An Interview with Brighton's latest national artistic starlet: Sarah Shaw

Looking through in preparation for these questions I've seen you have had one hell of a year. From October last year you have been featured in Aesthetica Magazine, selected for the Lacey Contemporary Gallery prize, 2015 Art Gemini Prize selection, a solo exhibition at Ink_d, selected for National Open Art Competition and selected to be front cover for the upcoming Daughter album.

What is your personal highlight from this year?

When you put it like that it does sound very exciting! It’s funny because I can just see the hard work that I’ve put into making the work – I haven’t really focused on the fruits of my labour: these are exciting moments but then it’s just back to the studio and the tumultuous journey with a new painting! It’s always been like that, a constant rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows. To be honest my personal highlight this year was receiving a compliment from one of my painting heroes; that meant everything to me. Having said that the ‘Daughter’ album experience has been ridiculously exciting!

Your work has generally had relatively unfixed themes, especially with your Rorschach paintings but I have recently started to see a drift towards protest and borders in theme, especially with your recent paintings in Ink_d Gallery. What is motivating the shift in your work towards that way?

Interesting you should perceive that. I wouldn’t say that I have unfixed themes. I allow myself to have a relative amount of freedom in the subjects I choose but they all have common threads running through them – especially in the Rorschach paintings which explored ideas around psychology. I have always played with ways in which to pictorially divide the canvas to achieve a certain effect, to attempt to speak of time, or to make a part of a painting function as either a barrier or as an opening – a pictorial device to invite a viewer into a painting or otherwise. These barriers also have the effect of allowing me to explore peripheral ideas about what is behind, above, in between, around the corner. Recently yes, the paintings have become more political, sadder, and angrier. I think it’s inevitable and healthy that my painting is reflecting to some extent the times I am living in.

Is there anything that you would like to see more of, or anything that you would change in an ideal world?

Where do I start? To put it simply, I’d like to see more common sense, fairness, equality, kindness.  Less injustice, cruelty, and killing.  That’d be a good start.

Why do you paint?

‘I rhyme to see myself, to set the darkness echoing’, Seamus Heaney. I can’t say it any better.

When did it all start?

I’ve always made work.  When I lived in Wales I had a studio in my attic, in Yorkshire I had a freezing studio in my cellar. I was a teenager when I created my first studio in my mum’s spidery cellar. These were all beset with difficulties, I fell backwards out of my attic studio and broke my arm, I painted my studio cellar with whitening lime and burnt my arms too! (Very daft in retrospect).

I’ve painted since I was a little girl. I used to endlessly copy obscure Van Gogh paintings until I started to try to find out who I was myself as a painter.  I don’t remember how it started, it just feels like painting has always been a huge part of who I am.  I’m sure it always will be – it’s the way I make sense of being in this world.

And, what is it about the materials that attract you to them?

I love oil paint – something about its beautiful oozy texture, the smell, the colours, the possibilities within its qualities which gets me every time- I make quite unconventional paintings with the most conventional of materials though I have recently been experimenting with painting on different surfaces.

How do you see your role as an artist?

My first response to this question was very simple: to create! Thinking more about what it is to ‘create’ it becomes more beautifully complex:  to make visible the invisible, to cast new light onto old shadows, to evoke, to explore, to uplift, to transcend, to provoke, to challenge, to express ideas about what it is to be a human being in this time, with these thoughts and in this flesh, and hopefully to communicate them with other human beings.

Do you think you have something to say, or is it simply to create pieces for people to escape into?

I make work.  All kinds of work, at all different times of day, whilst stuff is happening in the world, in my life, in other peoples’ lives - some of this stuff makes it back into the work.

I don’t come to a canvas with big ideas about ‘saying’ something.  If I’m angry about something it will make its way into the work, if I’m sad that’ll be there too.  If other people get something from it then that’s a huge bonus but I’m not even making it for them.  I make work firstly for myself.   It wouldn’t be real if I didn’t.

Sometimes I make a painting and it needs to be with me for a while after its complete for me to really understand what I was painting about. Painting is at its best for me when there is a kind of blankness in some part of the brain – a little bit switches off and I just become an instinctual creature – making work based on a thousand tiny aesthetic decisions made so speedily that they are hardly noticed. This is when painting is at its best, and when you can be surprised by what comes out of your own hands, heart and mind.

Do you have any advice for artists reading this?

Work hard, reflect, then work even harder – try and find your own voice and develop a thick skin – this isn’t an easy journey, but persevere because the view is amazing.


You can see Sarah Shaw's work at Ink_d Gallery's "Never Mind the Baubles" exhibition and at the upcoming Dada Projects Exhibition at Naked Eye Gallery.