Sarah Shaw interview

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We visited Brighton artist, Sarah Shaw at her studio recently. It is an exciting time for Sarah at the moment, with a host of exhibitions and a TV project on the go. Sarah Shaw is a painter whose work hovers between figurative and abstract, where the subject matter is inspired by a varied collection of imagery. Sarah explores ways of depicting time passing on a canvas by building up and stripping back images, composing painterly snap shots like memories.

Sarah’s studio is situated in a court yard in the centre of Brighton and Hove. It is in a wooden clad building with a corrugated tin roof; which was originally used as an old fire station.

Upon arriving at her studio we squeezed past another artists’ project which was being worked on; a giant boat sculpture made with shingle. We followed Sarah up a slightly precarious stairway to her space on the 1st floor. It is quite an idyllic setting for an artist, but Sarah assured us it is not so romantic in the cold, rainy months of winter.

Sarah’s wonderful paintings were hanging on every wall, some completed and some drying waiting to be worked on. The desk is covered in a multitude of curled up paint tubes and a vast mixing palette coated with years of colour. Pots of brushes of every size congregate on all available surfaces, with post cards and print outs of inspirational images taped to the walls, and an armchair in the corner for contemplative moments. It is a well-used and well-loved studio.

Here is our interview with Sarah Shaw;

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What is your artistic background/education?

I studied at Falmouth College of art; three brilliant, tumultuous years which were some of the best in my life! It was a massive privilege to indulge my love of painting for those years, being taught by incredible tutors, who, importantly, were still practicing their own art, and alongside some brilliant artist friends.

What is your favourite medium and why?

Oil on canvas or linen. Something about wonderful oozy, glossy, pungent oil paint that gets me every time.

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What inspires your subject matter?

Everything.

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Your work takes on a figurative and an abstracted style, is the subject matter as important as the abstraction?

I always find it weird when people refer to me as an abstract painter! I suppose there is an abstracted element, but it is only because I feel so dissatisfied when an image I have created stays on one plane. I always feel the need to disrupt, to fracture, dis-assemble, re-assemble, to have the painting reflect something more true about the subject than a straight forward depiction would. Something more human, something that reflects different facets of a mental state, or the different dimensions we live through. The subject matter is definitely more important. I’m not purposely abstracting things just for the sake of it. It’s a personal thing but I think that kind of incompleteness reflects something about how I feel about existing in this world. It’s how I make sense of my place in this world.

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Tell us about your process and do you strictly stick to it with all your work?

I’m an image/idea magpie. I collect images from different sources, from newspapers, magazines, internet, posters, personal photos etc etc etc and place these around the studio with notes usually scribbled on them to remind me of what has provoked my interest. Not all these images, ideas will make it into a painting, but I select some that have some relevance to my thinking and kind of start to make a painterly collage. I then take this into Photoshop and mess around with different combinations, and generate more information to paint from. I usually then print this out and mess again with it, cutting and changing elements which are superfluous. The initial painting process is usually quite a speedy affair, quickly establishing, hopefully, the sense of dynamic that I’m envisioning. The paintings will go through a hundred different changes before I’m in any way happy with the results. The final result will, inevitably, retain nothing of the initial collage but may retain the markings of the journey of the painting. And no, I don’t stick to it with all my work, sometimes a painting just happens without all of the above. One of my favourite paintings happened because I had an image in my head I just wanted to get down on canvas and bring into existence. Three blissful hours later, it was there, tangible and real.

Which Artists’ work has influenced you the most?

That’s a very difficult question. The most? As an adult I would probably say Peter Doig, but I think an artist/illustrator called Kit Williams, author of the famous ‘Masquerade’ book had a massive effect on me when I was a child, and made me want to paint. In terms of Kit Williams it was his subject that fascinated me, not so much the execution, in terms of Doig it’s both his subject and his incredible application of paint.

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What challenges (if any) do you face with your work and how do you overcome them?

Oh, lack of confidence, over thinking things, eternal dissatisfaction. It’s a constant challenge to overcome these, but I think it’s an important part of being a painter and the journey.

Have you got any interesting projects/ exhibitions coming up?

It’s all a bit crazy at the moment! Y’know that saying you wait for one bus for ages and three turn up at once? Well the equivalent of ten have turned up in the last couple of months!

I’m currently showing work in the ‘Pushing Paint’ exhibition at Ink-d Gallery, Brighton alongside artists I really respect, and in the Cork Street gallery as part of the UA Open competition. I have two paintings selected for this year’s East Sussex Open at Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, work in the Lawrence Alkin gallery in Soho, London and my own solo show coming up swiftly in July at the Naked Eye gallery in Hove. Oh and the BBC are following my painting progress for a project I’m not allowed to publicise yet…

What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has given you that you still use today?

Believe in yourself. And keep a well stacked fruit bowl.

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Please visit Sarah Shaw’s website www.sarahshaw.co.uk to view her online gallery and see exhibition information.