Colors Without Names

Header Image: Studio view of Sarah Peoples’ work with appearances from “The Meaning of Everything Part I” and “Plastic Rainbow, Incorporating Thomas Doughty, Morning among the Hills

Interview with Sarah Peoples

October 30, 2016

HIWP: Can you describe how you composed the thesis for your newest in-progress endeavor, currently known as The Paint Chip Project” to be featured in the Fleisher Wind Challenge next winter?

SP: The Paint Chip Project grew out of an intense personal experience which completely changed the way I see the world. Both literally and metaphorically. Throughout the time of this experience I began to see vivid colors as I had never seen before in real time. It was a little mystical, a little out of body and all brutally confrontational.

These vibrant colors have allowed me to organize my memory of an event, and tell a story. Storytelling has emerged as an overarching theme in my studio. For some reason it is hard for me to admit that my work is highly personal, because I want the work to be relatable. But, I must remind myself that my mere actions make the work personal and yet there’s a lot of room for influence, inspiration and audience.

Original paint samples. Names and colors created by Sarah Peoples.

HIWP: As indicated in your thesis for The Paint Chip Project, your perspective changed a great deal in recent years. For example, since I followed your project, Brood Maker: An Inflatable Baby-Making Machine, it shifted form quite a bit, and in the end was a collaborative project between yourself and another artist, Aimee Gilmore, at Metropolitan Gallery 250. Do you think that your artwork also has changed in nature?

SP: There are times in art when it is necessary to just do something; to simply make, do and show in order to move forward. Ultimately, whether or not I think the piece was a success is moot. I am happy I did it because it motivated me with purpose at a time when I needed a push. Does that sound sour grapes? I don’t mean it to come off like that, I just think some works are a means to an end.

Besides, I detest the idea of perfection. It’s an unfounded ideal that inspires nothing but procrastination and fear. Procrastination sucks. And, while fear can be a motivating factor in making, it is not a healthy avenue for inspiration unless you have gotten so close to the fear that the fear has become your friend.

The Baby Making Machine will definitely be a reoccurring theme/piece as it lives on in many different incarnations. It’s very possible there will be a return at some point in the next few years.

HIWP: While I did enjoy the work that I saw, I am excited that you plan to revisit it. I have seen it take different forms, and so I know there is a lot going on there. When you first started making it, you were not yet a mother. When you exhibited it, you were. And now, your perspective is inevitably different. (Motherhood can be considered a taboo subject in contemporary art. People judge the concept as being too sentimental.) Motherhood is a shared human experience. Even women who are not mothers are still “potential” baby-making-machines! Haha! Can you elaborate a little on your relation to that piece before you were a mother vs. after you became one?

SP:I really don’t think of motherhood as being sentimental. It’s down and dirty, nitty-gritty, deep-end, scary stuff. I mean, yes it can also be warm and fuzzy, too, because babies are warm and fuzzy. When I first made Baby Making Machine for my thesis exhibition it was a prelude. When I revisited the piece in drawing or form after I had become a mother it became an anthem and I’m sure it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like going forward. Who knows maybe it’ll be a swan song.   

HIWP: What is your interest in machinery in your art?

SP: Oh! I love machines. I mean, I’m fascinated by the conductive domino effect which takes place. And, the more complicated and Rube Goldberg-ian the better. A few years ago I began to think of the human body as the original machine. Since then I’m somewhere in the realm of biomechanics, which is at least the partial thesis of a large scale on-going piece titled The Meaning of Everything, Part I. I showed an in-progress version last fall at Automat Gallery for the exhibition Stand In.

Things We Mine (Drawing for The Meaning Of Everything Part I), Pencil and pastel, 18″x24.”


[Study I] for The Meaning of Everything Part I. Mixed media on paper 18″x24.”

The Meaning of Everything Part I. Mixed media sculpture and found objects installation. Image courtesy of Automat Collective.

The finished work will be a large-scale diorama or perhaps a tableaux vivant in which I am searching for meaning in, and understanding of, life by systematically simplifying natural, extraterrestrial, mystical events using objects both found and constructed. My interest in biomechanics fulfills an intense curiosity, but often times, as a lay person and not a scientist, it abstracts answers to questions, too, which lends itself beautifully to visual art. 

HIWP: Indeed! These non-functional fantastic machines evoke wonder, as well as trepidation. The beauty of the thing being not the result, but the object itself. This is an important shift of focus from the scientific to the poetic.

SP: Hopefully my work evokes wonder. Moreover have you ever seen a venus fly trap!? That thing has it ALL goin’ on.  

HIWP: Can you describe your making process? Where does the drawing come into play, and where does the sculpture come into play? Where do you decide to “contract” an aspect of a work, have it made for you, and where do you decide to make it yourself?

SP: Drawing is a very, very important part of making. I seem to work a lot of my ideas out on paper before beginning to work in three dimensions. Sometimes the drawings are sketches, sometimes they are light and airy and sometimes they are mechanical in style. Drawing is something I thoroughly enjoy. It’s probably one of my favorite things, ever. And, I’m a sucker for beautiful objects.


Studio view 4, with mixed media material tests, color samples, and drawing by Sarah Peoples.


Studio view 5 with original drawing by Sarah Peoples.

And so, I love a professional, ya know? If I need something done that’s beyond my abilities I am ready to reach out to someone who is able. I love an expert and a specialty. I think I’m drawn to the esoteric nature of a specialty. Lord knows I am quite specific in talent and know-how. I also have others fabricate works in which I would like to visually drive home a generic or mass-produced feeling.

And, that’s probably my simplistic way of making my work visually universal. I try not to get too hung up on universality though. It’s ok to be an acquired taste. It’s ok to be niche.

HIWP: Your work has an extremely whimsical overtone for me. Where do the works depart from being social commentary, for example in the 2013 two-person exhibition Who Say It BE with Adam Lovitz, at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and where do the playful and the social come together? Does the personal come in, in the case of that exhibition?

SP: Hmmm, “extremely whimsical”…well, I guess putting stickers on reproduction paintings of the beloved Hudson River School greats might infer whimsy. I play a lot. And, I do not think that’s a trivial endeavor. Playfulness and entertainment (not hedonism) are very valuable. I do not have a political agenda, in that, I am not a political artist. I mean, I leave things open because I think interpretation is powerful. Interpretation can connect a person to a work of art.

HIWP: Perhaps whimsy is not the right word. Maybe giddy subversion?

SP: I like subversion and I do get pretty giddy about things. I want to be clear though, when I use the term subversion I do not mean it in a passive aggressive manner. I am sincere in my approach. I am impish but the trickery is not deception. Maybe I just think that highly-polished distraction is a good representation of reality.   

The personal is all over Who Say It Be, simply because of how a person is able to relate to poetry and art. I can only make work from my place and my vantage point. That’s what’s in me. Take the piece Leaves of Grass from “Song of Myself,” for instance, that was in that exhibition:


(Flanking) Leaves of Grass: Fluorescent Light Bulbs and Paint. (Center) Tree: Wood Chips, Glue, Paint and Nylon Flocking, 2013. Photographed by Max Grudzinski.

Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?

Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?

Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes

of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass, 1881-82

It’s an immediate thing. One of my goals is to transcend myself and resonate with people in order to connect but I guess I always begin with myself in the world. Doesn’t everyone? maybe not. Either way, I don’t think that’s anything revolutionary. I’m kinda getting bored talking about myself. I feel obsessed.

HIWP: I find your work sophisticated yet cheaky, both humorous and heartbreaking.  It is always crafted to polish, and contained. I feel invited, yet when I approach, I find I must confront topics I want to ignore.

SP: That’s nice to hear. Thank you. I love that type of push and pull in art. This is similar to what we were previously discussing about representing reality. Life is full of duality. I feel it’s a direct reflection on the way life feels. The joy and pain.The bitter sweet. I didn’t know I was such a realist, my Dad would be so proud.

And, I love clean-tailored shit. I am working on a piece called “1:01:49″ (The Suffer Blanket) wherein I had a factory-made woven photo blanket fabricated using a still from the Brazilian movie City of God. The film-still depicts a child who has just been shot in the foot by a peer, and the precise moment that he is being threatened with a gun pointing towards his head. The child is facing death and pain and betrayal and confusion. I chose that specific still because I believe it best exemplifies hopelessness; an emotion that I feel is a large part of suffering. The finished piece will use a classic La-Z-Boy style recliner as its armature. As the title suggests this piece explores duration as it relates to intense suffering and the solitary experience therein, but it’s materiality is a cozy snuggly blanket.


1:01:49 (The Suffer Blanket). Customized made-to-order woven blanket, 2016.

Sarah Peoples is a sculptor living and working in Philadelphia. Peoples keeps an extensive archive on her website and also tracks current projects, pieces, and works in progress on a dynamic Tumblr blog, Sarah Peoples’ Studio.


Study for Plastic Rainbow