Interview with Creative Drinks, Brisbane

Below is a brand new interview piece by Sophie Blackshaw @ Creative Drinks, which you can also read online here:
http://www.creativedrinks.com.au/interview-artist-sarah-beetson/

Artist Sarah Beetson’s work might be the only thing more colourful than her life.
She’s been commissioned by Stella McCartney in London, had an illustration agent in Canada, dabbled in the Melbourne scene for a moment, and she dreams of Coney Island.
But right now, she’s here with us, taking in all the fresh air Queensland has to offer on her boyfriend’s rural farm, just outside Brisbane.
Let her tell you how she ended up here; why we shouldn’t underestimate GoMa; how Patricia Arquette’s Alabama and Christian Slater’s Clarence influence a fashion label; that squatting isn’t as filthy as it sounds; and why, on earth, the dilapidated amusement parks just south of New York City have her name written all over them.

CD: Describe yourself as a person and artist in one sentence:Sarah: I live, eat, sleep and breathe as well as dress like, my art.
CD: What projects are you working on now?
Sarah: I am working on samples for my fashion illustration portfolio as well as creating work for the Supergraph Exhibitionin February – including limited edition print leggings and other clothing. I’m also preparing for my three-month self-initiated artist residency this May, in Coney Island.
CD: How would you describe your work?
Sarah: My work is a colourful calamity that combines strict order with total chaos!
CD: ”Beetson worked in styling, and created fabric prints for Stella McCartney, who then commissioned her to decorate the walls of the shoe room in her Bruton St. shop. Since then, Beetson has curated an extensive list of clients…” So why choose Brisbane after that?
Sarah: I moved to Melbourne originally and totally loved it, I still visit often. I moved here to live on my boyfriend’s family farm, and took advantage of the beautiful rural location that is still very close to both Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I have a giant studio space here, so I can spread out and create giant sized paintings, all the while surrounded by nature and visited by wallabies and pet chickens.
CD: What are your thoughts on Brisbane as a place for artists?
Sarah: I think Brisbane has the greatest art gallery in the country, (GOMA), and I think it rivals the best galleries in London and New York. It has impressive international exhibitions like the Andy Warhol and Valentino shows, the latter of which was only shown additionally in Paris. Culturally, I feel drawn to Brisbane as it is kind of a mini-Melbourne. I love West End and the fact that there are all these little Queenslanders nestled in amongst the big city buildings. I also love the Gold Coast, and I’m really excited about the developing arts precinct there. With great galleries like 19 Karen and the amazing Rabbit & Cocoon with its Marketta, I am eager to see what the future will bring for The Arts on the GC.
CD: What exhibitions were you involved in throughout 2013?
Sarah: I exhibited my 5th solo exhibition: All of The Places That I Have Lived at 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace in Mermaid Beach. The exhibition featured a series of 30+ self portraits from birth to date, contained within the framework of the 20+ dwellings I have lived in across two continents over the years. It was a study in nostalgia, encompassing major events in my life and in popular culture throughout. I was also delighted to be invited to Paris to exhibit a huge retrospective of my work at Gallerie Claude-Samuel, Viaduc Des Arts, in June. The exhibition was titled Rainbowspective and featured the best of my work over the past five years – both my personal work and illustration work, and I was given a massive 180m² to show in!

CD: Often people who have spent extensive lengths of time overseas never feel quite at home again in one place. Does this affect you, or your work, in any way?
Sarah: I definitely feel more and more displaced and alien as I continue to travel. I created two self portraits in 2012 entitled Australitish and Britalien(the latter of which was shortlisted for the 2012 Metro Award). The portraits explore my ever more confused national identity.
CD: You like to watch at least 1-2 films per day. Is there one film that has had a lasting impact on you, or your work specifically?
Sarah: I would say the films of John Waters have had a profound affect on my aesthetic, in that they have really encouraged me to find my own artistic voice and not be constrained or afraid or censor myself in any way. But in terms of one singular film, I’d have to say the Quentin Tarantino written, Tony Scott directed 1993 classic True Romance would be my favourite and most influential film. I even named my Camden Market clothing label ‘Clarence & Alabama’ after the lead characters, back in 2003. It is the candy coloured, sun-drenched, palm trees and cheap motels combined with Elvis, rockabilly and white trash that has saturated my work the most.
CD: Have you faced any major setbacks in your life that have impacted your art?
Sarah: I think the hardest thing that has affected my art has been finances. Upon graduation from my Illustration degree in 2002, I found myself living in London, struggling to climb the rungs on the creative ladder. The term ‘impoverished artist’ is an understatement – I was living below the poverty line, existing on £130 per week cobbled from numerous bar jobs whilst interning in the fashion industry full time AND paying £112 per week in rent – £18 for food, travel, bills etc is not much! I relied on tips to cover bus fare to work and I fed myself eating whatever was offered free at my job (cheese toasties, sausage rolls, tea and alcohol!) I literally ate one decent meal a day.
I hung in there finding time to create art wherever I could in between jobs in my tiny flat, often working on my bed due to lack of space. By early 2004, my debt and overdraft had reached crisis point and I faced leaving London – when suddenly I was thrown a lifeline. Bartending friends from The Electric Ballroom (where I also worked and sold my Clarence & Alabama hand painted clothing from a free market stall) were living in squats – utilizing London’s abandoned empty buildings for free living and studio space. I met some amazing creative people in those squats who are now successful actors, burlesque stars, artists, fashion designers and TV tarot sensations!
I am so proud to call those people my friends. In my year or so squatting, I saved enough money to rent a new flat. I was able to take on a job that began as a one-day-a-week portfolio assistant and bloomed into the international role I now have as a talent scout for Illustration Ltd (I couldn’t have given up my bar jobs to accommodate that role had I still had that £112 per week rental noose around my neck). I developed my portfolio in those squats, and in doing so followed illustration commissions. I got an illustration agent in Canada and one in London. It took three years, but I got back on my feet. It was so hard at the time, but I’m glad I went through it as it makes me so thankful for where I am today. It was worth it for the career I was able to develop.

CD: Can you tell me about your ‘Coney Island Dream’, and any progress it’s made?
Sarah: This northern hemisphere summer [May to August] I plan to spend three months in Coney Island, USA, in a self-initiated artist residency. I will stay in an artists’ loft in Brooklyn, and travel out to Coney every day on the subway, photographing and drawing all that I see and immersing myself in this most inspiring place. Since I first discovered it in 2002, I have made five short one-day pilgrimages to Coney Island, on the shores of Brooklyn, New York City. Coney is a decaying wonderland of dilapidated amusements and some of the most edible typography one might endeavour to feast their eyes upon. I have kept scrapbooks of photographs from each trip, which I use to inform illustration work and paintings. Yet, each time I return via the Subway to Stilwell Ave, I am heartbroken to find a little bit more of Coney has disappeared since my last visit. It has been a dream of mine since I discovered Coney 12 years ago, to return to Coney for a decent period of time (not just a day trip) and paint all that I see there.
This sabbatical will allow me to fully immerse myself in Coney Island for months on end; to experience a summer season, and finally see The Mermaid Parade. Due to being granted time off from work, I will be able to create without restraint, and experience being a full-time artist for the first time. I will create a body of work that will reflect Coney Island’s present, as well as examining its history; and paint a portrait of an ever-changing environment that will serve as an interesting visual account of a moment in Coney Island’s history in the future. I’ll continue to develop this body of work upon my return to Australia, creating some large-scale paintings based upon my experience. I created an Indigogo campaign which provided almost half of the money I need to get there, and I have managed to save about the same amount again. So my flights are booked, and my dream is coming true!
CD: Finally, where do you see yourself in five years time?
Sarah: In much the same spot, but hopefully with trips to South America, Japan and of course Coney Island under my belt, exhibiting and creating art au continuum.