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.”

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[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.

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

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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:

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(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.

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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.

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Study for Plastic Rainbow

A Rising And Falling Of Lights

Header: Philippa Beardsley, [Work in progress], acrylic on wood panel, 18″x27.5″, 2015. Image: Jenna Buckingham.

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Installation shot from Philippa Beardsley’s studio.

Image: Jenna Buckingham.

 

Mad Libs Artist Statement by Philippa Beardsley…

My work is both an investigation of and lack of geometry.

Can a horse see color theory? I don’t think so. She doesn’t care.

Surreal is a place? I am into the surreal.

Sticks are very important. The many shapes they have helped me flesh out a surface.
Fire usually brings to mind orange and reds. The fluidity of ink and the taste of salt keep me going.

I wear earrings in the hopes of never and sometimes losing them.

Lovers, an image that has invaded my work.

I think about the ground and press it with my feet.

My goal is to remain or return to being an animal when I work. I have my doubts. Dissection of small frog sized paintings? I prefer an open ended conclusion, or I thought I did.

Shaving gets in the way of painting. I always order french fries because I do not eat them at home.

Telepathy is only one way of communication.

I believe in migration. While running, I prefer the smell of the woods and to think about birds.

If I could do anything, It would be surfing on the moon.

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Philippa Beardsley, [Detail of Fence], acrylic and mixed media on wood panel, 6.5″x11″, 2014.

Image: Jenna Buckingham.

Interview with Artist Philippa Beardsley April 19, 2016

HIWP: How do relationships (or relating) come into play in your work as an artist? How do they come into play in the process of making?

I try to have relationships come into play without imposing too much on them. That’s what I go for, meaning I’m looking for something fresh or a connection between things I didn’t see before, or wasn’t obvious to me. The goal lately is to find new relationships, or unexpected connections, as a means of investigating a subject. I usually go back and forth between an idea or image in mind, to letting go of it and responding to the materials. I guess a painting to me is finding new relationships between things that maybe don’t make sense on one level. I absorb information that I am interested in, like parts of buildings, how someone walks, scenes that are in a movie…other paintings, and then going to work and making something that is a bunch or a few of those things reshuffled or collaged. So taking in and putting back out.

HIWP: How would you describe your relationship with paint, mediums, and surfaces? What is the significance of the physical contact (the application of paint)?

With surfaces, either with the cigar boxes or with the wood, I take those apart, and then I used the top or the bottom, I play with the frame of those and then have the wood panel to go on top of that. So I am working within a frame on that surface. I like to do that and I like to work on something that is less of a frame. And that would be more so with paper where I am making drawings were I add onto them, and I am not confined to edges or corners. It is a reverse of what I do with the wood. But I mostly work on the wood right now. And I like to cut out my own shapes and tack those to the wall.

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Philippa Beardsley, [Study], charcoal on wood, 9″x10″, 2016.

Image: Jenna Buckingham. 

HIWP: Do you have an idea of what will be painted, like the top painting, when you are making the shape? 

Well, sometimes as I am making the surface for it, I think, well I want it to be this big, and yellow. But that’s pretty broad and it usually goes on from there. Only once in a while is it like, oh this is it and that’s what I want. More it is wanting to play with different shapes inside of other ones and then see what kind of images come from that.

HIWP: Are the figures presumed, assumed, or do they invoke the “instances” in your paintings?

All those things. For a while I kept drawing and painting separate from each other. Sometimes you don’t want people there and sometimes you do. I think when I have them there, they are very much part of the space, but then they sometimes come out of it. They are not necessarily fading away all the time. I also like to play with what a figure is. I am interested in disappearing and reappearing figures, or point of view: like something that feels like a figure but could also be a pair of binoculars or foliage around the edges of an opening landscape.

HIWP: Are any of the relationships, when the figures are relating with each other, is that having anything to do with things that you recall? Interactions from your life, or things that you’ve seen?

Yes. Sometimes personal, sometimes like from watching people on the subway. I guess I look for things that might look the same or feel the same in many different situations. Some things could be from personal experiences, or from watching from a distance. I think its about getting interested in some sense of space, and then looking for that interaction.

 

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Philippa Beardsley, [Untitled], children’s school book cover and green binder, 11.6″x8″, 2014.

HIWP: Do you feel like screens, such as computer screens, come into play? I know in your MFA thesis critique they talked a lot about that.

I definitely feel like I’m influenced by photos taken or movie shots. I look at a lot of that. And I like that type of cropping. I guess I don’t really ever freeze the screen and look at it. I just sort of watch a movie and then, from memory, think of a moment that gets focused on. But its still something that’s been put there by a lens or a screen. It is a position or an interaction you wouldn’t experience in the real world.

HIWP: Still a cinematic moment.

 

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Philippa Beardsley, Grass Eater (work in progress), acrylic on wood, 14.5″x21.5″, 2016. Image: Jenna Buckingham.

 

Yeah, that type of image exists because of a camera.

HIWP: I also always think of how much the colors remind me of photography. I guess because of black. 

Yeah, black and its flatness is part of photography.

HIWP: I was thinking about the Internet while I was taking pictures of your work. Because of the way you have things set up, it is a lot of looking at many images and receiving so much different information. But I don’t have the same anxiety as when I’m on the Internet.

Sometimes they give me anxiety and I take things down. When I feel like I can’t see what I’m looking at. But I group things in particular ways. None of these are done, and would never be shown in this arrangement here. Sometimes I can’t even look at something anymore and when that happens, I turn them around. I like them, but they’re not quite there yet, so I don’t want to make any decisions because I don’t understand something yet.

Or because I have some idea of what a painting is and that interferes with what I put down. When everything’s considered, it’s an idea of finish. I think: how are you getting the most from it? It doesn’t always have to be a finished product, but something that is going to be useful to you later on. You do something, and you think, there’s something about this that I didn’t do before and I don’t know what it means, and you aren’t going to finish it off, but you’re going to keep it and look at it for a while. Like you are keeping everything, like in a laboratory. Or maybe like a desk, with papers and drawings and plans.

HIWP: It feels like, for artists, there is always something you’re after. It seems like it just takes a lifetime to get there, or longer! You are just always after something…and are going after it in different ways…

…and learning new things about it, making new connections, expanding.

HIWP: A workshop?

Yeah a workshop, I think that’s a good word!

HIWP: I realize the other reason I think of photography is because sometimes I’ll glance at a work really quickly and I’ll think that I see a photographic image. And then I’ll look back and see that its a very organic image.

Sometimes I’ll look at a painting and think that its very sharp and in-focus. And then I’ll look at it again and if feels like the whole thing is disintegrating. I guess you just have to ask yourself what it is that you want. And I think I do want conflicting things to be happening. I think about perception, and how things change. I think that’s what I like about memory, how its always changing. Even if you are walking down the street, and you aren’t paying a lot of attention to the world, and you see the sun and you see a street light and there’s no difference because you’re not differentiating the objects in your mind. And size too. Like with shared memories: for one person something wasn’t that big, but for another, it was huge. It doesn’t matter the size, it’s just how you remember it. So that means, that is how you are understanding it.

 

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Left: Philippa Beardsley, [Work in progress], acrylic on wood, 20.75″x28.5″, 2015. Right: Philippa Beardsley, [Work in progress], acrylic on wood, 23″x23″, 2016. Image: Jenna Buckingham.

Because your memory is always affected by so many other things, but you do remember how it was – to you – at that time. But then I heard somewhere that every time you remember something, the memory gets farther and farther away. It changes. I think it is because you change. If you’re changing and and you remember something, it changes as you change.

I like to think I can be objective. But I don’t know if it’s even helpful to be objective.

HIWP: I feel like if someone is emotional or upset, I think they certainly aren’t seeing things clearly, and I trust them less.

I think I can trust someone if they are emotional. I think what I don’t trust is when everything black and white. When nothing’s gray. If someone says: this is all bad, and this is all good…I have a hard time trusting that.

 

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Philippa Beardsley, [Detail of Please Take Me Home], acrylic and mixed media, 7.5″x11.5″, 2015. Image: Jenna Buckingham.

Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting…our commonest deeds are set about with a fluttering and flickering of wings, a rising and falling of lights.

Virginia Woolf Orlando