Briefly describe the work you do.
My work is inspired by loss. I am intrigued by the rituals surrounding death, the objects that people leave behind, and the dichotomy between the personal yet universal experience of loss. I explore these themes through various traditional media including painting, drawing, and ceramics as well as non-traditional materials and processes. More recently I have been drawn to performance and installation work, the ephemeral nature of which resonates with the fleeting quality of life which inspires my work.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Growing up, my mother struggled with mental illness off and on for many years, while my father worked long hours as a chef. Due to the emotional and economic stresses on the family, I regularly had to take on the tasks of caring for my younger sister and the family home. Making things out of nothing was a skill I quickly adopted. I had to be resourceful in order to thrive, and I use this resourcefulness to drive my creative process. Having experienced hardship, it is easier for me to recognize the inventive ways in which I can transform humble, everyday materials into works of art. I believe that the intrinsic meaning these materials carry in our society, and the playful ways in which I interact with and subvert these meanings, helps to democratize the experience of my work.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.
The idea of the solitary artist working in a designated studio does not really apply to my own artistic practice. As a current MFA student, I am lucky to have a spacious studio with large windows that overlook my university campus. While I spend a great deal of time creating in this space, the breadth of my material exploration often necessitates that I move outside of my studio. It is not uncommon for me to spend entire days in the ceramics department or the wood shop. Other days you may find me out in the world, interacting with people or searching for that unknown discarded treasure that will become my next sculpture. These different spaces act as an incubator, facilitating a collaborative exchange of processes, techniques, and ideas, which I use to fuel my creative process.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art.
Even though I earned my BA in studio art, I have always harbored doubts about my ability to realize my dream of becoming a full-time artist. After graduating, I began teaching art to both children and adults as a means to finance my art without distancing myself from the field itself. However, in time I was surprised to find just how much my role as a teacher could inform my own perspective on art. By observing the novelty with which my students interpret my lessons and work with materials, I have become better able to look at my own work through fresh eyes. I never thought being a teacher would be more than a means to an end for me, but now I consider it an integral part of my process.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
Being in graduate school has allowed me to spend a great deal of time making art. I have several part time jobs but for the most part I am in my studio every morning and work into the evening. I usually take care of the business side of my art practice in the morning before moving into my art around lunchtime.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago I was making primarily paintings, drawings, and prints. It wasn’t until I came back to school, that I really started to get into sculpture. That shift happened in large part because of an installation I did in which I coupled large figurative drawings with wire, video projections, and mirrors. Having made that installation, I saw for the first time that sculpture can happen with the humblest of materials. That experience initially piqued my interest in sculpture and since then, I have started to study ceramics and woodworking. Where my work is the same as five years ago, is in its experimentation. Five years ago this was happening on a two dimensional surface and now in 3-d, but my inquisitiveness has never subsided. I get a lot of energy out of seeing what things do, and this can inspire content or at the very least keep the momentum of my work going.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
In November of 2013, my brother Tom passed away at the age of 29. Almost immediately, I started making work inspired by this loss. What began as an essentially cathartic exercise, has sustained my artistic practice for nearly two years. Artists like Felix Gonzalez- Torres and Robert Gober have been among the many people that have inspired me as I work within the theme of loss. What appeals most to me about these artists, and others dealing with the AIDS crisis, is the unapologetic personalization of the work. I think there has been an overall trend towards de-personalization of art in recent years, as well as a tendency for artists to want to intellectualize everything they make. This has never sat well with me, as my approach to art has always happened on an emotional level.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I certainly spent a lot of time considering what I wanted to be as a child and into adulthood, and the truth is my interests are vast and my decisiveness is lacking. The way I see it now, when you are an artist you get to wear many hats. Sometimes when I am in my studio I am thinking from the perspective of a scientist, while other times I am a philosopher, historian, or mathematician. Although honestly, sometimes I wish I were a midwife in 1950s London.
Sarah Eargle is a current MFA candidate at Towson University. She received her BA in Studio Art from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2010. Sarah is an art educator to both children and adults. She exhibits regularly in her native city of Baltimore, with additional exhibitions nationally and internationally.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.