Sarah Roberts

We caught up with Sarah Roberts, who has work in the Tŷ Pawb Open exhibition titled ‘Lamina (Lockdown Papers)’, and asked her a few questions…
  • Where are you from?

I’m originally from a little Village called Tywyn, we are situated just on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, they literally just cut out a little wedge on the map ,with us in it, perhaps to let us have caravan parks and weird extensions and pebbledash I guess.  This is, I think the origin of my fascination with surfaces, this extreme visibility of matter that you get when made things are awkwardly plonked against epic landscapes.  I currently live and work between Leeds, in West Yorkshire and Bryncrug – (an even smaller village in Gwynedd, 5 minutes from my hometown that actually made it into the National park.)  Being Welsh is definitely an important part of my identity and my practice, and take it from someone who hasn’t been home to the motherland for months, hiraeth is a reality.

  • How long have you been a practicing artist for?

Not long ! I describe myself as an old[er] art baby, I came to the game late at 29 – and I mean the whole game, that’s when I did my foundation. Art wasn’t really even on my radar before 2009. Growing up, the nearest art gallery was quite a drive away and beyond my immediate realm of interest.  I got told to do French instead of art at school for an easier ‘A’, and as a teenager I was more interested in cider than Cézanne.

There was a inkling of interest though. I used to draw a lot as a kid, I loved copying things, and was obsessed with collecting rocks, shells, souvenirs and the like from the local pound shops and arcades.  I would assemble them in curated clutches around the house, and the net curtained windows on the prom with the boats in bottles, shell constructions and Royal Doulton Figurines were like catnip.  I still have a thing for seaside windows.  When I was living in London I’d make pilgrimages to the coast and painstakingly document the best net curtain galleries.

I didn’t really see a lot of shows as an adult either before starting my studies.  Then I became quite interested in photography in my twenties, and then had a weird moment in New York with my friend Anna. We saw a William Eggleston retrospective, and gate-crashed a crit that was happening at the Whitney Biennial.  I honestly decided then and there to apply to art school at 29, I quit my job and moved to London to study at Chelsea.

I think coming to it all late was amazing, there was no expectation, and everything was new and mind blowing. I think all the side step moves I’d made to get here counted, from the French GCSE to the Sociology BA to years working in schools and colleges – I ended up the right place at the right time as a sum of all my parts.

So I gradated in 2014 and have been practicing ever since. Before the pandemic, I was making site specific installations in art spaces and galleries, from artist led spaces [including the wonderful Welsh spaces PERICLO in Wrecsam, ARCADE in Cardiff]  and on occasion in more formal spaces like Laure Genillard, London and Vitrine Gallery, Basel or  Whitechapel gallery [for the London Open].  TBH I’d just started getting into the idea of applying for more residencies to shake up my practice and then COVID happened!  I jinxed it. One day, over the rainbow.

  • How has Lockdown effected the way you work?

When lockdown started, I didn’t feel like making anything at all – I am in fact still mid way through an installation piece called ‘Blue promise’ which is now defunct with no exhibition to go to [I WILL find it a home when things are safer]. The idea of putting people at risk for to go to the studio to finish an artwork with nowhere to go seemed mad, so I didn’t go to the studio and instead created a workspace at home.  In fact I did loads of DIY, it felt really good to be doing things that felt useful and lasting.

When I did get a space up and running as a home studio there were suddenly practical restrictions on making work [lack of space, being able to throw materials around freely] but I also felt myself being held back by something else. I’ve long since been in a weird love hate relationship with my practice around the use of so much material within it, I can normally justify this if the work is set to be exhibited.  So the idea of making ‘stuff’ just for the sake of making felt a bit weird in a time of crisis.  On the flipside- not making was making me feel rubbish and frustrated.

Then came the amazing Matthew Burrows and his  #Artists Support Pledge, a lifeline for artists via Instagram.  Not only did this give me a platform to sell some work, it gave me a really good reason to make some.  I started doing a collage every couple of days with a corresponding text  – it felt amazing to have something to work towards and to be connected again to the wider network I was missing.

Virtual shows are also great for keeping me sane, like the Ty Pawb Open, giving artists a chance to connect with an audience whilst physical spaces are off limits, and giving us the chance to keep viewing.

I think the new normal has changed me a bit, its forced me into areas I wasn’t confident in – I am writing every day, trying out new techniques and focusing on translating my practice as best I can  – sometimes it can be good to be shaken up – I really miss making installations though and I don’t see that love affair being over so easily – I can’t wait to get back to it, it’s how I naturally articulate.

  • Where do you find the most pleasure in your practice?

My practice centres around the actuality of the surfaces of the world – from casino carpets to the curve of a back or a cliff edge – any thing is fair game.  What’s not to love.  I am OBSESSED by landscape, architecture, and the panoply of objects we spend our lives navigating, collecting, making and making sense of as bodies.  And the point of interest for me is the intrinsic materiality of stuff, of making ‘sense’ of things in terms of their tactility and their actuality.  We live in a world of hyper reality where everyone seems to keep talking about everything disappearing – but the way I see it we are constantly accosted by ever increasing multiplicities of STUFF. 

As a maker, and the daughter of a hoarder mine is however something of a love-hate relationship with materiality, I find myself obsessed with collecting and using materials but also terrified of the impact of amassing, of adding to the pile of undoable things. I am a self-confessed material junkie maker, living in the age of the Anthropocene.

Research is a realm of total pleasure –seeking out material deliciousness in the everyday.  I would normally make research trips like pilgrimages to places of particular material interest, each place provides a palette and resultant installation, I’ve previously devoured and spat out Torremolinos, Hong Kong, Borth in North Wales, the old Minera Mine site in Wrecsam, a casino in Reno to name a few. 

I was supposed to go to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in March and was super excited about this majorly constructed reality I was about to grab up as a palette to work from and with.  But that was quickly off the cards of course, and any sort of immersion in ‘other’ places and spaces is not so easy even now, months later.

So instead I’m turning to old photographs from my late Mam’s cardboard box archives, and leafing through the plethora of interiors books, DIY magazines and the Reader’s Digest guides to natural wonders I have been collecting up for the last ten years from car boot sales and second hand shops.  To be honest, the ‘new normal’ is making so many things alien that that in itself is interesting too – the idea that we used to all get into cloth cubicles and sweat all over jumpers in the local Zara is off the wall, but I’m still ruminating on all that.

  • What impression do you want your work to make on audiences?

The power of visual connections is mad. I like the idea that the works give space for reminiscing, allowing audiences to make their own connections whilst rooting them in a new material reality.

Textures, colours, recognisable forms all colliding to make these uncanny remakes that are essential spaces for us to reflect on their materiality, to draw our own conclusions and to reflect on the excess of materials we take for granted and rationalise in our built environments and have stopped seeing.

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