Thursday, November 25, 2010

Studio Visit with Sarah Beetson

Our very own Sarah Beetson is featured on The Vine blog, where she is interviewed and her passion for her occupation revealed.

Sarah Beetson is an artist-slash-illustrator with a lot going on. She counts '60s American literature, John Waters, cult film, Japan, rock music, decaying urban typography, and Coney Island as her inspirations, and divides her time between a picturesque farm in Queensland and a Motor Torpedo boat on The Thames.

In the lead up to a long hot summer preparing for her forthcoming exhibition on the Goldcoast, Sarah took us on a studio tour of her working space.
How would you describe your art practice?I live for it, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. Where is your studio and how did you come to work there?My studio is in my house - a converted dairy shed on my boyfriend's family farm at the foot of Mt Tamborine, South East Queensland. It is idyllic, surrounded by rolling hills, creeks, rainforest, cows, chickens, wallabees, exotic birds and organic fruit - avocados, macadamias and custard apples are the main crops. I made the move up here from Melbourne last year and it has truly enabled me to immerse myself fully in my work without distraction. We are still close to Brisbane and The Gold Coast, plus I travel to Melbourne and Sydney every few months and I spend most Northern Hemisphere summers in London onboard a friend's Motor Torpedo boat on The Thames. I get my city fix when I need to but it seems I am a country girl at heart!
What happens in your studio from week to week besides art-making?I also work as a part-time artist's consultant for Illustration Ltd in London - I am very lucky to be able to do this from my home studio, as well working on illustration commissions and personal work for my own exhibitions.What is important when setting up a space like this?Good storage solutions, technology and internet, and space, space, space, and maximised usage of what you have. Then covering the walls with colour in the form of artwork, cutouts, inspiration material, etc. I like them to be literally dripping with colour.

Do you always carry a sketchbook?

No - I generally work at my studio, then gather my inspiration via other means whilst I am away from it. I very often work in a sketchbook though - it is the best way to see the progression and development within a series of works. Occasionally I will work in transit - for example, when I was working on my last exhibition I got stuck in snow drifted Norway waiting for a flight to Heathrow - and I ended up starting a series of aeroplane sick bags - drawing on them as I flew different airlines back to Australia. I also created two large canvas works on the boat in London, which was fun negotiating The Thames Tides and finding my sea legs!

What are these Pollies? How long have you had them?

They began life as a pair of pyjama cases which a family friend created for me when I was born. They were apparently pinned to the wall above my cot, but I pulled them down as soon as I could stand. They have endured numerous outfit changes and still bear the remnants of some appalling childhood sewing moments. One has a missing foot which I rediscovered a few years ago and reattached with a safety pin. I hadn't seen them in 10 years, but once rediscovered in a box in my parents garage - I wondered if they were the subconscious inspiration for the pink cheeks I often give the subjects in my paintings?

What's the mood of your mood wall? Did you take all these photos yourself?
These particular photos are all my own and were all gathered on a 2008 US Road Trip. They mainly originate from signage in Santa Cruz, Coney Island and The Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas, as well as from the Pinball Hall of Fame. I originally put them up for font inspiration for my BMI Badges and Wordsearches in my last solo exhibition "YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU EAT", but I left them up as I use so much typography within much of my work.
What are you listening to at the moment?

I am loving the "We Are Only Riders" Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions compilation record. Jeffrey Lee fronted 80s band The Gun Club, who were highly influential but not greatly commercially successful. Jeffrey Lee died in 1996, and a box of his unrecorded demos was later discovered, to be re-recorded in the format of this album by his contemporaries and bands he inspired including Nick Cave, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, Lydia Lunch, Mick Harvey, 16 Horsepower and The Ravonettes.  I just painted Jeffrey Lee's portrait as part of my Unsung Heroes series.

What fuels your day?

Coffee in the morning and a boiled egg courtesy of my hens. A glass of Lindauer Fraise can often help if I am working late into the night.

What is great about gouache? How much do you love it?

The best thing about Acryl gouache particularly is its permanence (as it is a mixture of gouache and acrylic), it's incredible quality, and the massive colour range available. I particularly love Japanese brand Turner Acryl Gouache and Holbein Acryla Gouache. Unfortunately I have to ship them in from The States and the UK as their are no stockists in Australia!

What do you think about laws that restrict the sale of spraypaints?
I understand why there are restrictions. But I think school kids probably need access to spraypaints if they are interested in developing their art. I once bought a friend's kid a bunch of spraypaints for his 12th birthday, as he was really interested in making murals in his backyard and could not get hold of the paints. Plus - the basic brands can be a lot cheaper than many of the materials found in an art shop. In terms of graffiti laws - I always thought they were pretty appalling. In London there was an anti graffiti campaign that offered cash rewards to anyone tipping off police to graffiti artists' identity. I think any kind of public are should be encouraged and how hard would it really be to provide designated areas for these kids to have an outlet? But I guess the massive success of Banksy, Blek Le Rat and the Melbourne Street Artists has already changed the path of graffiti culture going forward.

How does an artwork evolve? Chance or planning?

I begin by conceiving an idea or a theme for a painting or series. I will then spend time researching that theme via books, internet, film, museums, etc, and further clarify the direction of the work. I will then source photographic reference, either by setting up my own small photoshoots or using found reference. I greatly admire those gifted with a photographic memory who are able to draw from the pictures in their mind – but that is not me. I like to surround myself with as much information as possible about the subjects before I begin. Then, halfway through the process, the painting begins. By this time I have planned out much of the composition and materials I will incorporate. But I never have a preconceived idea set in stone of how the piece will look when finished, and I always surprise myself with the outcome.

Does your desk feel like "home"?

It feels like a perfect combination of production and madness.

How do you balance creativity and chaos?

I don't - I just work through it! But time out with my hens, yoga and swimming often help.

You have chicken and cow friends to keep you company!

The cows don't have names as they often leave us for market - so I try not to get attached. Although there have been several generations of white-faced Santa Gertrudis calfs that have been named 'Baby White Face I, II, III' etc. Our last Bull, named Dave, made an appearance on a canvas bag I painted and embroidered with a Richard Brautigan poem for an LMFF show at The Australian Poetry Centre. 

My chickens are adopted ex-battery hens and are named as follows: Lee Mellon, Sal Paradise, Angelina, Ignatius J.Reilly, Joanie, Sunny and Isabella Blow. 

A Billy Idol quote that inspires you!

OK, I narrowed it down to three:

Russian roulette no fun / I don't need a gun / I just need someone
If I had the chance / I'd ask the world to dance / And not be dancing with myself

It's a nice day to start again / WOW! / There is nothing fair in this world / There is nothing safe in this world / And there's nothing sure in this world / And there's nothing pure in this world / Look for something left in this world / ohooooooooooooh / Start Again!

Sarah Beetson is represented by 19 Karen in Queensland. Look out for her solo exhibition there in 2011.

See Sarah Beetson's full portfolio here.

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