Sara Bright always made art, but when she was a kid it was poetry that first captured her attention. She remains interested in the poetic, but her daily focus has shifted to visual rather than written forms of expression.
Sara is drawn to making visual art because she enjoys having a physical, embodied practice like many great sculptors and ceramic artists before her. She draws inspiration from Takuro Kuwata’s ceramics as well as Arlene Shechet, Jun Kaneko, and of course, Picasso. She also admires painters like Philip Guston and Rebecca Morris and her husband, Andy Byers, work.
While Sara’s lovely work calms us and makes us smile, Art Zealous is particularly smitten with Sara’s knack for Chinese calligraphy. She studied Mandarin all through high school and college, choosing that language because of pure fascination with the culture’s system of written communication. Sara appreciates the fact that each unique form can evoke a complete concept, the goal being embodiment of the energy of the character and expressing that through the imprint of a brushstroke. It isn’t about making a perfect mark but rather about making a mark that perfectly expresses that concept. It’s a practice that involves descending into a meditative state and expressing through a strong mind-body connection, a process that mirrors how Sara approaches painting, whether it is with paint or glaze.
Art Zealous caught up with Sara about her background, process, and current house-remodeling-turned-art-project.
Art Zealous: Artistic background?
Sara Bright: When I was in college I started oil painting and had a very powerful professor who taught me to paint quite literally like the old masters. It was an incredibly rigorous technical education that I think most art students don’t really get anymore. There was a huge focus on representational painting, and I ended up making these almost hyper-real large-scale still life paintings of bottles and dead plants sitting on shelves or hovering in front of these very intricate patterns. I was always drawn to abstraction in painting, and it was a real process to move from those super realistic paintings to where I am now. That said, I look at those very early paintings and see that what I’m making now has a very similar aesthetic; it’s as if the objects I was painting then have now moved out of the frame into reality.
I’m grateful to have had that kind of training in painting. I think it’s given me a facility and confidence with which to approach abstraction. As part of that shift towards abstraction, over the years, I started to very gradually develop a body of personal symbols, which I still work with today, although they are less and less recognizable.
I also work sculpturally now, and I should mention something about how that came into my practice as well. It goes back to my high school, which had an incredible ceramics program. We literally had an entire building for ceramics and had visiting artists like Richard Shaw coming to work there. We also had a cool young ceramic teacher who made me want to hang out in the clay studio. I loved working with clay, but then there was no ceramic program at my college so that stopped. Then I met my husband, who has a master’s degree in ceramics. When he came into my life, clay also came back into my life. We started sharing a studio a few years ago, so I suddenly had a kiln to work with and dropped back into working with clay.
I’ve also been working with fresco a lot, which is very compatible with clay. Fresco entered my practice because I was making a lot of paintings with gouache on paper, but I wanted to find a way to make those paintings more dimensional without losing that wonderful velvety matte quality of the gouache. Fresco was my answer. It gives me the surface and radiance I was looking for but allows the painting to take on a sculptural form. The medium also lends the pieces a particular kind of gravity that I respond to and kind of push up against.
AZ: Astrological sign?
SB: Scorpio sun, Aquarius rising.
AZ: Currently listening to?
SB: Alice Coltrane, Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, & RF Shannon.
AZ: Fav spot in LA?
SB: I like walking in Temescal Canyon, and I really enjoy my backyard.
AZ: Ultimate travel destination?
SB: I really want to take a trip to visit remote hot springs in Japan. I love Japanese aesthetics and bathing culture, and I can’t imagine anything better than those things combined in connection with nature.
AZ: Describe your creative process:
SB: I like to have some real physical tasks to warm up with in the studio. That often means mixing or laying plaster (when I’m working with fresco) or cutting, weighing and wedging clay. Cleaning is always a good thing to start with too. This kind of physical work puts me more in touch with my body and brings my mind to a place of greater focus. I do this for a while before I actually start expressing, particularly if I’m about to paint a fresco. That takes a lot of mental preparation and then when it comes to executing I have to be very clear and confident in what I’m doing and work quickly because I can only work until the plaster dries and starts to set. I love that about fresco. It keeps me super focused. Clay can be like that too. Because it’s constantly drying, you have to work quickly and decisively.
Before I do any of this though, I spend time planning and sketching and making a lot of notes. My sketchbooks are full of little thumbnail drawings with tons of notes written all around them and little swatches of potential color pallets that I work out with gouache or colored pencil. I usually do a lot of planning in the early stages of a new body of work, and then once I’m deep into it, it just keeps flowing.
AZ: Currently working on?
SB: This past year my husband and I have been remodeling a house. We decided to make all of the tile for the house, so I’ve gotten quite involved and interested in ceramic tile. The tile is now coming into play with some bases I’m making for the ceramic sculptures. I’m creating tiled platforms for the forms to exist on. And that brings me to methods of display, which now that I’m working sculpturally, has become my next point of focus. I started just making ceramic objects, but now I am figuring out how exactly I want them to be shown. I’m working with plaster and ceramic tile to create sculptural bases that work with those objects. I’m really very excited about it.
I’ve also been playing a lot of music, and I think that is definitely becoming a strong influence in my work. I think a lot about musical concepts like rhythm, dynamics, phrasing, etc.
AZ: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
SB: You can expect to continue to see a lot of painting on sculptural forms, fresco and ceramic, and maybe an album. 😉 I’m also about to make a fresco on the wall. Can’t wait to share the finished piece.
Follow Sara on Instagram: @brite_bright
Images courtesy of the artist and George Lawson Gallery
Represented by George Lawson Gallery: www.georgelawsongallery.com