Sara Roberts is one of our wonderful artists who exhibited in ‘The Lab’, Art Pharmacy’s recent pop-up exhibition in collaboration with the Sydney Fringe Festival. Acutely guided by intuition, Sara produces landscapes at once beautiful, sublime and haunting.
At The Lab artist talk, you’d touched on the fact that painting the Australian landscape has a particularly personal resonance for you – it serves as a means of reconnecting with or mediating your Identity. Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you arrived at landscapes as your predominant subject matter?
I have spent much of my life travelling in different countries. The shifting of my locations, and the experience of constantly moving plays a role in my practice.
I was born in Sydney and grew up in Jindabyne until 6 years old. Soon after my mother married a Mexican diplomat and from then on I lived in Mexico, France, Sweden, and Poland, spending large amounts of time in all these places. By the time I was living in Poland at the age of 16, I was an Australian, with a Dutch mother, going to a French school, living with Mexican siblings. My mother is an artist, so art is something I’ve been engaged with all my life. I have very fond memories from when I was younger of my mother taking me to the Monet gardens outside of Paris, and we would sit and draw.
Coming back to Australia at 19 years old, I strangely felt more foreign than I ever had although I still remembered Australia, those memories seemed distant. In a place that I was supposed to belong, I was constantly asked where I was from. Furthermore, a big impact for me was the landscape. The strong Australian sun, the vastness of the never ending blue skies, and the dry and foreign landscapes, in contrast to the dark never ending cold winters on Sweden and Poland that I had experienced growing up.
Do you prefer to paint en plein air or in the studio and why?
I definitely prefer to paint in the studio. I like to set up a studio space where I feel familiar, and create a little world where time doesn’t exist anymore and where I just paint with no interruption. It’s a space that I wouldn’t be able to construct en plein air.
What materials do you prefer to work with?
I absolutely love oil paint, the way it can reveal itself in so many way, the texture and depth of color produced from layering. And the way it works with different textures and mediums. I recently produced a series of works for Art Pharmacy with gouache that I really enjoyed using – there’s a sense of immediacy that comes from gouache as it dries so quickly. Collage is a new thing for me that I have always wanted to use in my work. Although it’s only now, for some reason, as I am getting deeper into my art practice that I know how to use it in the right way for me.
What is your studio space like?
My studio space is small although big enough to produce rather large works (150x150cm). There is a lot of light and a lovely view. I often use the trees I see outside my window as inspiration in my paintings. I am looking forward to starting a Masters at SCA next year, as I will have a studio space to create much larger works, I just can’t wait!
You’ve mentioned previously the idea of the painted landscape as eternal or timeless versus photography as a moment in time. Can you expand a little on this idea, and how it factors into your practice?
For me painting is definitely meant to be timeless, meaning that there is usually a sense of place in my work but there isn’t really any relation to time. Although my constructed scenarios reference both landscape and narrative, they are generally not specific to a particular event, like photography is. I want my paintings to offer an ambiguity to the viewer that is also loaded with a strange sense of familiarity. And I enjoy occupying the threshold between reality and fiction, familiarity and foreignness. And painting is the ideal medium to create these experiences as it allows experimentation with temporality and metamorphosis.
In your practice you often use photographs or images as a departure point. Where do you source these images, and what draws you to them?
I gather materials from various sources: photos on the internet, newspaper clippings, photos that I have taken in the past, but more often than not, it is the memory of an environment that forms the initial ideas behind the work.
What role does intuition play in your work?
Intuition plays a big role in my paintings. I usually start off doing sketches and I plan what and how I will paint, but more often than not when I begin the painting process, intuition ‘or something’ takes over and I end up painting something completely different to what I set out to paint. I am making some new collages at the moment and again it’s the same thing, I really get lost in the process of making and putting things together and in the end things happen that I didn’t expect, and I love the surprise of this.
Where, what, or who do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from the never ending source of painters that I love: Francis Bacon, Matisse, Gauguin, Willem Sasnal, Luc Tuymans, Peter Doig, Mamma Andersson, and Edward Munch. And then obviously the beautiful landscape that surrounds me in Manly where I live. And also the memories of foreign lands that I have encountered in my lifetime that always stay close to me.
How do you find being an artist in the contemporary climate?
Really it’s the best time to be a contemporary artist – we have access to exhibit like never before via online platforms like Art Pharmacy, and there is also an abundance of bricks and mortar spaces. The online presence is really exciting; it opens you to the world. Not long ago, you were an artist and you stayed in your country. Perhaps if you became famous or did well you would become more international, but nowadays we have the opportunity to have a presence everywhere.
If you had a day with no commitments, what would you do?
I would start my day with an early bushwalk and then have a nice breakfast in one of various lovely cafés in Manly where I live and then paint, paint and paint for the rest of the day.
Do you have any upcoming projects, exhibitions or goals you’d like to share with us?
I have an exhibition in November called “Contemporary’s, Contemporaries” coming up as part of the MCA, and a few new works for Art Pharmacy.
Words: Lauren Castino