In conversation: Sarah Taylor Silverwood
I first encountered artist Sarah Taylor Silverwood’s work a couple of years ago when I went to see the Ruskin Prize exhibit in the Millennium gallery in Sheffield. Hers was my favourite piece in the show and I began to follow her websites and lust over her drawings. I asked Sarah if she wouldn’t mind asking some questions for us and she said yes!
Tell us a little bit about your work
I use drawing, text and print to investigate the construction of narrative through images, often creating works relating to architecture, women and pop culture. I play with the methodologies of existing formats, such as comic books, newspapers or fabric patterns, examining the value of the drawn image and its craftsmanship.
You studied a degree in English before embarking on an MA in Fine Art, why did you choose to study English over art and how does it influence your practice?
There were a lot of similarities in the theory that was studied in both courses. I was also particularly interested in narrative and social history at that time, which has fed into my work now.
You use found imagery in your work, Where do you source your images and how do you select what to use?
I have a lot of folders of imagery that I collect. After a while themes start to emerge which is often the beginnings of a project. I am also interested in creating archives for use in my work, or seeking out established archives as a starting point. Then I’ll make loads of drawings as part of the research process, which is often when things change into a fuller idea for a piece.
Do you keep sketchbooks or a visual diary?
I keep sketches and notebooks throughout projects. I also keep shared folders on my computer, phone and ipad so I can add photos, ideas and notes.
What do you think heightens your creativity?
I recently did a residency where I didn’t have access to emails during the day, which made me very productive and it’s something that I have tried to do since when I’m in the studio.
How important is marketing yourself and keeping your social media platforms up to date?
It’s important that you have a presence online as it is the first place people look, but is also a useful way of archiving your day to day work, sketches, imagery etc. I often look back over instagram or twitter to see how some work evolved.
How do you know when a work is finished?
I find there is a momentum that builds up with projects and after a while you have to take a step back and think about it for a while, and decide if the work makes sense and says what you want it to.
How do you see your artwork evolving?
I have a few things that I have been working on for a while that I haven’t quite put enough energy into yet, where I’ll need to seek out expertise from other people to develop. They are still drawings but are realised in slightly different ways.
Have you any advice for students who may be struggling to move work forward?
Go and see some work that isn’t your own! I find that seeing exhibitions and reading are the best way to get some perspective on your work.
I first came across your work as part of the Ruskin Drawing Prize, do you think it’s important to enter competitions?
I am a huge advocate of drawing and it is important to be aware of the wider debates and conversations happening in your field. Because of this I try to be engaged with relevant galleries and organisations that are interested in drawing practices, which includes competitions like the Ruskin Drawing Prize and Jerwood Drawing Prize. It is important to see your work in context. Competitions are also a good way to set yourself a deadline.
Tell us a little bit about the West Point project?
After a research residency in Chicago I had become interested in how post-war housing had been designed in the US and Europe. For West Point I studied a particular housing estate in the UK, where I spent time with people who had moved there since it was opened in 1960. I wanted to see how the lived experience was different from the idealism of the original architectural vision. It is often interesting idiosyncrasies of our culture that drive how architecture is interacted with. For example, on West Point, the privacy of the new, high garden fences would later led to feelings of isolation, where before people had chatted with neighbours while hanging out the washing. The interviews, drawings and archive material from this process became a publication called West Point: 55 Years of a Modern Housing Estate.
Have you any advice/tips for students who may want to apply for residencies, how do you set yourself apart from the competition?
Get to know the organisation really well, through it’s website, visiting, speaking to staff or people who have done residencies there. Then look at what the opportunity is offering in a lot of detail and decide if you are really a good match for them and they are a good match for you.
Your work is a culmination of ‘traditional’ drawings, artist books, commissioned work and residencies, what is your favourite thing to do?
I try to work on projects that fit in with where I want my work to go. For example, I was working on a series of works around the portrayal of women in 1960s visual culture when I was asked to do a residency and commission with the New Art Gallery Walsall. They had an incredible archive of two female art collectors, Kathleen Garman and Sally Ryan, with a lot of unusual photographs from the same era, so it was the perfect next step for the work.
More recently I had been working on a lot of drawings and text based works around gaming, which I wanted to explore a bit more. I ran an event at Ikon Gallery which allowed people to transcribe the audio directly from gamer’s microphones. This performative, live event was great to be able to see what happened in a very relaxed atmosphere.
In terms of contemporary art where do you think Drawing is positioned, do you think it holds its own as an art form?
I think it’s particularly interesting that drawing has struggled for its platform as an art form, when it’s arguably the earliest form of art that our species created. I like to play with this idea of ‘value’ of an art form by using methods that playfully acknowledge this – drawing is used vocationally in architecture, comics and gaming and I have made a lot of work that references these themes. I also try to use typically low cost materials – paper, cotton, ink, felt tips, tippex – to engage with the idea that we judge artwork as having intrinsic financial and intellectual value.
You can see more of Sarah’s work online here;
The images featured are part of the permanent collection at The New Art Gallery in Walsall so students attending the study visit on the 26 March should be sure to check them out. Many thanks again to Sarah.