Art Talk: Sara Berman On Her Worldwide Solo Debut
July 17, 2017 | BY Cherry Lai
The British designer-turned-artist talks boundary-pushing, trickery and turning up to the canvas
Provocative, thoughtful and confident: these are some of the words that come to mind when describing London-based artist Sara Berman’s dynamic oeuvre of textile sculptures, figurative paintings and works on paper.
It's hard to believe it was only half a decade ago that the MFA graduate from the London’s Slade School of Art stepped away from her high-flying eponymous womenswear label to pursue a life-long passion for fine art.
The charismatic artist was recently in Hong Kong for the first time to debut her worldwide solo exhibition ‘Big Cactus, Little Cactus’ at Galerie Huit, featuring new ink drawings that juxtapose furniture design classics, potted plants and patterned floors with glimpses of an individual person. We caught up to discuss her creative process and inspirations over a cup of joe.
What spurred your interest, and eventually a career, in fine art?
I was torn between doing fine arts or fashion after my foundation year in London. I chose the latter as fashion at Saint Martins in the ‘90s was more fun; after that I started a business and did that for 15 years. It was great, but I never stopped painting.
I was very grateful to come to the privilege of going back to school [at Slade] a little bit later, because I felt I had things to draw. I think I needed the time to develop. The Master’s program was very intense, I learned a huge amount and I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Tell us about this ‘Big Cactus, Little Cactus’ exhibition debuting in Hong Kong.
This collection was created ‘off-plan’ for the show after just seeing a floorplan, which was a wonderful way to work and really embodied what I was trying to do [with the collection]. I’m fascinated by interior spaces—how we occupy them, what they mean to us, the relationship between two- and three-dimensions, and how we curate from high to low.
I’m also very interested in the construction of the narrative and what I call ‘the museum of self’—the things we surround ourselves with seem to define us. You have to think, how true is this self? Is my chosen narrative just a construct? That is why I’ve painted trickery, like plants that are not planted, a rug that doesn’t work.
I’m trying to challenge the ideas of what matters in our constructed lifestyle. We live in a society where we are bombarded with constant imagery that we are asked to accept as truth; it’s good if it bothers you a little.
What made you choose to debut your solo exhibition in Hong Kong?
Luck. I got lucky because Hong Kong chose me; I feel really thrilled to be here. It’s a really exciting city that has that high-low that I know is going to inform my work.
What is your creative process like and is there a medium you most like to work with?
The way I work with paint is very different from the way I work with textiles. When I’m painting it’s a very physical and emotional act. I think the most important thing for me as a painter is to not over-intellectualize it because that takes the joy out of painting.
For me, where I’m really flying with the work, is when I’m dealing with paint. I’m not a process-driven artist because that’s a different way of working. It’s the physicality of paint that is very different from textiles.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. I think inspiration happens everywhere and in different ways. I found it really good to be away from my paintings and have some real distance because you realize you need space to see how things can move. It’s like a circular dance around the work, like revisiting an older piece.
Your road to being a fine artist has been a fascinating one. You put your successful fashion label on hold in 2012 to pursue art, earning an MFA from London’s Slade School of Art. What prompted the transition?
It was a very relevant part of my journey, but it feels like something that’s very much in the past. I have always painted and realized if it was something I wanted to develop and practice, I had to stop working in fashion. I’m very, very fortunate in that I was always able to paint. It just built to the point where it became the most important thing.
What are the best things and challenges about being an artist?
Nothing's easy; I find the act of painting very hard. That’s the challenge that I hope will always be there because it’s what you need to constantly push against. I love the fact that there will always be somewhere to go and further to push yourself. As an artist, there’s no point of which you’re not hoping to develop. That’s the challenge and it’s a blessing.
What’s your day in the life like as an artist?
(Laughs) I take my kids to school, drive to my studio and stay in my studio; I pick my kids up, and often I go back to the studio. Being in the studio is just really important for the type of artist I am. It’s not all painting; it’s a chance to be in the space of the work. I love a good book—I’m reading Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic. I love to travel, hang out with my three kids— and it’s my new year’s resolution to do yoga more often.
What can we look forward to from you next?
I’m working on a series of textile pieces. I’ve also got some shows that are happening in the background but my attention is focused on pushing and exploring. I need some playtime. You can’t always be aiming for the next show.
Last but not least, do you have any advice for aspiring artists or young people finding their way in the creative industry?
I think we’re all struggling. I remember doing my exams at 16 years old, and I couldn’t wait to be grown up and not worry about getting things wrong for anyone else; then you’re grown up and realise that you’re going to mess up all for yourself. I don’t think you ever get to the point where you have it all sorted.
Maybe we all, myself included, need to learn to be kinder to ourselves and others. We’re all insecure. We’re all just trying to be the best person we can be, and we’re definitely failing 80% of the time but you just have to try.
Advice for artists?
Do your scales. Turn up to the canvas every day. Even if it’s not going well, even if you hate the work, turn up. Everything else will resolve itself in front of the work. It’s not like the artist is necessarily the master of the work. You’re in a conversation with the work—whenever I’m done with the painting, I feel bereft, like I’ve broken up with someone—so the least you can do is turn up.
‘Big Cactus, Little Cactus’ is on display until July 22, 2017.
Galerie Huit, Shop 2, G/F & 1/F, SOHO 189 Art Lane, 189 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan
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