Monday, May 21, 2007

Art Space Talk: Sabrina Small

I was introduced to the art of Sabrina Small while attending the Bridge Art Fair preview party. Before moving to Berlin, Germany in September of 2002, Small made her home in Sarasota, Florida. She has exhibited extensively throughout the state of Florida, as well as in San Francisco, New York, London, Budapest and Berlin.

While her earlier work is mainly painted on wood and paper, Small recently began experimenting with hand stitchings on material such as felt, velvet and wearable fabric.

(Brain Bubble, No. 1 - watercolor and ink on paper)

Brian Sherwin: Sabrina, I observed your art during the Preview Party at the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago. How did the exhibit go for you? Is this your first time being involved the Bridge Art Fair?

Sabrina Small: How did I do? Well, no sales, though according to my gallerist, the response to the work was positive - that's always good.

I have to say that my feeling for art fairs is a mixed one. There's been an explosion in the art market over the past five to ten years, with art fairs popping up in every major city. On the one hand, I think it's great that so many people are interested in viewing art and that the opportunities for artists to exhibit their work and have it available to the greater public have increased. And, of course, I like the idea that such a wide audience can view my own work. But is it possible that there's simply too much work out there; too many objects; an over-supply, so to speak, of art? I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from making art or expressing themselves, but with this overabundance of "things" and the multitudes of possibilities to view and consume them (and obviously this speaks about more than art), how can anything make an impression after a while? The impact diminishes, in my view, and in the end I have a tendency - in particular at the art fairs - to check my memories at the exit-door before leaving.

However, despite my frustrations and inner battles concerning the significance of my own work in the larger scheme of things, the need to create, which is quite basic, seems to persist. What to do, what to do...?

And yes, this was my first time showing at the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago.
(Brain Bubble, No. 2 - watercolor and ink on paper)

BS: I remember that many people commented on how art fairs are becoming the 'gallery of tomorrow' when I attended the previews for Scope and Pulse in New York. It seems that some people feel that the old gallery system is becoming old-hat. If it does become common for galleries to focus more on fair participation than exhibiting in their own spaces, what will you do? Can you see that happening? Do you think the burst of creative life that comes from major art fairs could eventually become a process of decay for public interest in art if galleries grow to depend on them on a regular basis?

SS: Good question. I definitely see the presence of art fairs increasing over the years and it is possible that rather than art lovers visiting gallery spaces once a month or so, they'll replace that experience with a yearly visit to Art Basel, for example. But there is something intimate about going to an actual gallery (a space where the viewer is able to focus on one artist or even a group of artists and not be bombarded by a mass of other objects - or people, by the way), that can't be denied. For sure the viewer who only knows the art-viewing-experience through art fairs, will in my mind miss-out immensely.
(Impostor - watercolor and ink on paper)

BS: You decided to move to Berlin in September of 2002. Why did you make that choice? Has living in Germany given you better direction with your work?

SS: Actually, my intention was to live in Copenhagen, a decision based on my fascination with Lars von Trier films and all things Scandinavian. My stay there, however, only lasted about six weeks before a friend came to visit (my boyfriend at the time, who quickly became my ex-boyfriend and is now one of my best friends) and convinced me that Berlin was the place to be. So we hopped on a train and a few hours later found ourselves in Berlin: The Land of Currywurst and Doener Kebabs, among other things.

Needless to say, I fell instantly in love. Berlin in its own special way is THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY all wrapped in one, and is unlike any place I've ever lived. The winters are difficult, to say the least, but when spring and summertime come around, you wouldn't want to be anyplace else.

As far as Germany giving me a better direction for my work - well, it's certainly made its mark - and I suspect will continue to influence my work as the years go on.
(Doppelganger - watercolor and ink on paper )

BS: I've been told that studio space in Berlin is extremely inexpensive compared to lofts and other studio spaces in the States. Is that true? Having lived in Germany do you think it is cheaper for an artist to get by compared to other art hubs of the world?

SS: Other than Mexico City, Berlin must be one of the least expensive and exciting cities for an artist to live today. Of course, there are less expensive cities in the world, but for an artist, it can't be beat. I've been here for almost five years now, and in this time have seen a huge flood of foreign artists of all disciplines moving in and making this their home. New York, London, Tokyo and Paris are all incredible cities, but if you don't want to live and work out of a box, I'm not sure where else you can be.
(Inside Out - watercolor and ink on paper)

BS: Most of your earlier works are on wood and paper, though now it seems you're doing more with stitching. Why did you decide to change your creative process?

SS: Actually, I'm still working on wood and paper and have been working on the hand-stitchings for several years now, though it's true - the stitchings are more prevalent now than in the past. I guess I think of all of my works as drawings. The themes may vary, but technically speaking, they're all very much about line.

BS: So in other words you don't see it as a change in creative process but as a form of your creative evolution?

SS: When I'm always working with the same medium, I have a tendency to get bored. The creative process is quite different when I'm stitching as opposed to drawing, for example. It's a much slower and more thoughtful process, and at certain times exactly what I need. Also, when I'm feeling stuck and having difficulty coming up with new ideas, a change in medium often helps.
(Who's Who - handstitched drawing on black felt)

BS: Two of the pieces presented at the Bridge Art Fair were hand-stitched drawings inspired by the ˜Black Block"; a direct-action group alive and well in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. This group of hooded-leftists, clothed in black from head to toe, appear regularly on the streets of Berlin often as part of larger demonstrations in the fight against neo-naziism, social cutbacks, and the revocation of civil rights (to name just a few causes), and are known to use props such as fireworks, paint-filled eggs and bricks to help get their points across. How did you become involved with the ˜Black Block"? Why are they an inspiration for you?

SS: Normally I'm not one to make politically-themed work, but after first discovering the ˜Black Block" a few years ago at a May Day demo in Kreuzberg, I couldn't help myself. When you see them marching - this magnificent field of black! - it's an incredible sight to behold. I'd never seen or heard of them before and naturally was quite impressed. Their bravery is an inspiration to me, in their constant fight for the rights of others, and although I may not always agree with their methods or what they're fighting for (or against), I support their existence and believe it's important that they're a part of the demonstrations."

BS: I've never heard of them before... I did some quick research. Do you run the risk of arrest by being associated with them?

SS: I'm not exactly involved with them, but rather view them from a distance. For sure if I were in the front line, I would run a risk of arrest or worse perhaps. I was caught in the line-of-fire only once at a demonstration and was hit by the yolk of a colored egg meant for a cop. Misdirected fire.
(Making Contact - handstitched drawing on black felt)

BS: Sabrina, when did you first discover that art would be an important part of your life? Care to share any early memories?
SS: Well I seem to recall quite early on, drawing on whatever I could find - especially in our basement: the walls, the hot-water heater, the doors to my parents' cedar-closet where they stored all their winter clothes and the things they never seemed to wear. Nothing's really changed. I'm still painting on the walls, though rather than getting a scolding for it, my parents praise me. :)

BS: Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

SS: When I'm not pulling my hair out or staring holes in the wall (that's part of the artistic process), making art can be the best form of meditation I know. It's the glue, so to speak, for my thoughts.

As far as my philosophy is concerned - well, I try to focus on creating work that excites me and not spend too much energy thinking about what will sell or what's hip at the moment (technically or thematically speaking). By the time you figure that out, the art world will have moved on to something else. And anyway, everything seems to come back. It's all, in my mind, a regurgitation of the past. There's a good chance that whatever I'm making at the moment will at some point be relevant - if not now than in the future perhaps. We shall see.
(Happy Dream - watercolor on paper)

BS: Would you say that many artists are only concerned with what will sell? I know you mentioned that a lot of the art fairs seem to be showing the same type of art by different artists in your opinion.

SS: It's not so much that they're showing the same type of art, but that there's just so much of it, and as a result the brain has a tendency to meld it all together as a means of retaining the information, and then it all begins to look the same: like one massive piece of art.

As far as artists having their main concern being the sale of their work: well, I believe it's a rather new phenomenon that artists art able to support themselves through their art. And still, most artists don't. I suppose the more successful one becomes, the more of an issue it is.
(Elephant - watercolor on paper)

BS: Do you have any studio rituals? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

SS: I usually make a pot of tea and turn on the radio to the BBC. NPR just started broadcasting in Berlin, which has been a nice change and has made me feel a bit more at home. My musical taste is vast so it's difficult to say what I listen to, but because I'm playing a lot of vinyl (the only way to truly hear music!), most of it's quite old. I just bought an old album at the flea market called SOUL MAKOSSA by a guy called Manu Dibango. It's circa 1972 and is what you'd call "Black Ivory Soul". Very funky shit!

BS: How do you deal with "creative block", so to speak? Are there times when you become frustrated with your work? How do you overcome it?

SS: I think as an artist, you have to accept these times and look at them as an opportunity to focus on something else for a while. We're not "art factories", cranking the stuff out like cookies or sausages. Of course, the pressures of the market don't always allow for that. In the moment that the bulk of your focus weighs heavier on the market and you think of your work as merely a product or commodity that you can't seem to churn out fast enough, I think it can become a real problem, poisoning the art and the creative process in general. "Creative block", in my mind, is a manufactured idea that has more to do with competition and outside pressures than the inability to actually create.
(Unraveling - watercolor on paper)

BS: Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

SS: Not yet, but I'm hoping one day!

BS: Why do you hope for that?

SS: Let me rephrase that. It's not that I support censorship and would certainly NOT like to be living under a fascist regime that dictates what I can and cannot make. However, the idea that my work could generate so much of a stir as to have it be under consideration for censorship is an interesting idea. If it's a threat to the State, then there must be something relevant in it's content.

BS: Sabrina, what was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

SS: Hmm, rock-bottom? Well, not exactly. My main struggle, I suppose, is to keep the work fresh - not only for myself but also for others - and not continuously reproduce the same old themes; a constant challenge, for sure. I like the idea of surprising myself and always discovering something new in the art, or at least making an effort to do so. If I can't be inspired by the art, how can I expect anyone else to be?

BS: Where can our readers view more of your work? Do you have a website? Are you represented by a gallery?

SS: My website is:

My gallery in Sarasota, Florida (Greene Contemporary) is also a good way to view my work:

They'll be exhibiting my drawings at Scope Hamptons this summer.

In addition to Greene Contemporary, I'm also represented by Raab Galerie in Berlin and Deck-Galerie fuer Aktuelle Kunst in Stuttgart.

Exhibition listings:

Raab Galerie, Traum - Opening June 5, 2007

Deck Galerie, Dort rastet die Lilith - Opening, June 29th, 2007
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Sabrina Small. Feel free to critique or discuss her art.

Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I need more.