Sarah and I met at the gallery on the first day of her exhibition, Salvaged Garden (open July 1 – August 2, 2015) to discuss her work. Although the Center Gallery is not a particularly large space, her works made it seem so, with an installation and two large paintings looking sharp as all get-out.
SDG: Artists such as Rebecca Louise Law take flowers into a sculptural profusion that fills the exhibition space. Your profusion is rooted into abstract painting, even the installations. Tell us about your relationship with painting, and what it has meant to you to expand into installation.
SMB: Ultimately, I want to create an exhibition that has everything. There’s something alluring about that blank rectangle, and I am a painter first, but I also like to see the different ways that the forms I create translate into space. I am working on a few sculptures now in the studio, using similar materials, and look forward to showing them in the near future.
SDG: Your installations have received positive media attention in the past few months, including coverage by Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe and in Artscope Magazine by Sarah Kinkade. Other than the evident quality and beauty of your work, do you think that the issues you deal with, or perhaps they way you work are having a moment in our cultural imagination?
SMB: I work with repurposed, recycled materials. I love them not just because of the environmental message they contain, but also because they look so cool. I am likely one of many artists out there asking, why put new crap in the world if we can use the old stuff?
I think that STUFF has even more power than ever now because of all of the digital matter we process every day. Actual things really speak to us, their physicality. I love seeing the combinations I can create, and I almost feel like I’m cheating when I put things I’m working on up on the wall-wire, cloth, and floral material-and they look so appealing, organic, and plastic.
SDG: I appreciate it when smart, driven artists like yourself openly engage motherhood in their work. It enables viewers to align motherhood with creativity and productivity outside of running a household. What kind of feedback have you received about works such as Ode to Pregnancy or Mommy Love Me, in conjunction with their titles?
SMB: Painting is like therapy for me, and whatever I’m thinking about makes its way into my work. I had two ridiculously dramatic pregnancies, and I am still working through the emotions. My youngest is just seven months old, and the power of the sensations and what a mess babies are is still very much a reality for me.
Many different emotions come up when people view this work, both positive and negative. Teens LOVED the painting “Ode to Pregnancy” when it was exhibited at the Danforth Art Museum. They were curious about the process, i.e. “what IS that, a painting or a sculpture? How did she make it bulge like that?” People have asked whether it depicts a miscarriage, and that becomes a touchy subject. I use my artistic process to work through the mess of life, and ultimately arrive at a form that I find really beautiful, even if not in the traditional sense. That is the point of my art: to capture that simultaneous beauty and ugliness; growth and decay.
SDG: As you work, do you make decisions in an organic or intuitive response to the materials, or do you plan how things will go in advance? Do you work in a sketchbook before or while working on a new piece?
SMB: I work on paintings differently than on installations. My paintings evolve as I work, often turning out very differently from how they began. I respond to the materials and the forms as I go, and I like that. I work on the floor a lot, and the paint moves around as I work.
This installation at Kingston was initially designed for a different space, and since then I have reworked it for other spaces. I begin by sketching the overall forms, and as I build it, it grows and changes within the limitations of the space. The organic materials grow and move, and I fix them with wire, but they still do their own thing and surprise me.
SDG: Which artists inspire you? Could you recommend anyone’s work we should have a look at?
SMB: Expressionist artists such as Joan Snyder; particularly her collages and flowers.That is why I love the Danforth Art Museum. Also Joan Mitchell, Lynda Benglis, Frank Auerbach, and Chaim Soutine. Contemporary artists I look at include Summer Wheat, Julia-Fernandez Pol, Cecily Brown, and Lauren Rice.
SDG: Where can we see your work next?
SMB: I am in the second annual pop-up exhibition at Flock Gallery in Manchester, New Hampshire. The opening reception is Thursday, July 23 at 5:00pm – 8:00pm, and the exhibit runs July 23-28th.
I have a solo exhibition at the Danforth Art Museum in the main center space from March 6 to May 16, 2016. For that exhibition, I will reinstall an archway piece and create a site-specific piece for an alcove. I’ll have news about another group exhibition in the near future as well.
You can follow Sarah on twitter @sarahbrent and on her website: sarahartist.com.