Artist Masterclass: Solidity

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Pages

Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem

CL: Last time we talked you had mentioned that things were settling in, and that you had developed a routine for working on your artwork. What kind of routines have you created and how did you arrive at them?

SB: I have developed a routine of working on this project every single day after work. I’ll typically come home, make dinner, and then work on this project. That can mean a lot of things – writing, generating ideas, doing research, or reading critical theory. The routine is held together by my keeping track of how much time I spend on what in a Notepad file on my phone. During the spring semester, I noticed that keeping track of my time in this way really held me accountable, so I’ve been keeping on with that.

CL: Many years ago when I used to have a paper calendar, I used to give myself little colored dots for accomplishing different tasks daily. Yellow for going to the gym, red for artwork, and green for practicing oboe. It was very silly, but I enjoyed getting to watch all of the dots accumulate on my calendar. It’s funny how these little things hold us together.

SB: Yeah, the human mind can be so trainable.

CL: I know you’re still in the brainstorming phase, where are you currently?

SB: I’m getting to the part where I have vague ideas about what imagery I want to work with. I’ve spent a lot of time soaking in the work of artists who’ve explored similar themes, so now it’s time to move on. I’ve looked at Ed Purver, Bora Baskan, Aleksandra Waliszewska, Rembrandt, Odd Nerdrum, Michael Mazur, you, and Louise Bourgeois.

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(above) Images from a Locked Ward, by Michael Mazur

CL: I just took my RISD Freshman Drawing class to the Yale university art gallery print room and we saw these intaglio prints by Michael Mazur that were to die for. They were from his series called “Images from a Locked Ward.” If you haven’t seen them, definitely look them up. I was drooling the whole time. Did I ever tell you my Michael Mazur story?

SB: I don’t think so!

CL: I was at an opening reception for a printmaking exhibition that I was in, and I was standing around a group of people. This older man started talking, he mentioned that he liked my work and then went on this really long spiel about printmaking. I was thinking “Who is this guy?!?” After he left, I asked my colleague whether that man was a professor at the school, and she looked at me and said, “Honey, that was Michael Mazur!” Lesson: always find out whose hand you’re shaking.

So what imagery are you thinking of? What themes are you exploring with these images?

SB: I think it will be female figures in domestic settings trying on clothes. My primary theme, as always, is how cultures come together and apart. I was actually thinking for a while about whether my series would be more about the together or the apart, and I’ve decided to focus definitely on the former, since that is what I see happening around me much more.

CL: What is it that you see?

SB: I guess cultures melting together. The clothes will be from a range of eras – from the modern era, where we live, to colonial Indonesia, which has been my primary area of historical interest for a long time. I feel that showing people trying on clothes will give me a lot of concrete details to work with, but it will also speak to the idea of trying on different personas, and how people’s identities are layered as well generally.

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Pages

CL: That sounds really solid, I know you were having a bit of an existential crisis last time we talked. Has the crisis subsided?

SB: I’m actually really excited, it feels like I’ve got something concrete to work with at last. Last time we talked, you said that a little bit of effort every day would pay off eventually. That is really happening right now. My rule is that I can’t go to sleep without getting something down on paper.

CL: A student of mine once wrote “If I don’t put it down on paper I’ll never know what might have happened.”

SB: Patience, and kind of obsessing about it when you’re doing other things.

CL: I know what you mean, I’ve been pretty obsessive myself lately. I just had open studios this past weekend and it really got me thinking about how my work is received. I’m feeling kind of compulsive about it, it’s all I can think about.

SB: That’s kind of a great feeling, isn’t it?

CL: It is and it isn’t; I’m trying to figure out who my art is for. People are clearly very afraid and intimidated by the images I’m making. They either say nothing or they make some comment on the technique and the materials. This is interesting: I had one person come back to my studio at the end of the day, to talk to me about his own experience with mental illness. He was very sensitive and told me how much he was affected by my artwork.

SB: Wow. That’s pretty flattering. And telling. You know, the work you’re making right now is clearly very strong. You can’t feel just neutral about it. I think that’s always good. Bland is the worst.

CL: I guess one of the reasons I’m doing this project with you is because I’m just really interested in the immediate post-graduate life. So many of my “Ask the Art Professor” questions are from students who just graduated. It’s like there’s no guidance for these young artists coming out of school at all. The young artists who have contacted me seem so distraught.

SB: You’re their lifeline! I feel like being an artist is such a huge, huge thing. Once you graduate, even if you went to art school, it’s like somebody just pointed into the sky and said, “Now fly to the moon.”

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Pages

Related articles:
Introductory Interview

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