/sculpture, 8-1/2 x 15 x 5)

BS: I've also read that you feel a sense of sadness when you purchase old photos for your work- that you feel it should be illegal to own them. Do you feel a sense of guilt when using these photos or do you feel like you are giving new life to the people represented in them? Do you feel a connection with the people in the photos?

LK: At first I felt strange using other people’s memories, just as I felt bad about cutting up my first book. It is an unsettling feeling to be using such personal items that once belonged to anonymous strangers. I have managed to rationalize it by convincing myself that I am in fact giving them new life, although it may not be the life they would have chosen!

I feel a connection with the people whose photos I use in that there is a generic quality to everyone’s photos. I always knew that but it became very clear to me when I pulled out my own family photos to make the buttonworks. We all document birthdays and weddings, we all smile in front of the camera, we all want to remember the places we’ve traveled to by posing in front of interesting backgrounds. A feeling of sadness or melancholy permeates the process, though, because in the last analysis, who wants their most precious memories to end up for sale on a card table at the flea market?

I’ve acquired whole albums of families and once purchased a box containing the personal and professional life of Dick, a man who worked for the phone company in New York in the 1940s through the 1960s. I made several pieces using Dick’s photos and started talking about him to my friends. He became a sort of faux relative, a long-lost uncle. I speculated about the parts of his life that weren’t in the photos, ie., the distinct absence of a wife or children. While working I made up stories about what Dick did after hours.

(Our Kind of FreedomMixed media book collage, 12-3/4 x 9 x 1/2)

BS: You are also known for creating books, though the books you create are not always what they seem. It is as if you have defined what a book can be in your own manner. Your 'books' often address themes which have preoccupied you for many years- loss, the rescuing of memory, cultural and sexual identity, and a critique of the prevailing social values. Care to go into more detail about these issues and the manner in which you create your books?

LK: I started making books while still a graduate student at CCA in 1991. We had an assignment to respond to a fellow student’s work and my response came in the form of a book, Bones Down the Chutes, which was a box of matzohs with "pages" in the form of paper matzohs. In this book I tell a story about my childhood, learning about the Holocaust in Hebrew school, going to Mexico and rejecting my own cultural background for many years, assimilation, and finally the incorporation of my own cultural history as an adult on my own terms. Similar to the buttonworks, this piece seemingly came from nowhere. I had not planned to make a book, but I wanted to tell a very personal story and a book seemed like a good vehicle to do so. After I graduated I continued to make books out of found objects, many of which were about my childhood and family history. I never took a bookmaking class and to this day I don’t know the "right" way to make a book. But I think that helped me to think more creatively about how to put things together and to use materials I might not have otherwise used, everything from rubber, to metal to feminine hygiene products. The books often didn’t look like books, sometimes didn’t even have distinct pages, but they were readable and I thought of them as books. I made this type of book for several years in the early 1990s, then moved on to sculpture and installation. I found, though, that I always returned to books, either between other bodies of work or as distinct bodies of work in and of themselves. Each time the incarnation is different.

I started making altered books from the old books I’d been collecting for years. One of the books I used was a copy of Mein Kampf which I’d bought at a flea market years before. It sat on my bookshelf for years before I decided to cut it up and make four separate altered books out of it.

More recently I began making wall-based book collages by gluing or sewing books open to a particular spread and then using that as a ground for collage. On a trip to Amsterdam last year I came upon boxes of cut-up books that someone had put on the curb on recycling day. I packed up a box of them, took them home and made a series of small book sculptures with them. Currently I am tearing up the entire contents of a book and making small papier mache objects which I then reinsert back into the book. I like the arbitrary way the text gets fragmented and reassembled. These books are of course not readable; they are book sculptures, very abstract, and minimal in their approach but true to my obsessive urges, quite labor intensive. My first one, Useful Drugs, consists of hundreds of tiny balls sewn together with nylon thread and cascading out from the open book. I am excited by the possibilities contained within the medium of the book and want to keep exploring a multitude of ways of using them. I have to keep inventing things to keep myself interested, especially if I am going to spend days wadding up book balls!

I grew up in a house full of books which were revered as almost holy objects. One never dog-eared them, much less took an x-acto knife to them. I love words and reading and the way the print looks on the page. I find it ironic that I eviscerate the very objects that I was taught to hold in utmost esteem.

Content is very important to me. My earlier books were very specifically about my childhood and my life in general. I started out with a theme in mind and then found the materials to make the book. Now I start with the materials more often than not, and see what evolves. Political content often seeps into my work. It is very important to me to not be didactic, to let the process of making the work unfold with me as the facilitator, ie., not to impose my will on it. Not everything has political content, and not everything is serious. In fact, humor plays a very important role in my work. I love puns, I love poking fun at the prevailing values, and I have come to realize that humor makes difficult content more accessible. Humor plays a major role in my life in general so it is fitting that it would also be an important component in my work. It’s a survival mechanism, and also a Jewish tradition, to laugh in the face of adversity. I try to use it whenever I can. When I see someone laughing while reading my books I feel that I have been successful.
(Bisexual Behavior PatternsPhotocopied altered book, 7-1/2 x 6 x 1-1/2)

BS: Where can our readers learn more about your work?

LK: They can go to my website, I am represented by Jenkins Johnson Gallery in New York and Donna Seager Gallery in San Rafael, CA.
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Lisa Kokin. Feel free to leave a comment about her work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Art Space Talk: Lisa Holden

I was introduced to the art of Lisa Holden while attending the Art Chicago preview. Lisa Holden is a British-born artist based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her earlier visual work explores notions of the self as a series of estranged identities-guises adopted and appropriated, and dependent upon context.

Lisa combines digital imagery with hand-painted layers to create 'parallel realities', referring to the exploration of displacement, adoption and the reinvention of identity as a necessity for survival. Holden's large-scale, 'digitally flawed' painting-photographs interpret and react to our super-fast-paced, technologically driven society. The result is the artist's depiction of a psychological spiral into more personal fracturing of identity, multiple transformations, and a more isolated self and society.

New works clearly bear the stamp of Holden's recent interest in Victorian painting and literature in which richly colored fantasies and hallucinations were often opiate-engendered. These influences manifest themselves in images of actual dreamscapes she recalls on waking--in other words, instinctual wishes of a body and mind desiring to get out.
Lisa Holden is represented by Alex Novak of Contemporary Works.

('Gentian' lambda print, dibond)

Brian Sherwin: Lisa, I observed your work at the Art Chicago exhibit. How successful was the exhibit? Was any of your work purchased?

Lisa Holden: It was great to present my work at Art Chicago. I’m based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and have exhibited widely in Europe but until recently hadn’t really shown much in the US.

At Art Chicago people responded really well to the work. Some even said they’d never seen anything quite like it. A couple of people called it ‘intoxicating’. It was great for me to have a chance to meet people and hear their views about the work. And Art Chicago was certainly great for me in terms of sales and contacts.

('Lizard Boy' lambda print dibond)

BS: Having exhibited widely in Europe and now in the States- do you notice a difference in the types of art that is created based on geographics? In other words, what differences do you see in European contemporary art compared to the art that is created in the United States.... or do you think that we, as artists, have reached a point that their is a 'global connection' in the images that we create? A connection... yet unique differences...

LH: I think in many ways art is definitely globally connected. I mean, the Internet is a great resource for me and I discover many other artists through it, although of course can only see their work on screen.

I think there are bound to be differences too, based on cultural and historical backgrounds. The Brits and Americans share similar cultural references to a great extent – there’s a similar interest and grasp of certain styles or pictorial references. In Holland, for instance, Mondriaan, born in 1872, was one of the key figures to shape the art aesthetic in Holland. In Belgium – which was more of an industrialised country, like the UK – Fernand Khnopff was creating Symbolist works more or less parallel to Mondriaan.

The longer I live outside the UK the more I connect with certain cultural aspects like the Gothic imagination in painting and literature. And, of course, in the UK women were very active novelists. Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein’ after all, so these kinds of images and metaphors were rooted perhaps in a feminine consciousness.

('Reveil' lambda print, dibond)

BS: How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it before?

LH: The work is photo-based but I wouldn’t really call it photography. I sometimes refer to it as ‘digital photowork’. I originally started as a painter, before moving into performance and video. The images still have a performative quality, I think, I definite narrative thread. And I went from videoing performances to concentrating on still images, many of them taken from video footage of performances. This led to working on the images in the computer – initially to improve brightness and quality. But I rapidly started experimenting with the image itself, adding and subtracting things.

I often use myself as a model, not because the work is about me, more because it’s about non-identity. I can alter my appearance quite easily, and can look quite androgynous, which sometimes comes in handy. I’ve also worked with other people – people I know, not professional models – when I need to capture a specific pose and can’t really do that if I’m the subject because I can’t achieve the angle or position I want.

The raw material is shot using a variety of digital cameras – some video, some still – which is then manipulated in the computer. The compositions are created in a fairly laborious compositing process something like collage. I used to work a lot in collage a lot, but the actual edges of the collage always irritated me. I started using Photoshop because I could layer and combine.

It just started off very playfully. The effects that you can create by tearing paper, and that kind of thing, I found I could do in Photoshop. I combine analogue and digital techniques in the sense that I make a print of a composition, paint or draw on it, then re-photograph it or scan it into the computer where I go on with the image-making process.

I also paint and glaze many of my large images – some as large as 2 metres high. It’s almost obsessive in a way – adding layer upon layer, but I like to handfinish many of my pieces; I think it gives them an extra dimension, an added emotional quality.

('Siren' lambda print dibond)

BS: So do you think that the impact of your work would be less if you used professional models?

LH: I’m not sure. I kind of suspect that they might be too polished and lack a sort of awkwardness that I actually find very interesting. And because I also deconstruct and reconstruct in the computer, I quite like to work with material that is less than perfect. It gives me more space for my own imagination.

BS: Since you use many methods in your creative process do you find yourself in conflict as to which route to pursue during creation- or do you find a form of balance with the materials and selective process?

LH: There’s not really much conflict about how to approach the creative process. I usually make the decisions as I go along, depending on the piece I’m working on and what I think it needs. So, yes, there’s a balance with the materials and selective process.

('Sleeper' lambda print, dibond)

BS: I was recently talking to a few friends about digital art. One of my associates mentioned how digital art is the new photography in that not everyone is accepting of it as a medium yet- kind of like how photography was not taken seriously at one time. Have you noticed this? Have you experienced someone not enjoying your work due to your use of technology? Also, what would you say to people who are not that accepting of it?

LH: Yes, this is definitely an attitude I’ve come across. Because my original background was in painting, and I’ve also worked with video, people advised me to ‘paint the images’ or ‘get back into video’ as these media are considered either more commercially or artistically valid. Someone even commented: ‘who wants to pay for a computer print’ which I thought was a pretty uninformed remark, as most digital work is printed in the same way as a photograph, albeit digitally. And you’d never say that of a photographic print.

Basically, what I say to people who are not accepting of it is that digital art is still new, and is, in my opinion, an ideal medium for addressing today’s world. You could see it as a medium produced by the coupling of military and creative technology, so what could be a better way to produce images reflecting on our fractured society? I think the writer Peter Straub once said of the horror genre that it wasn’t taken seriously when he started out, which was great – it meant the genre was uncharted territory and he could do what he wanted. That’s how I feel about digital image making. It gives me enormous freedom. It’s kind of anarchic and irreverent. I love it!

I have to say that people have never not enjoyed my work because of how it was made. At first they’re wary because it looks different – the palette is quite specific, the depth of the image is not what they’re used to. But if someone is put off because of my use of technology, I don’t try to ‘convert’ them. I’ve been working digitally for nearly ten years, and it’s a medium that allows me to make images I couldn’t make otherwise.

('Thru the Wire' lambda print dibond)

BS: What other motives or thoughts do you convey in your art? What gives you direction?

LH: I’m intrigued by layering imagery and creating depth and body. Working in the computer gives me a way of creating images that would be impossible with other mediums, I think. Drawing on historical references is part of this layering.

Referencing painting also gives me a sense of re-experiencing history and ideas of representation, of inserting myself into the past and appropriating it in some way, of making it mine. Taking historical imagery also opens up ways of investigating ideas relating to history, gender, power and representation.

In many ways, making images is my attempt to understand the world and people around me. I try to take the disjointedness and disconnectedness I think many of us have experienced, and bring it into some kind of balance, if only for a moment.

My work began as an exploration of identity. In this case, my own identity. I was adopted as a baby and brought up in near Liverpool in the north west of England. My birth parents were South African and Austrian. So I was brought up knowing nothing about my biological roots at all and always had a feeling of not really belonging.

Now I live in the Netherlands in a culture quiet different to the UK. Maybe that’s why I’m particularly fascinated by exploring aspects of British culture – Victorian painting, the gothic sensibility, the British imagination.

In the Victorian era the northwest was one of the booming parts of England, though now of course it isn’t. You had this enormous legacy of Victorian money, and the new money wanted a new sort of art. You had people like the Pre-Raphaelites, and you had people like Lord Leighton, people like this painting the image of the woman in various ways. So I grew up surrounded by these images, but I never really liked them. They have a certain cheesy quality. The colours are very dream like, almost hallucinatory.

In England there’s a certain specific sense of the feminine being seen as something to be contained, that can be threatening. It’s a theme that has always interested me, and I started creating a kind of technological dreamscape as a backdrop for me ‘characters’, and images from Victorian painting just started coming into my mind.

I’d kind of been brought up around Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian paintings, but I’d never really looked at it as an adult; I had thought well that’s so tacky, and kitsch, and sentimental. But when I started to actually examine the way the images were built up, and the way that women were represented, I thought it would be nice to play on that; partly because you had so many social and technological changes at the time, which I think mirror some of the changes that we’re going through now, with technologies changing at such a huge rate.

The Victorian era was also a time of great migration, with people going from Ireland and other places to America, in search of a better life. I thought well, maybe it’s a little bit the same situation now. It just seemed a really quite exciting time because there are lots of undercurrents.

('With Cupid and Partridge' lambda print, acrylic glazes, dibond)

BS: Lisa, I understand that you have been back in the studio since the Art Chicago exhibit. You have been working on new pieces. Has the Art Chicago experience influenced this current work? I'm sure you took in a lot of great art and sites while in Chicago.

LH: Art Chicago certainly gave me a lot of energy! Although I was only there for about 4 full days – mostly spent in the art fair itself – I managed to visit the Art Institute. I loved the photography of Saul Leitner I saw there – very lyrical, poignant images that I’d never had a chance to see in real life before. The institute itself is a lovely building, and I also took in the Millennium Park although I’d have like to have spent more time there. Sadly, I didn’t get to see very much of Chicago itself although what I loved the river running through the city and the way the clouds touched the skyscrapers. The architecture – what I saw of it – was very impressive.

At Art Chicago I really enjoyed seeing the AIPAD presentation of Joel Peter Witkin. I also loved his hand-tinted pieces on show with his gallery’s booth. Another artist whose work I enjoyed is Deborah Oropallo – her series of prints ‘Guise’ was fascinating, with its superimposition of scantily clad images of women onto 18th and 17th century paintings of men like Napoleon. It was great to see other work playing with the language of painting and the allure of power created by gesture and pose.
(3 Sleepers)

BS: This new work will be featured in the August edition of 'Eyemazing'. 'Eyemazing' is a leading contemporary fine art photography magazine, conceived and published by Susan Zadeh. Are you excited about the publication?

LH: I think it’s one of the most interesting and well produced photography magazines around. It highlights a wide range of work, all types of photography, and all kinds of photographers from all over the world. I am very excited about appearing in the publication. It’s a great opportunity to reach a big international photo-based audience. And Susan Zadeh is quite remarkable – she puts so much of herself into the magazine, and has such a passion for photography. I think that her personal passion is partly what makes ‘Eyemazing’ so unique and special.

('Reclining' lambda print dibond)

BS: Sounds like a great publication. I've noticed that more and more publications are offering a variety of art instead of focusing on certain 'styles', or what have you. It appears we live in a time that is very accepting of all methods of artistic creation. Would you agree?

LH: I think that things are certainly changing, and people are coming to appreciate a wider range of styles and approaches. I think, in the end, it is the image – the ultimate work – that counts, not the way someone has arrived at it. There’s also been more interest in and respect for digital work.

I hope you have enjoyed learning more about Lisa Holden and her art. Feel free to leave a comment about her work. You can learn more about Lisa by visiting her site:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Art Space Talk: Michelle Forsyth

I was introduced to the art of Michelle Forsyth while attending the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago. Born in Vancouver BC in 1972, Michelle Forsyth holds an MFA from Rutgers University and a BFA from the University of Victoria. She currently resides in Pullman, Washington where she teaches painting and drawing at Washington State University.

In the studio, she is most concerned with the visceral qualities of the hand-made and the power it holds to counter the potential dehumanization of rapidly transmitted, and publicly consumed images of spectacle.

(Mine Disaster, Cherry, IL, November 13, 1909(Drawing #1 from the 100 Drawings Project)gouache on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2005)

Brian Sherwin: I observed your work at the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago- your work was represented by the Hogar Collection. How did the exhibit go for you? I understand that this is not the first time you have been involved with the Bridge Art Fair.

Michelle Forsyth: The fairs this year have been a great experience for me. In Chicago I included six pieces from a current series of work entitled, One Hundred Drawings. The work has been a real departure for me, overall. I wanted to make something that did not rely on the spectacle to give the work its power, yet still draw from a large archive of images of catastrophe and disaster I had been collecting since the late 90’s.

Back in 2005, I took a road trip to the midwest and began documenting what remains at the sites pictured in many of the photographs I had been collecting. I started the project by going to sites in Chicago, so I was particularly excited about having some of the work included in the recent Bridge Art Fair.

Todd Rosenbaum, the director of Hogar Collection, also took some of my work to the Miami Bridge Art Fair last December. That experience opened up a lot of doors for me and the work reached a wide audience.

BS: I viewed Hope Slide at the Bridge Art Fair. Care to tell our readers more about this piece?

MF: Hope Slide (image above) is the ninth piece in the One Hundred Drawings project. The piece depicts a site just outside of Hope, BC (Canada) where an enormous landslide covered the highway on the morning of Saturday, January 9, 1965, burying four people in two cars. The highway now snakes around the foot of the slide and when you go out there you can still clearly see the swath of earth that slid down the mountain.

Most of the sites I have documented have been places that really bear no trace of the events that have occurred at them, but the Hope Slide was different. I was astonished by how visible the evidence really was.

At the base of the slide is a marker commemorating the lives of the victims of the slide. It also lists the names of six people who perished in two separate plane crashes that occurred on the same site. My piece documents a wreath placed at the base of this marker.

So far I have documented twenty of the sites and have finished the first twelve works in the series, but I plan to do one hundred of them, eventually.

(Eastland Disaster, Chicago, IL, July 24, 1915(Drawing #2 from the 100 Drawings Project) gouache on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2006)

BS: You have stated that you "use painting, needlepoint and paper-crafts to counter the dehumanization of rapidly transmitted, digital images." Can you go into further detail about that statement?

MF: I consider my work to be a reflection on, and a reaction to, the onslaught of images of suffering in our contemporary world. Peril and demise permeates our daily experience, and viewing dramatic events through the screen of a computer or television can often foster apathetic ways of seeing. I find this deeply disturbing and try to seek out elaborate ways of working in order to slow these kinds of images down.

They do form a starting point for the work, yet I try to build surfaces that are tactile and intimate so that the viewer gets caught up in them a bit. Tedious brush-marks, dramatic stitches of color, barely visible hole-punches, cut-out paper flowers, or diluted layers of watercolor dominate every piece I make in the studio. Sometimes you have to look pretty closely to discover some of the things I have done with them.

(TWA flight 800 crash, East Moriches, Long Island, July 17, 1996(Drawing #3 from the 100 Drawings Project)gouache on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2006)

BS: Michelle, you have instructed art at several institutions including Pratt Institute and Washington State University. Are you inspired by your students? I assume that teaching art on the college level is a give-and-take of information...

MF: I currently teach at Washington State University, which is located in eastern Washington. Living out here is a challenge because I am quite far away from any city. For this reason, I tend to form strong connections with my students and try to share as much information with them as I can. I grew up on Vancouver Island and when I was studying at the University of Victoria I was very involved in the art community there. People were eager to help each other and would work together to put up large exhibitions.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how my studio work intersects with my role as a professor and have been trying to come up with ways to get the two to come together more. I enjoy round table discussions and feel that craft practices that engage the community to be quite interesting (ie. the Stitch and Bitch). I have been invited to be a mentor at a residency program in Wells, BC this summer, and to be a visiting artist in residence at the University of Southern Maine in the Spring of 2008 and hope to use these opportunities to experiment a bit with this kind of model.

(MGM Hotel Fire, Las Vegas, NV, November 21, 1980(Drawing #5 from the 100 Drawings Project)gouache and glitter on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2006)

BS: You obtained your MFA from Rutgers University. Care to tell us about the art program there? Who did you study under?

MF: Rutgers was a very rewarding experience for me. I worked primarily under Hanneline Røgeberg and Lauren Ewing, both of whom challenged me a lot. I feel that I am just now getting my head around some of the things that they suggested and am finally trying to answer some of the questions they opened up for me. My peers in graduate school were amazing. We had a lot of fun, but we also worked very hard.

(Iroquois Theater Fire, Chicago, Il, December 30, 1903 (Drawing #11 from the 100 Drawings Project) gouache on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2007)

BS: Can you go into further detail about how society has influenced your art?

MF: Threatening visions -- from disaster coverage in the media and television shows that rely on individual suffering for entertainment, to violent video games and websites that display images of death -- surround us.

In response, I hope to expose my grief through a compassionate process of translating the images into thousands of tiny, brightly colored brush-marks and glitter. "To grieve," according to Judith Butler, "and to make grief itself into a resource for politics, is not to be resigned to inaction, but it may be understood as the slow process by which we develop a point of identification with suffering itself."

BS: What has been the toughest point for you as far exhibiting or creating art is concerned?

MF: I have always moved around a lot and I have never really felt the desire to set down permanent roots. Although there are many benefits to this kind of flexibility, it is often a challenge to make long term connections. I am too sporadic about keeping in touch with people.

(Iroquois Theater Fire, Chicago, Il, December 30, 1903 (Drawing #11 from the 100 Drawings Project)gouache on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2007)

BS: Can you explain some of your artistic process? How do you start a piece?

MF: I spend a great deal of time on-line and I guess that is what really sparks the work. Each piece almost always begins on my computer and is usually generated by some image that I have found on the web. I often have several projects going on at the same time and approach them in various ways.

Probably the most elaborate process that I have been working in is one where I translate the images into tiny fragments of cut paper circles and flowers. Entitled Florescence (Flowers for Iraq), these works depict the individual casualties of Iraqi civilians.

The images are quite brutal, yet I have fractured them into tens of thousands of pieces that become memorials to those that have suffered from the brutal realities of war. Each piece of paper is hand cut and layered with felt and beads and is mounted to the end of a sewing pin.

My paintings often begin with a layer of intricate patterning before an underpainting is laid down in watercolor. Together the pattern and watercolor acts as a guide for me to start building up the surface with sinuous lines of gouache. Each work takes several months to complete.

(Second Narrows Bridge Collapse, Vancouver, BC, June 17, 1958 (Drawing #10 from the 100 Drawings Project) gouache on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2007)

BS: Where can we see more of your art?

MF: I will have two upcoming solo exhibitions. One at Hogar Collection in Brooklyn this September and one at Deluge Contemporary Art in Victoria, BC in January 2008. I will also have a cut-paper installation piece at the Jundt Art Museum this August, and you can see my work online at

BS: Where do you see your direction of work going next? Care to reveal any of your plans?

MF: I just received a grant from the Canada Council to continue my work documenting sites in eastern Canada so I am definitely going to continue working on that project, however I am making the newer pieces much larger in scale.

Because I am enamored by complexity and detail, as well as by extremely elaborate methodologies, I also think I may try to make the works more layered or mottled in their surface treatment.

(Railway Wreck, Bayonne, NJ, September 15, 1958(Drawing #7 from the 100 Drawings Project)gouache on watercolor paper, 15 x 22 inches, 2006)

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

MF: I feel that it is intrinsically American to use horrific stories of death and destruction for entertainment purposes. According to Jean Baudrillard, "the countless disaster movies bear witness to this fantasy, which clearly attempt to exorcize with images, drowning out the whole thing with special effects." As I find myself confronted by this onslaught, I mourn our tolerance of violence in the media and our inability to express a sense of vulnerability.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning about Michelle Forsyth and her art. Feel free to critique or discuss her work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Gallery Space Talk: Sara Nightingale Gallery

(Sara Nightingale)

The Mission of the Sara Nightingale Gallery is to be a leader in the exhibition of significant and challenging contemporary art, with an emphasis on emerging artists. The gallery encourages experimentation, diversity, innovation, dialogue and risk in new art of all mediums. It seeks to enhance the careers of its artists by exposing them to new markets and opportunities. The gallery was founded in 1998 and has been participating in art fairs since 2001

Sara Nightingale Gallery
688 Montauk Highway
P.O Box 1061 Water Mill, NY 11976
631-726 0076

(Section of the Sara Nightingale Gallery with paintings by Eric Dever)

Brian Sherwin: You are the director of the Sara Nightingale Gallery. When was the gallery established? What is the mission of your gallery?

Sara Nightingale: The gallery was established in 1998. The mission of the gallery is to be a leader in the exhibition of significant and challenging contemporary art, with an emphasis on emerging artists. The gallery encourages experimentation, diversity, innovation, dialogue and risk in new art of all mediums. It seeks to develop the careers of its artists by exposing them to new markets and opportunities.
(Annie Wharton with Sara Nightingale at ArtLA- 2006)

BS: Why did you decide to become a gallery director? Are you an artist yourself? How did you get involved with the arts?

SN: It's hard for me to answer how I got to this place exactly. Now that I'm here with my own gallery it just seems like all of my life's experiences were a path that led to this. I used to dabble in producing art, but now that I'm a gallerist, there is no time for that. I get so excited by curating, bringing artists together and overseeing installations that this really satisfies my creative urge.
(Gallery Installation of Melanie Fischer with Sue McNally paintings)

BS: What is your personal philosophy about art and artistic creation? What makes an artist an artist?

SN: Well, fortunately, there have been many philosophers who have tried to define art and the creative process. The truth is, though, we are all still searching for the answers to these kinds of questions. Every time I open a new show, I hope that I am coming a little bit closer to understanding the truth about art, artists, culture and the human condition.

When I select artists to exhibit I do look for certain qualities in the artists themselves (beyond just examining the work). I like to see that they are dedicated, intelligent, asking questions all the time, and trying new things. Of course the work must have a unique voice, so the artist must be mature enough to know how to both utilize and eschew the influences of other artists. John Lahr, writing a review in the New Yorker of Mercedes Rhuel's turn as Peggy Guggenheim in "Woman Before a Glass", wrote: "The character must somehow bring news- both of society and of the self". I circled this sentence and refer to it often when I am looking for new art. In my case, of course, the "character" is the work of art. That (the art object) "must somehow bring news" is something I strive for when selecting art.
(Sara Nightingale selling at ArtLA- 2006)

BS: It often seems that many artists are not aware of the business side of art. Do you have any suggestions for an artist who wishes to learn more about the marketing side of the business that is art?

SN: Oh how I wish we could all take the money out of art....(though I realize there are many who do not feel the same way; just look at this past week's auction results!). However, the business side of art is essential to the production mechanism. In fact, I sometimes think that the collector is the most valuable cog in the wheel that is the art machine. Without him it would all come to a grinding halt. Or only people with trust funds would be able to produce and display art. So....for artists to gain business acumen? Knowledge is the first tool. Get out and talk to people, learn about the art world, read, go to shows. The more you know and the more people you meet, the better you will understand the business side of things and how it all works. This, however, will keep you away from the hard work and long hours that you need to be putting in at your studio. So I would advise that you focus on the actual work and getting a good solid body together before you begin to approach galleries. Then, once you begin showing and getting your work seen, be careful about which galleries you work with and don't be all over the place if you actually care to establish a viable market. Remember, of course, that the art world is constantly in flux. One minute there is a gallery system, the next artists will be selling directly on ebay and that will be the new, hip thing to do. Always be ready to throw everything you know away and try something completely outside of the box. The white box, that is.

(Sara Nightingale with Melanie Fischer installation)

BS: What can you tell our readers about the artists you represent?

SN: I have been extremely lucky to have worked with an extraordinary group of artists. Everyone I work with has the traits I mentioned above: dedication, talent, etc... and I especially enjoy watching artists in my stable appreciating and respecting each other's work. Each individual in the gallery contributes to the overall success of the "family", which is how I like to think of my gallery, with me as the Mom. (Let's just hope I don't turn into the Grandma.) But to name a few people who have been extremely important in bringing the gallery to where it is now: Rachel Owens, who did an amazing job with her ScopeNY05 installation, Elizabeth Huey, who recommended Sarah Trigg (both are fantastic), Joseph Hart and Ryan Wallace (recommended by the talented Hilary Schaffner), Malin Abrahamsson, Rebecca Miller, Josh Peters and Jeremy Wagner. Look these people up on the internet and get inspired! Each has a unique voice and is embarking on an adventurous artistic

BS: What kind of message do you want the art in your gallery to have? Is there a certain direction that you look for?

SN: The message may be purely formal, or it may be articulated by an accompanying statement. Sometimes it is solely up to the viewer to provide the message. Hopefully it is a dialogue between the artist and the viewer, though they may never meet each other. The gallery is a "mini think tank", where a variety of ideas are shuffled around, dissected and displayed. What are "appropriate" ideas for messages in art? Well...let's refer back to that John Lahr quote: "The (art object) must somehow bring news". It would be impossible to define "news". Death, consumption, ambiguity of authorship, global warming, the disaffection with the American Dream, Suburban sprawl, loneliness, non-belonging, the catastrophic global landscape condensed and transformed by the media, environmental "happy places", the street.....all of these have been themes in recent shows at the gallery. I'd like to do a show about religion (because I think it's funny that very few art world people are religious, despite the fact that religious institutions patronized art for centuries).
(Sara Nightingale- Water Mill 2007)

BS: Do you have any advice for emerging or established artists who would like to exhibit at your gallery?

SN: If you truly love the other work that I show, and you really believe in yourself, then get in line.

BS: What was the most important exhibition you've been involved with? Care to share that experience?

SN: What's the definition of important? My goal is to inspire my community. I haven't done any outside curating (yet), though I have juried shows. So it would have to be something I've organized here (in the gallery). I've had a string of excellent shows here, thanks to the hard work of the artists. And I've been fortunate to have been in the presence of some incredible artworks. Andrew Schoultz's, Cataclysmic Proliferation, comes to mind. It later traveled to Track 16 Gallery in LA and then onto Jonathan Levine in New York. Nicola Verlato's, Mothers, was another amazing painting, which could render one speechless. That was brought to my attention by David Hunt, who curated a show here in 2005. I could go on and on naming really amazing works that have shown here. Jeremy Wagner's, Hotel Everybody, for example. I could have just eaten that up!

BS: If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who buy art from the Sara Nightingale Gallery, what would they be?

SN: I must brag here: my clients are the best of the best. I don't show "named" artists here, so my clients have to have confidence, charisma, risk taking characteristics, and just love art for all the right reasons. Maybe it's a good investment or maybe it's not. They are buying interesting, unique works of art for great prices....but in the Hamptons, it's often easier to sell expensive work that has a name attached...or just expensive enough where the client thinks it's valuable because of its price. If I were a collector, I'd buy from me, because people are getting great deals here on really strong work that is still a good value because the artists are young in their careers.

BS: As a gallery director, what trends do you see in the art world? What is hot at the moment?

SN: Well, of course, there's China. I personally love the Japanese artists. There's the Goth trend....gothic sculpture such as the work by Terence Koh and Banks Violet. The lowbrow/ Juxtapoz aesthetic is pretty hot. Jonathan Levine and Merry Kranowski are showing these artists. But I also like the alternate spaces, such as Giant Robot, which are integrating skate culture and product development with fine art. The whole psychedelic, graff drawing thing is hot as well. In general, it's pretty pluralistic out there. That's one of the great things that postmodernism did.... it allowed for a general "anything goes" attitude. It's all been done before let's mash it up and rehash it. This is happening in music as well. Appropriation is all over the place, especially in the dj culture. While there are stylistic trends.....for example, abstraction was really out for a while...I think to segregate art stylistically is ridiculous. Art can be good or bad regardless of whether or not you like the style. Who gets to decide whether it's good or bad? It shouldn't be up to the market. I guess everyone gets to decide for himself.

BS: What can you tell the readers about the art scene in your area?

SN: I'm in the Hamptons, so there is a lot of history here. Everyone is always trying to create the buzz that's there's a resurgence, a renaissance out here. And I must say, with Scope coming here and the myriad new galleries springing up, and art in general becoming more of a mainstream pastime, it's probably true.

BS: Do you have a website for your gallery?


BS: Is there anything else you would like to say about the Sara Nightingale Gallery or the "art world"?

SN: It's all about the present tense (if you're in the contemporary sector) and the process. And having good values and principles and applying them to your daily work.
I hope you that you have enjoyed reading about Sara Nightingale and her gallery. Be sure to visit the gallery website.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Monday, May 21, 2007

Art Space Talk: Sabrina Small

I was introduced to the art of Sabrina Small while attending the Bridge Art Fair preview party. Before moving to Berlin, Germany in September of 2002, Small made her home in Sarasota, Florida. She has exhibited extensively throughout the state of Florida, as well as in San Francisco, New York, London, Budapest and Berlin.

While her earlier work is mainly painted on wood and paper, Small recently began experimenting with hand stitchings on material such as felt, velvet and wearable fabric.

(Brain Bubble, No. 1 - watercolor and ink on paper)

Brian Sherwin: Sabrina, I observed your art during the Preview Party at the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago. How did the exhibit go for you? Is this your first time being involved the Bridge Art Fair?

Sabrina Small: How did I do? Well, no sales, though according to my gallerist, the response to the work was positive - that's always good.

I have to say that my feeling for art fairs is a mixed one. There's been an explosion in the art market over the past five to ten years, with art fairs popping up in every major city. On the one hand, I think it's great that so many people are interested in viewing art and that the opportunities for artists to exhibit their work and have it available to the greater public have increased. And, of course, I like the idea that such a wide audience can view my own work. But is it possible that there's simply too much work out there; too many objects; an over-supply, so to speak, of art? I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from making art or expressing themselves, but with this overabundance of "things" and the multitudes of possibilities to view and consume them (and obviously this speaks about more than art), how can anything make an impression after a while? The impact diminishes, in my view, and in the end I have a tendency - in particular at the art fairs - to check my memories at the exit-door before leaving.

However, despite my frustrations and inner battles concerning the significance of my own work in the larger scheme of things, the need to create, which is quite basic, seems to persist. What to do, what to do...?

And yes, this was my first time showing at the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago.
(Brain Bubble, No. 2 - watercolor and ink on paper)

BS: I remember that many people commented on how art fairs are becoming the 'gallery of tomorrow' when I attended the previews for Scope and Pulse in New York. It seems that some people feel that the old gallery system is becoming old-hat. If it does become common for galleries to focus more on fair participation than exhibiting in their own spaces, what will you do? Can you see that happening? Do you think the burst of creative life that comes from major art fairs could eventually become a process of decay for public interest in art if galleries grow to depend on them on a regular basis?

SS: Good question. I definitely see the presence of art fairs increasing over the years and it is possible that rather than art lovers visiting gallery spaces once a month or so, they'll replace that experience with a yearly visit to Art Basel, for example. But there is something intimate about going to an actual gallery (a space where the viewer is able to focus on one artist or even a group of artists and not be bombarded by a mass of other objects - or people, by the way), that can't be denied. For sure the viewer who only knows the art-viewing-experience through art fairs, will in my mind miss-out immensely.
(Impostor - watercolor and ink on paper)

BS: You decided to move to Berlin in September of 2002. Why did you make that choice? Has living in Germany given you better direction with your work?

SS: Actually, my intention was to live in Copenhagen, a decision based on my fascination with Lars von Trier films and all things Scandinavian. My stay there, however, only lasted about six weeks before a friend came to visit (my boyfriend at the time, who quickly became my ex-boyfriend and is now one of my best friends) and convinced me that Berlin was the place to be. So we hopped on a train and a few hours later found ourselves in Berlin: The Land of Currywurst and Doener Kebabs, among other things.

Needless to say, I fell instantly in love. Berlin in its own special way is THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY all wrapped in one, and is unlike any place I've ever lived. The winters are difficult, to say the least, but when spring and summertime come around, you wouldn't want to be anyplace else.

As far as Germany giving me a better direction for my work - well, it's certainly made its mark - and I suspect will continue to influence my work as the years go on.
(Doppelganger - watercolor and ink on paper )

BS: I've been told that studio space in Berlin is extremely inexpensive compared to lofts and other studio spaces in the States. Is that true? Having lived in Germany do you think it is cheaper for an artist to get by compared to other art hubs of the world?

SS: Other than Mexico City, Berlin must be one of the least expensive and exciting cities for an artist to live today. Of course, there are less expensive cities in the world, but for an artist, it can't be beat. I've been here for almost five years now, and in this time have seen a huge flood of foreign artists of all disciplines moving in and making this their home. New York, London, Tokyo and Paris are all incredible cities, but if you don't want to live and work out of a box, I'm not sure where else you can be.
(Inside Out - watercolor and ink on paper)

BS: Most of your earlier works are on wood and paper, though now it seems you're doing more with stitching. Why did you decide to change your creative process?

SS: Actually, I'm still working on wood and paper and have been working on the hand-stitchings for several years now, though it's true - the stitchings are more prevalent now than in the past. I guess I think of all of my works as drawings. The themes may vary, but technically speaking, they're all very much about line.

BS: So in other words you don't see it as a change in creative process but as a form of your creative evolution?

SS: When I'm always working with the same medium, I have a tendency to get bored. The creative process is quite different when I'm stitching as opposed to drawing, for example. It's a much slower and more thoughtful process, and at certain times exactly what I need. Also, when I'm feeling stuck and having difficulty coming up with new ideas, a change in medium often helps.
(Who's Who - handstitched drawing on black felt)

BS: Two of the pieces presented at the Bridge Art Fair were hand-stitched drawings inspired by the ˜Black Block"; a direct-action group alive and well in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. This group of hooded-leftists, clothed in black from head to toe, appear regularly on the streets of Berlin often as part of larger demonstrations in the fight against neo-naziism, social cutbacks, and the revocation of civil rights (to name just a few causes), and are known to use props such as fireworks, paint-filled eggs and bricks to help get their points across. How did you become involved with the ˜Black Block"? Why are they an inspiration for you?

SS: Normally I'm not one to make politically-themed work, but after first discovering the ˜Black Block" a few years ago at a May Day demo in Kreuzberg, I couldn't help myself. When you see them marching - this magnificent field of black! - it's an incredible sight to behold. I'd never seen or heard of them before and naturally was quite impressed. Their bravery is an inspiration to me, in their constant fight for the rights of others, and although I may not always agree with their methods or what they're fighting for (or against), I support their existence and believe it's important that they're a part of the demonstrations."

BS: I've never heard of them before... I did some quick research. Do you run the risk of arrest by being associated with them?

SS: I'm not exactly involved with them, but rather view them from a distance. For sure if I were in the front line, I would run a risk of arrest or worse perhaps. I was caught in the line-of-fire only once at a demonstration and was hit by the yolk of a colored egg meant for a cop. Misdirected fire.
(Making Contact - handstitched drawing on black felt)

BS: Sabrina, when did you first discover that art would be an important part of your life? Care to share any early memories?
SS: Well I seem to recall quite early on, drawing on whatever I could find - especially in our basement: the walls, the hot-water heater, the doors to my parents' cedar-closet where they stored all their winter clothes and the things they never seemed to wear. Nothing's really changed. I'm still painting on the walls, though rather than getting a scolding for it, my parents praise me. :)

BS: Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

SS: When I'm not pulling my hair out or staring holes in the wall (that's part of the artistic process), making art can be the best form of meditation I know. It's the glue, so to speak, for my thoughts.

As far as my philosophy is concerned - well, I try to focus on creating work that excites me and not spend too much energy thinking about what will sell or what's hip at the moment (technically or thematically speaking). By the time you figure that out, the art world will have moved on to something else. And anyway, everything seems to come back. It's all, in my mind, a regurgitation of the past. There's a good chance that whatever I'm making at the moment will at some point be relevant - if not now than in the future perhaps. We shall see.
(Happy Dream - watercolor on paper)

BS: Would you say that many artists are only concerned with what will sell? I know you mentioned that a lot of the art fairs seem to be showing the same type of art by different artists in your opinion.

SS: It's not so much that they're showing the same type of art, but that there's just so much of it, and as a result the brain has a tendency to meld it all together as a means of retaining the information, and then it all begins to look the same: like one massive piece of art.

As far as artists having their main concern being the sale of their work: well, I believe it's a rather new phenomenon that artists art able to support themselves through their art. And still, most artists don't. I suppose the more successful one becomes, the more of an issue it is.
(Elephant - watercolor on paper)

BS: Do you have any studio rituals? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

SS: I usually make a pot of tea and turn on the radio to the BBC. NPR just started broadcasting in Berlin, which has been a nice change and has made me feel a bit more at home. My musical taste is vast so it's difficult to say what I listen to, but because I'm playing a lot of vinyl (the only way to truly hear music!), most of it's quite old. I just bought an old album at the flea market called SOUL MAKOSSA by a guy called Manu Dibango. It's circa 1972 and is what you'd call "Black Ivory Soul". Very funky shit!

BS: How do you deal with "creative block", so to speak? Are there times when you become frustrated with your work? How do you overcome it?

SS: I think as an artist, you have to accept these times and look at them as an opportunity to focus on something else for a while. We're not "art factories", cranking the stuff out like cookies or sausages. Of course, the pressures of the market don't always allow for that. In the moment that the bulk of your focus weighs heavier on the market and you think of your work as merely a product or commodity that you can't seem to churn out fast enough, I think it can become a real problem, poisoning the art and the creative process in general. "Creative block", in my mind, is a manufactured idea that has more to do with competition and outside pressures than the inability to actually create.
(Unraveling - watercolor on paper)

BS: Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

SS: Not yet, but I'm hoping one day!

BS: Why do you hope for that?

SS: Let me rephrase that. It's not that I support censorship and would certainly NOT like to be living under a fascist regime that dictates what I can and cannot make. However, the idea that my work could generate so much of a stir as to have it be under consideration for censorship is an interesting idea. If it's a threat to the State, then there must be something relevant in it's content.

BS: Sabrina, what was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

SS: Hmm, rock-bottom? Well, not exactly. My main struggle, I suppose, is to keep the work fresh - not only for myself but also for others - and not continuously reproduce the same old themes; a constant challenge, for sure. I like the idea of surprising myself and always discovering something new in the art, or at least making an effort to do so. If I can't be inspired by the art, how can I expect anyone else to be?

BS: Where can our readers view more of your work? Do you have a website? Are you represented by a gallery?

SS: My website is:

My gallery in Sarasota, Florida (Greene Contemporary) is also a good way to view my work:

They'll be exhibiting my drawings at Scope Hamptons this summer.

In addition to Greene Contemporary, I'm also represented by Raab Galerie in Berlin and Deck-Galerie fuer Aktuelle Kunst in Stuttgart.

Exhibition listings:

Raab Galerie, Traum - Opening June 5, 2007

Deck Galerie, Dort rastet die Lilith - Opening, June 29th, 2007
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Sabrina Small. Feel free to critique or discuss her art.

Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin