Sarah Shaw graduated from Falmouth College of Art in 2001 with a 1st Class Honours BA Degree in Fine Art and is now based in Brighton.
Sarah creates paintings that elegantly hover between figuration and abstraction while striving to inject them with enough room for personal interpretation. Her artwork speaks of a belief in the enduring vitality of painting as a primary form of communication. Shaw describes her inspiration as deriving from a quiet, almost meditative place.
Shaw explains that her process seems to always revolve around building up and stripping down of imagery, exploring different painterly languages then reducing down to the lowest denominator. By editing specific works and ideas she strives to capture the sense of a moment in time. These snatches of images, sounds and thoughts form a balance which she describes as ‘a painterly slideshow of memory’.
Shaw’s paintings often explore themes of beauty, history, the passing of time and the brevity of life.
Her work has been purchased by private collectors in the UK and abroad, and has been featured in many notable competitions. The artist has also been shortlisted for the prestigious Aesthetica and Threadneedle Art prizes.
Sarah recently was awarded the University of Chichester’s Award for Fine Art in the Regional Awards within the National Open Art Competition, where she has also been artist in residence.
Sarah primarily works in oil on canvas or paper but her paintings have also been translated into beautiful silkscreen and giclée limited-edition prints.
I've Got Something Against You, solo show, Whistleblower Gallery, Brighton, UK
Dear Christine, curated group show, Newcastle, Swansea, London, UK
Disposition, curated group show, Bermondsey Project Space, London, UK
Aesthetica Art Prize, York, UK
AEDAS, Commission, Pembrokeshire Wales
LAE, curated group show, November, London, UK
Modern Masters, group show, Art Republic, Brighton UK
Jackson’s Art Prize, London, UK
Delphian Gallery Open Call, London, UK
White + Black, Group show, Whistleblower Gallery, March/April, Brighton, UK
Crossings, Southwell Minster, Nottingham, UK
Animus, New Ashgate Gallery, Surrey, UK
Here we go! Group show, Whistleblower Gallery, Brighton
RHA, Dublin - SO Fine Art Collections, Dublin
Shortlisted Threadneedle Art Prize, London
Anima Mundi, Thiene, Italy
'Ceremony' TatArt, Barcelona
Winner 'British Women Artists' Prize
Ruth Borchard Portrait Prize
Curated group show, 'Ceremony' - No. 20 Arts, Islington, London
Curated group show, 'Painting (Now)' Studio One Gallery, London
Shortlisted Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize
Shortlisted Royal Academy Summer Show, London
Pre-selected Aesthetica Art Prize, Worldwide
Winners show, National Open Art, Pallant House, Chichester, UK
National Open Art Competition Mercers Hall, London, UK
'Anglomania' Dadaprojects, Thiene, Italy
Chroma, Brighton, UK
The Other Art Fair with National Open Art, London, UK
Dada Projects, Dada 8, Naked Eye Gallery, Brighton, UK
Pre-selected Threadneedle Art Prize, UK
Lacey Contemporary Inaugural Show, Holland Park, London, UK
National Open Art Competition, Royal College of Art, London, UK
Harrogate International Art Expo with NOA, UK
Art Gemini Prize, Menier Gallery, London, UK
'Heads', Curated group, Studio One Gallery, London, UK
'Connect2Colour', Lacey Contemporary, London, UK
'Shift', Solo show at ink_d gallery, Brighton, UK
AAF Battersea with Bo-Lee Gallery, London, UK
'Wanderlust', Lacey Contemporary, London, UK
London Art Fair, represented by ink_d gallery, Brighton, UK
Artist in residence, National Open, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, UK
National Open Art, Somerset House, London, UK
Threadneedle Art Prize, Mall Galleries, London, UK
‘Mix’ Group show, Lawrence Alkin Gallery, London, UK
‘Parallels’ Solo show, Naked Eye Gallery, Brighton, UK
‘East Sussex Open’, Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, UK
‘Cork Street Open’, London, UK
'Pushing Paint’, ink_d gallery, Brighton, UK
‘Parallels’ Solo show, New Ashgate Gallery, Farnham, UK
Art Gemini Prize, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London, UK
Royal Institute of Oil Painters Open, Mall Galleries, London, UK
National Open Art Competition, UK
Minerva Theatre, Chichester, Royal College of Art, London, UK
Zeitgeist Open 2013, Zeitgeist Art Projects, London, UK
’32 Painters’, Phoenix Gallery, Brighton, UK
The Group, Winter Collection, Lawrence Alkin Gallery, London, UK
Aesthetica Art Prize, UK
Group show, ink_d gallery, Brighton, UK
Fine art auction and exhibition, Tooveys, in association with Horsham museum, Sussex, UK
We sometimes have other available works by Sarah Shaw, or can accept commissions. Please get in touch if you want to know more.
A conversation with Sarah Shaw
by Dan Hipkin
Ok, so let’s start at the beginning. You graduated from Falmouth College of Art in 2001, I believe…
Yes - it feels like a lifetime ago! I was 27 then. My time at Falmouth was incredible. I didn’t want to be anywhere else, really. I was lucky enough to be there at a time when the college was thriving and the tutors were, importantly, still making work themselves so were passionate and engaged with current practice. I’ve always had a very emotional connection with Cornwall, having spent summer holidays there with my family so it was wonderful to find myself there as a student.
Did you always want to be a painter? Tell us a little bit about your first pieces of work.
I don’t know if I ever really set out to be a painter, I just have always painted! I guess the pieces that I can first identify as the beginning of my finding my own identity as a painter was a triptych painting/drawing of a railway system seen from above. It was a massive 2.5 by 2.5 metres. I’d taped together large pieces on which I drew with ink, charcoal and chalks. It was a kind of railway network seen from above with a sketchy idea of placements, settlements or passageways. The first drawing was fairly ordered with the passages uninterrupted and fluid, but as the triptych evolved the routes became more interrupted until the whole thing started to look like a huge invaded organism. The passageways became veins, the strange settlements, cells. I have always enjoyed playing with the idea that a piece of work has one identity but can also stand as an analogy for something else. That hasn’t changed in my work, and it doesn’t necessarily need to translate to the viewer – it’s just my perception. Some respond to it, others don’t. I like to leave enough space for the viewer to bring their own perception to my work.
What were your first influences?
My first influence was Van Gogh. I used to sit most nights after school whilst the family were in the other room, with a little calor gas heater and a battered book of his paintings, trying to paint them myself – trying to feel how they were painted. I used to spend quite a lot of time in the gallery next to my school which had an amazing collection of 19th century paintings, but I’d never experienced anything like the emotional charge I got from looking at Van Gogh reproductions in a book!
How has your work evolved through the years?
I think I allow the viewer in to my world a lot more than I used to. I’ve discovered a certain confidence in my artistic voice though it’s always good to shake things up a bit and challenge myself to paint differently – to keep things exciting. One way I have definitely changed is that I have become more patient with myself. Through experience I have learned a bit more about when to keep working and when to leave a painting alone for another day; when to have a dynamic painting session and when to temper the chaos with a more sensitive and reflective approach.
You have spoken a lot about figuration versus non-figuration in your work. Are you looking for the viewers to come up with their own interpretation of your paintings?
Absolutely – I think the paintings that have affected me have just given me enough to invite me in. One of my favourite artists is Peter Doig who does exactly that: he leads you by the hand then he leaves you immersed. I’m just not very interested in paintings that don’t hold any questions. It’s a personal preference I guess. I like that quote from Francis Bacon: ‘The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery’, though that implies that the artist himself is not included in experiencing this mystery which, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I certainly am!
I suppose what you’re talking about is also a part of knowing when a painting is finished…
Definitely. I think it’s important to leave a sort of a ‘breath’ in a painting. A piece of work can be so easily extinguished by overdoing it, by over-painting… When you have achieved that, when you still have that space, that ‘breath’, that’s when you know the painting’s finished.
'I have learned about when to keep working and when to leave a painting alone for another day.'
Do you have paintings that have taken you layers and layers until you have arrived at that point?
Absolutely! I have paintings that have layers and layers of paint, months and months of work. I’ve turned them upside down and responded to mark-making in a more abstract way – it’s like trying to find that little thread that takes you to the end, sometimes it’s so elusive and takes a long time to find… but I also have this little painting called ‘Secret’ that only took me about three hours… The wind was blowing in the right direction, I guess!
Is it a painting you kept?
Yes, that’s definitely not for sale, ever.
Your works are mainly oil on canvas… are there any other materials you have experimented with or would like to work with?
Yes, I have worked with paper, you know, a lot of charcoal drawing, acrylics… But I discovered oils on my second year at university and have never looked back, really. Oils allowed for a more considered approach to my work, and I fell in love with their qualities. Having said that, I am currently having fun working with enamels, acrylics, charcoal… Oil is beautiful to work with but has to dry between layers; other materials allow for a more dynamic approach which is always exciting.
Are you currently working towards a specific body of work?
Yes, I do tend to give myself a theme for a body of work these days. It’s a way of reining in my ideas! I’m working toward an exhibition I’m in with three other British artists in Italy, and it’s all based on interior spaces. The interior spaces of physical places, and the presences that can be found within them and of course the interior spaces within ourselves.
When did you set up this studio? Run me through it a little bit, I see a collection of books…
I have half of my life here! I do spend a lot of time in this studio. All these books are references for my work, of course, but I do have other books at home, the ones I don’t want to get paint on. There is a lot of paint as you can see! It can get a bit messy at times. It’s great to have a space where I can try things out and experiment.
I’ve been visiting your studio for years, there’s a really nice feel to it, having high ceilings gives it character…
Absolutely! It has a great history of artists who have worked here too! I like to think all of them have left a bit of their energy… many of them have moved on to have very successful careers! I love this place, it has personality, it feels like being on a ship sometimes, it has a floor that seems to undulate, the ceiling has threaten to fall on me a couple of times. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely mine!
I see you have been picking up quite a few items of wood. What are these for?
Yes! I’m working on reclaimed wood at the moment… just experimenting, really. It’s always good to ring the changes and find yourself in uncharted waters. I am exploring making contemporary painting on archaic surfaces, old signs, even furniture. I’ve just painted a really old fireguard! I find it an interesting contradiction especially since some of the subjects that I’ve been researching revolve around English traditions, sayings and superstitions and all the rather unusual things we do. Some of it is very odd; we are very odd people. I’m one of the most superstitious people I know so I count myself in here!
Well, that might be a good end to this interview! Thank you so much for talking to me!
That’s all right, it was my pleasure!
Interview © by Whistleblower Gallery, 2016. All rights reserved.
If you wish to purchase any work by Sarah Shaw, please visit our shop.