by Jessica Powers
Sara Schneckloth is an internationally recognized artist whose work Structure and Flow is currently featured at the Colorado State University Lory Student Center’s Curfman Gallery. Due to medical complications Sara was unable to visit her exhibit on campus and create a collaborative drawing that was to be open to the public. Subsequently she graciously agreed to be interviewed from South Carolina. The exhibit opened on January 11, 2012 and will run until the 9th of February 2012.
Jessica Powers: Can you give a brief history of yourself to explain how you came to be doing what you’re doing right now?
Sara Schneckloth: Right now, I feel like I’m bringing years of interests and curiosities together into one place through drawing. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the things, places, and ideas that are just outside of our normal way of seeing – examining the makeup of atoms or quasars, approaching views from far above the earth or deep under the ocean, or charting the terrain inside our bodies or our minds. I was very attracted to the life and earth sciences as a student, and realize now it was very much for the thrill of entering the undiscovered places, and finding the stunning forms, textures, colors, and structures that can present themselves when you look closely. In some ways it may be cliché to point out the connections between the veins in a leaf and those of our circulatory system or a river basin, but I personally still find such a thrill in putting the puzzle pieces together in the studio with that in mind, and seeing how many different associations an image can provoke. My work in the studio is very much about placing biological and geological forms into relationship, and seeing what comes out the other side.
JP: I know you have lived abroad and created work in France, South Africa, and several states in the US, what draws you to other regions?
SS: I think that in many ways, the instinct to travel is spurred by the same kind of curiosity to see and experience the unexpected visual moments that inspire my studio work. I like to take on the challenges and satisfactions of being somewhere new, and try to put aside what I think I already know about a place or a culture, in the name of simply trying to be open to what is there. Expectations for how a place ‘should’ be so often get in the way of having a real experience of it; I think the same is true in seeing and drawing, insofar as good drawing comes from a position of shelving expectations in favor of having a direct response to honest vision and touch.
JP: Does your environment affect you and your practice?
SS: It does, on all levels; the weather, the light, the kind of sounds or silences, the size of the room I’m working in, whether it’s morning or night, summer or winter, everything translates into a discrete emotional and physical state. Every hour in every day is different, and my environment can’t help but affect my body and mind, and in turn, what drives a set of marks or the images that emerge. I try to be aware of even the subtle differences in feeling and place, and let the work reflect those physical and emotional shifts as they happen.
JP: You seem to work in many different materials and styles. What is the unifying theme of your work? Is there something you would like to get at that you haven’t yet?
SS: One of the themes that other people mention in conjunction with my work is that of discovery. I hesitate to claim ‘discovery’ as a theme, though, as it feels like that’s a bit too pre-determined. I do know, though, that what keeps me drawing is a very optimistic sense that there’s always something to be uncovered, or brought to light, through the process of drawing, for myself, and hopefully for others who look at the work. It’s not that I don’t care about a viewer’s response, I care quite a bit, but I am trying first to satisfy myself in the act of making a drawing. If there’s been a long moment of freedom, or elation, or pain, or understanding that comes in the course of making, then I feel satisfied, and I find that this satisfaction translates into the marks. I believe there is a connection between discovering the challenging private moment in the studio and presenting a meaningful public one in the drawing, regardless of material or style.
JP: Can you describe your process in constructing your pieces? For example the Anxiety Machines and Current?
SS: The Anxiety Machines and Current are akin because they combine a more traditionally drawn set of elements, marks on paper drawn with graphite, charcoal and wax crayon, with a set of marks made with a blade. The forms originated from imagined unknowns – questions, really – if anxiety moved through my body like a physical substance, what pathways would it take? The Anxiety Machines are maps of those pathways. Current was less bodily at first, inspired by the Deep water Horizon disaster of 2010, and thinking to the many unknown impacts of the spill that are to unfold in the years to come. What is going on beneath the water’s surface? What do we dread but can’t foretell? For making both sets of forms, I start with random information, either a dot matrix for the Anxiety Machines, or blindly sculpted clay for the Current drawings; I then start to build imagined biologically-inspired forms on top of the information that is there, working back and forth between chance and intention, stopping when a structure feels like it has some kind of visual pulse or life to it. When the drawn form hits an edge I see as complete, I slice it from the rectangle and continue developing the edge through cutting, as a way to give it life as an object as much as an image.
JP: Out of all of your work, which have been the most enjoyable to create? Have any pleasant surprises occurred?
SS: Perhaps because they are the newest, I am very excited about my most recent drawings that started in France this past summer. They are inspired by the dry stone walls and wells that fill the landscape in Southwest France; they take their lead from the kind of patient architecture that relies on finding just the right physical fit between pebble and stone, again and again, mile after mile. The walls are like brute puzzles, with each piece nesting into those that surround it, building gracefully but with so much raw physical effort. I helped build a stone wall this summer, and the man who led our crew said that we wanted to build it so it will last 200 years, with tight fits, straight angles, heavy stones, and perfect pebbles. The drawings that are inspired by this way of working rely on layers, history, patience, mixing materials, and being very willing to cover up ‘pretty’ marks in the name of greater structural integrity.
JP: As an artist, I appreciated the way you explained your idea of drawing as “a way of residing in multiple states of awareness” and how you don’t want to confine drawing to simply marking on paper. Can you explain this further?
SS: Many people who write about drawing speak of it as ‘the thought process made visible’. I agree with this, but consider it more than just the thought process – it is body as well as mind that drives a drawing. I draw for so many reasons, but one that propels and inspires me is that a drawing can feel like an extension of myself on the page, with all the ambitions and faults out there to be seen; mistakes can become strengths, surfaces forgive, marks and moments accumulate and take on unexpected form and gravity. But even with this level of investment, the practice still feels light, carrying the awareness that a drawing is just organized dust, and that there’s always room to change it or to begin another. Drawing affords a space to be both committed and free, dedicated and rebellious.
JP: Before I even read your artist statement or biography I was immediately engrossed in your art as if I was in a dream. It was interesting to hear that you express your images as the physical and emotional processes of remembering. Where do your ideas come from for this inspiration?
SS: Thank you for that! Like I said above, I hope for the work to resonate in some way with a viewer, and thinking that the work may trigger others’ memories or associations is always exciting. Physical memory is an endless source of inspiration to me – I think we hold lived experiences in reservoirs inside, some like pools, some like streams; many are replenished daily, while others lie still. I try to work in such a way that marks are an expression of bodily experience, both retained and fresh, while at the same time trying to move them into forms that allow for open interpretation.
JP: What created your interest in collaborative drawing workshops?
SS: The collaborative workshops have been a way to see the logic of drawing unfold in slow motion, putting various rules of production into play, and seeing how one set of marks inspires the next set of reactions to follow. I think of the collaborative drawings as games, in which we start with random information then look for playful ways to bring order to the whole. It is also amazing to have 100 people work on the same drawing, and have it show both the evidence of so many hands as well as a unified pattern and form.
JP: When you describe your art as organic relationships and connections does that mean they are random and abstract?
SS: What is randomness, and what is abstraction? People with much smarter math than I have at my disposal can point to sets of numbers to describe the harmony between even the most random-seeming set of variables, and any time we make an image, it could be argued to be abstracted from a source. I like uncertainty, and openness, in a system; I like it when there is a collision of elements and a surprising result. I love it when that result is not the end, but presents a pathway forward into something with greater creative potential than it had before. Something organic has the energy or will to grow, to evolve, to mutate into fresh complexity, and it’s that kind of potential that feeds me as a person, not just as an artist.
JP: I noticed you have exhibitions booked through the Fall of 2012, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
SS: I’m in the studio this summer, continuing work on the drawings inspired by stone walls, but am also working on new interactive drawings that rely on participatory touch. A highlight of the spring ahead is a group show in Princeton, NJ, where I’ll have work showing with one of my creative heroes, William Kentridge, an artist who has done so much to wake the world up to the possibilities of drawing.
JP: Was there anything I haven’t touched on that you would like to discuss?
SS: Thanks for this opportunity!