Name: Sarah Swift
Studio location: The Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center in Richmond, and a home studio in Providence.
Current/upcoming exhibits: “FLUX: Cycles of Change,” on view at Hera Gallery through Saturday, March 31; “The Other Side,” Hera Gallery, June 23-July 21; Exploring Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights, Warren Alpert Medical School, (Brown University), July 29–November 28
What is your background? I was born in Exeter, Rhode Island, and raised by two passionately curious marine biologists. Surrounded by science, I became fascinated with the organic world, as it was the primary influence surrounding my early years of learning and play. At age 17, I moved to Brooklyn, New York, to attend Pratt Institute of Art and Design. I lived in Brooklyn for six years, obtaining my BFA in painting, and working odd jobs while maintaining a routine studio practice. I have since moved back to Rhode Island, and am currently working as the director of Hera Gallery in Wakefield, and freelancing as an independent artist.
Why create art? Art transcends all our perceived social structures, all that factually “is.”
It is my selfish practice, one that I have embraced since I was a small child and used to quiet my mind of all that I did not understand. Diagnosed as a child with clinical anxiety and depression, art has been my way to escape, and my “way back in.”
I question whether ontological loneliness is the cause for most art, as we all constantly grasp at identity and concrete reasons for why things are.
What is your preferred medium? Why? My recent textile work has fascinated me, so I continue to return back to it. There is a tactile quality to working directly with my hands that I have responded to, that I haven’t found in painting or printmaking. I love the intimacy and touch to the materials, as I interlace fibers with one another.
How would you describe your work? I think of my studio practice as a giant science experiment. Using what I know, and then playing with things I don’t understand. My work and process systematically mimic the ongoing cycle of buildup and breakdown found in natural phenomena. On the most basic level, I’m investigating the cycles of life and death. On a more complex level, I think of changes of season, habits and patterns of daily living, relationships, even the patterns in the economy and stock market. I love this idea that everything is in a constant state of flux, ebbing and flowing and reacting to everything around it.
What was the inspiration for a recent body of work? The idea of creating a sustainably-conscious studio practice entered my mind in art school when supplies were expensive, and I had reusable material everywhere. I started favoring the processes of finding string, fabric, wood, or plastic and giving it all a new purpose. As political powers have shifted in the last year, the subjects of climate change and the global plastic epidemic came to my mind. I decided to put more effort into using material that I intended to dispose of: garbage. I begin hording plastic bags to be woven into tapestries and into my floor loom. I shred old, ripped clothing, and unravel old sweaters. All material I receive goes through a process. Whether it is painted, cut, collaged, or shredded, it is always somehow pieced back together; everything in a constant cycle of change.
Whose work do you admire? Why? Painters have always most heavily inspired me. Kent Williams and Qiu Xiaofei are amazing, the surreal otherworldly qualities they lovingly squish together with paint. I have also followed fashion designers like Felicity Brown and Noa Raviv, whose techniques in fashion are revolutionary, and make people rethink tradition. I love new concepts, or old materials and techniques used in a unique, new way.
If you could experiment in another medium, what would it be? I’ve always wanted to get into a forge and experiment in glass or metal. I have zero experience with that, and am hoping eventually in grad school I can really expand my knowledge. It would actually limit me in so many ways that I think I could produce some cool work!
What is your dream project? I would love to travel around the world, doing large-scale public textile works. I want to engage with local artists, potentially collaborate, and exclusively use recycled materials sourced from each place visited. I feel that the work could contextually be pointed towards social or political issues within that specific area.
What do you do when you’re not making art? Travel is my second passion, closely following and inspiring my art. I have been privileged enough to visit 18 countries so far, and caught the “solo-travel backpacking bug.” I hope to trek some of South America next.
Other random hobbies include powerlifting/weightlifting, cooking, and obsessively watching “The Office.”
What are you most proud of? Why? My biggest accomplishment has actually been overcoming/managing my anxiety and depression, to be able to live happily as a functioning artist and gallery director.
I grew up with an internal voice telling me that because of my struggle with mental health, I was incapable of the success I wanted. Never have I been more wrong. Art has been a major guide in this journey, and I speak out about it, because I have the hopes that I can help inspire others who struggle with mental illness. I hope to reduce the social stigma attached to mental health.
Do you have a favorite local art spot? In South County, Hera Gallery is my home. I’m biased, but I have not found another organization and community like I have here at Hera. They are the fifth oldest, women-run art cooperative in the country! Between the history, social activism, and phenomenal exhibition schedule, there is no other place like it!
On the north end of the state, I also love Hope Artiste Village, in Pawtucket.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
1. Be your most authentic self. Don’t create work you think will sell, or you think is “trendy” right now.
2. Don’t accept defeat; just keep working. Welcome rejection, as it usually leads to opportunities.
3. Get yourself noticed! Attend every opening you can, and talk to the artists! Get a social media account, and put your work out there!