Meet the Artist: Sarah Shaw

by David Donno


Sarah Shaw

Sarah Shaw

We are pleased to welcome renowned Brighton based artist Sarah Shaw to the Naked Eye Gallery for the Dada+8 exhibition. Sarah has become well known for her figurative and abstract work throughout her artistic career. Her work has been purchased by national and international collectors, one of which is none other than Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood. Her piece 'The World is Spinning Around' was selected to be the cover art for Daughter's new album 'Not to Disappear'. We meet Sarah to find out a little bit more... 

What is the role of the artist in society?
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.

How has your art evolved? How do you see it evolving in the future?
I think my work changes with every painting I make, or at least I hope it does!  With every painting comes new learning, new challenges, new ways of seeing things and each piece of work, for me, inspires the next. I think my confidence has grown – I’m starting to be able to switch off my mind more often these days ( though it is still a battle at times) and when I do manage to quieten the brain and switch into instinctive mode I do tend to make better work – I have learned to kind of compartmentalise my thinking – I write a lot about my ideas and collect and collate imagery that I’m interested in (recently I’ve been working from small scale maquettes) I can then allow the process to take me where it takes me – my paintings always are more successful when I allow this dialogue of painting to be visible.    In the future I just hope to keep developing and becoming a better painter – I hope I never lose my curiosity about the possibilities within painting.  I hope I always will challenge myself to find different, more potent ways with paint to express my ideas. 

What are your tips for an aspiring artist?
I’m still learning myself, but I would recommend trying to find your own voice as an artist rather than emulate others, work hard, work even harder, and persevere with knocking on doors despite the rejection you will inevitably receive.  Lastly develop a thick skin because this path is a difficult one. It’s hard to live an emotional life which is visible and open to the criticism of strangers, but the sense of accomplishment and the sense of knowing yourself within the painting process is worth all the worry.

'The World is Spinning Around' - Sarah Shaw

'The World is Spinning Around' - Sarah Shaw

What does art mean to you?
Painting has been a huge part of my life since I was a child! It’s always meant so much to me, and it’s hard to define why – I think it’s in my genes! It feels like I’ve always wanted to be a painter – my mum says that I never used to go to bed as a kid, I'd just stay up and copy paintings by Van Gogh (and more obscurely, ‘Masquerade’ author, Kit Williams)  in the kitchen with the radio playing and a little calor gas heater on.   As a teenager I transformed our spidery old cellar into my first real studio and painted there constantly – some things never change! It’s in my blood. I don’t know who I am without painting.  Art is a language that transcends all barriers - it's a limitless form of communication from one person to another, transforming the broken into the beautiful, the unknown into the known – it’s the closest thing to spirituality that I know of, and means everything! It's my way of knowing myself and others and it’s the way I make sense of the world I live in.

In your opinion, what makes a memorable piece of art?
One which reverberates in your brain for days after seeing it - one which evokes something in you which you didn't know was there - one which makes you feel something.  There’s a lot of generic 'good looking' paintings in the contemporary art world which have that kind of showiness which does absolutely nothing for me, but are incredibly popular - everyone seems to be slowly morphing into the same painter - you know when you've experienced something different to this because it echoes.

'Comrades' - Sarah Shaw

'Comrades' - Sarah Shaw

Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere! I read a slogan on a hoodie the other day which said, 'you might think I'm listening but in my head I’m painting' - I empathise!  Not always obviously but if you paint everyday your brain just sort of switches into this mode of seeing painting questions/possibilities everywhere - I guess it’s the same for anyone - what you pay attention to expands - like when I was at art college, for extra cash my friends and I used to decorate our landlady's many houses - she just wanted everything painting white, even if it was already white.  For weeks I couldn’t look at any piece of wood without visualising painting it white!  Sometimes though it’s a piece of music, something someone has said, a picture glimpsed whilst flying by on a tube,  a time of day, a shadow, feelings, a dream or, more often, just the process of painting in itself....Inspiration is everywhere. 

What artists have inspired you?
I'm not going to answer this because I've answered it so many times before and have kicked myself afterwards for not mentioning some really important influence on my life - suffice to say the list is endless and is growing everyday.

How do you know when a piece of work is completed?
When I've reached a point of edginess where things are unquiet - still thrumming with energy but on the edge of quietness - where a balance is struck between all the elements at play.

What do you hope the viewers will take away from your artwork? 
I can only hope that they are sufficiently intrigued to want to come back and see more.  Paintings can take days, weeks, months to come to any kind of conclusion and it's said that a viewer in a gallery takes on average 15 seconds to look at any given piece - 15 seconds! If I can make work that has some kind of echo for them then I am content - if at any level I can give to a viewer what other people's art has given to me then it's all been worth it.