Know Thyself, October Update from Sarah Fagan

October 27, 2015 by Jess

written by Sarah Fagan,

2015-2016 Artist-in-Residence

A few weeks back, I was at the opening of a show featuring work by myself and two fellow artists who happened to be women. We were all asked if our work sprung necessarily from the feminine, or domestic, experience. My fellow artists mused about their mothers, about the way the home was kept growing up. Eyes darting to my own own paintings -- compositions of tiny objects -- I recalled my own mother's shadow boxes, her collections that filled cabinets, curios, shelves, rooms. As a still life painter who tilts toward the orderly, I wondered if I was simply reorganizing, reinventing my history with small objects.

The initial question (loaded, perhaps unanswerable) prompted the further query in my mind of how much any art is informed by personal past. How much does our work develop based on conscious decisions, and how much is it there, waiting to be unearthed? Are we more builders or diggers as artists? 

I'm a thinker. I like to know things, to figure them out -- or at least, believe I am figuring them out. I like to know myself. My autobiography would read like a text book. "Building, digging, reinventing, remembering" -- maybe I am just looking for the correct action verb to use as a metaphor as my mind works through the direction or the completion of a piece. My personal identity as an artist feels like a mix of making and knowing.

Right now, the Umbrella residency is filled with time to focus on making. Projects are starting, experiments commencing. Even when I am not in the studio, art often has had my undivided attention. Walking through town, my mind is making art. (So my apologies if I have literally bumped into you.) I am also, however, working hard at knowing -- where my work is coming from, where it is going. 

For all the artists out there: does a look at your past explain your art now? Is it a past embraced or contradicted? Does this knowledge make you feel more informed and confident in your practice, or is this kind of analysis best kept out of the studio?

Image: "Organize XII (Dreamer's Clarity)," acrylic on panel, 12" x12", 2015

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