This week we will be taking a look at the art practice of Sarah Larby, exploring the many projects and sculptures she has been creating.
Sarah Larby is an artist who focuses on the exploration of materials, pushing them to their limitations. If you want to find out more about her artwork you can read our Q&A below. You can find more images of her recent projects @salarby_art or visit their website.
Can you describe your art practice in one sentence?
What unites my work is an understanding of materials, using familiar materials in unfamiliar processes or vice versa.
Is there a piece of art that you are most proud of creating? Why?
I always really struggle with this question because I tend to work from one piece of work to the next, picking out properties in the previous that I liked and exploiting them in the present. So, the piece of art I am most proud of creating normally ends up being the most recent. That being said, I am really proud of the piece “Deviate”, as it was my first larger scale piece in plaster, and it had a lot of potential to go wrong. However, by making a fabric mould and using various aggregates in the plaster mix, I was able to combat my initial worries about the increased scale and weight and I successfully managed to create the piece on the first attempt – which I wasn’t expecting!
Sarah Larby, Deviate, Plaster, Silicone, Hooks, Wood, Gravity, 2020
What drove you to pursuing a practice in sculpture?
I initially started working in painting but found myself really fascinated by the textures of skin, particularly in the older generation. From there I became interested in the textures of paint and how they could be manipulated to form wrinkles and imperfections in someone’s face. I think this really was my first interest in the properties of materials, my move to using other materials, such as silicone, clay and plaster, came organically from there. First making a series of silicone skins, masks, and then eventually 3D heads, before moving into my primary focus now which is sculpture that is more abstract, and consciously material based.
Is there an element of art you like or dislike working with? Why?
Working with materials the way I do; it’s always been a love/hate relationship. Because I tend to push materials to the boundaries of what they are traditionally used for, I have a lot of breakages which can get very frustrating. However, the favourite part of my practice is when this pays off and I manage to successfully emulate an effect I was going for and push the material to its limit.
Your sculptures look very organic, what inspires you to make these shapes and forms?
I think the organic nature of my forms comes from my initial interest in portraiture and life drawing, however I really began to notice how I was drawn to fluid curved forms when working on a larger scale sculpture on my year abroad in Warsaw, Poland. This sculpture called Venus, was a one to one representation of a life model that was made in clay then cast in plaster. I became very obsessed with making sure that there were no straight lines in this form, that every curve was fluid and continuous. Looking back on it, I would say that both my interests in plaster and curved form were sparked from this one piece.
Sarah Larby, Venus, 2019
What projects have you recently completed?
At the moment I am making a series of miniatures, which are little cuboid rooms I have made smaller scale sculptures in.
Why do you make this type of art?
These pieces arose as a solution to the problem of not having ample studio space. The space I am working in currently at home is a small outdoor workshop and I craved having my MDF studio walls that I could drill into. By making work in this small scale “pretend studio environment”, I could start hanging work again and experiment with materials that would otherwise deteriorate if stored outside. It also meant that when photographed, the sculpture would seem large scale, enabling me to envisage the pieces I want to be creating but currently do not have the space for. The final piece is essentially a photograph, as each time a piece is made in this space it is taken down and the space repurposed.
Sarah Larby, Adipose Tissue, mixed media 2019
What kind of artists influence you the most?
I am obsessed with the sculptors of the 60's. Specifically female sculptor Eva Hesse, as well as Polish Sculptor Alina Szapocznikow for their work with suggesting the bodily, the uncanny and the absurd. I also love the satisfying elegance of Alexander Calder’s work from the same time period. This period of American post-minimalism definitely influences me the most.
What one thing would you like to change about the art industry today?
Theory tends to come before the work. What I mean is within art galleries now people tend to need to read the descriptions and the work together to “understand” it. I believe all artwork should be stand alone, and the descriptions are an added extra. There has been such a focus on the meaning of an artwork that people have stopped giving their own opinion validation, needing to check it falls in line with the esteemed curator’s description first. This is a problem that has always been apparent within the art world, so perhaps the thing I would really like to change is access to the arts and art education. People not trusting their own opinions, likes and dislikes is mainly due to the elitist structure of the art world that can be very alienating.
Sarah Larby, Sag, plater, 2019
Many of your sculptures include the use of plaster. Why do you choose this material to work with?
Inspired by Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, my treatment of materials differs depending on whether or not I consider them to be animate or inanimate. I consider plaster to be an animate material and this is one of the reasons I find it so exciting to work with. Working with a casting material, such as plaster, I intervene when it is transitioning between two states of matter, between fluid liquid and set solid form. During the making of my sculpture, the dynamic fluid form metamorphizes into the static, allowing materials to form their own shapes in a balance between human control and chance. This is what I find so intriguing about the material – its ability to move freely and suggest its own form.
Artists everywhere have had to adapt to the sudden impact of COVID-19. Has your practice
changed in any way during this time?
Definitely. At first working from home, rather than in my university studio space, pushed me to build more freestanding structures as I couldn’t rely on making wall-based sculptures anymore. The results of this were works like “The Wall” which would never have happened if not for COVID-19. However, whilst I appreciate how this pushed me to find new sides to my practice it also made me realise how important wall-based structures are in my work. The piece “The Wall (Pigeon-Proofed)” was almost a direct manifestation of this frustration I was having.
Sarah Larby, The Wall, mixed media, 2020
What type of ideas are you hoping to present through your sculpture?
There are many binary opposites in Art: from natural forms versus the man-made, to the distinction between two dimensional and three-dimensional works and the fundamental dichotomy between the abstract and the figurative. Through my work I am trying to reject the idea that two concepts always exist as opposing entities, attempting to find the liminal threshold between these states, where the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, the organic and the man-made can coexist within one work.
For example, what does it mean that art is always man-made but artistic theory and practice focuses so much on trying to copy nature? If you look at Henry Moore’s work it is considered successful because he carved the “inner life” out of the stone, to reveal a curved human form that seems organic.
You can view more of her artwork and contact her here:
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