Blips in Matter: A Conversation With Sara Birns
I can't think of a better example of the schizophrenia of 2020 than the circumstances around Sara Birns' big solo debut with Richard Heller Gallery in LA last year. On one hand, a milestone moment for a young artist to get the opportunity to present her work in such a venue, but at the same time, a terrifying moment globally as the majority of the world entered the era of lockdowns and quarantines.
We got in touch with the Santa Monica-based artist back then and had a conversation about the entire experience for our Art In Uncertain Times series, and we figured it's only fair to catch up with her on the eve of her big international debut. Opening on June 3rd, Postmasters Gallery in Rome, Italy, will be presenting Blips in Matter. Comprising 13 oils on canvas or panel and 3 ink on paper monotypes, the new body of work shows progression in Birns' work. From the introduction of new characters, use of landscape setting, depiction of movement, to wider angle scenes with multiple, full-body figures, the new body of work is referencing everything from Albert Bierstadt’s American landscapes, over German New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement, to elements of Franz Koh’s Magical Realism.
Sasha Bogojev: What is the idea behind the title of the show, Blips in Matter?
Sara Birns: These new paintings represent blips in the physical matter our eyes see. I wanted to capture, and realistically reveal the way I interpret the invisible forces that are just beyond the matter our human eyes pick up on. All of the work in this show illustrates in one way or another an observation about an invisible element of life that goes beyond what our physical senses can provide. Beyond the physical substances (matter) that our senses allow us to interact with.
Can you give us an example of where you're using such an approach?
For instance, the three Mother Mary's or the Yourself With Yourself paintings illustrate the physical changes that we gradually go through as we age and learn. We can’t see it, but we become different people over time, through our experiences and decisions, we look different because we are different throughout the stages of our lifetime. And, though we can’t see it, we have the ability to interact with our past and future selves: by thinking of our future self, consulting with him/her/they in our decision making. We also consult with our past self, looking at patterns or puzzle pieces, that help aid in decisions.
How would you compare this show with your previous one?
My previous show was my first ever show, and being quite fresh on my oil painting path I remember wanting to be strategic and thoughtful with the content I find interesting enough to explore. “I’m understanding that wherever I put my focus will grow, opening up related intentions as I build upon them.” (From my last interview with you before my first show). A year later I feel that I’m witnessing truth to that realization. This show is different, but it was built on the foundation I laid out from the work I explored in my last show.
What are some of the elements that currently interest/intrigue/challenge you the most?
Last year I was intrigued and challenged by the relationship I had with my subjects - I would compare my impression I had of them when we first met, to the impression I had of them at present, several years of friendship later. When I compare those two impressions, it was as if I knew two different people. And slightly morphing the physical facial cues our visual senses observe to reveal the changing and evolving essence our eyes miss out on.
Did your approach to exploring the subject the theme change too in any way?
With this show, I’ve dug even deeper into the idea of our changing selves and picked up other elements that are connected to that initial curiosity along the way. For instance the lava lamp tryptic Ding Ding Ding. I was thinking about what actually goes into the process of ourselves changing. This painting is illustrating the mind digesting interpretations of information people give and receive with one another. The connection of other people helps blossom our own individual ideas and growth of knowledge. We internalize what we perceive and as that happens we change, moving further from our past self and closer to our future self.
What's the idea behind the sheeple characters? Are they really THE "sheeple"?!
Another area I’ve dug deeper and realized different or evolved elements from my previous body of work is the changing relationship we have with animals. Resulting in what looks like sheeple (I love that word Sheeple! Haha). However, they are not actually sheeple - 0% person, 100% sheep. Referring back to the title of the show, the human-like facial features are blips in the matter. Visual glimpses into the idea that the more familiar we get with an animal, the more relatable we see them.
So what drives you to create such anthropomorphic takes on these furry guys?!
Giving animals features that resemble our own enhances the ability for us to relate to them. The morphing of these animal faces symbolizes the evolving relationship we have with them. During the pandemic, I started growing my relationship with animals more (specifically a horse named Argo). I noticed almost telepathy-like interactions the stronger the relationship became. Those with pets may experience this too, seeing their pet in a brighter light showering more clarity into their well-being the closer they become. Is this telepathy? Not sure but still working on it.
Follow Sara at @sarabirns