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Monday, 15 April 2013

Sarah Hensley interview

Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
How you got into being an artist?

I've been doodling ever since I could pick up a pencil! I think I've always had an artistic streak, paint in my veins, or something. Every chance I'd get, I'd jump on an opportunity to do something... set design for school plays, event posters, whatever. It was how I passed the time.

My parents split up when I was around 10 or 11 or so, and I found myself in northern Michigan, with the Pere Marquette state forest in my back yard, no TV, bad radio... and my mom worked second shift, so I was home alone in the woods, down miles and miles of dirt roads. Art was a healthy way to express my angst and lonliness... not that I didn't delve into gratuitious substance enjoyment, but even then, I spent most of my stoner/trippy/tweaking time drawing, too.

Fast forward a LOT of years and I had lost my muse (and my talents, as well, or so I thought.) I was a successful medical professional, a certified surgical technologist, and I was a single mom making it on my own. I was very proud of myself. I had a "five-year plan" and everything. well, one fateful evening, I injured myself on the job whilst transferring a post-op patient from the OR table onto his hospital bed. I think I ruptured 5 discs in my lumbar spine, or something. Everything fell apart for me, then. my "excellent" job fucked me, big style. I had a HUGE spine surgery (complete with cages and screws and cadaver bone and everything!) and I never really recovered. I'd moved to Holland, MI specifically for that surgery job, and the only friends I had in the area sort of fizzled away once I wasn't working with everyone anymore. I found myself broken, poor, and without any kind of support system. I turned to art to sort of regain my sanity, to pass the time, to feel PRODUCTIVE again. there's nothing like becoming disabled to just wreak havok on one's sense of usefulness. my self-esteem plummeted. I needed to do something more than lying in bed ruminating,or thinking about all of the "what ifs" and the things that could have been, had I not destroyed my spine. having a painting I'd done in my HANDS, tangible evidence that I wasn't worthless, that I COULD somehow contribute to this life, I just found it very theraputic.

How would you personally describe your work? I get a strong Robert Crumb influence mixed in with some punk psychedelia and a love for the macabre. Would you go along with that?

haha! awesome! I'm the kinda easy-going gal who'll go along with pretty much anything. Someone once told me my art was like a cross between Rat Fink and Lisa Frank... not that i'm a huge Lisa Frank fan, but I did own a Trapper Keeper when I was in middle school... honestly, I'd like to fancy myself a "stuckist" but I think you have to like, know someone, or something. I really love RalphSteadman’s work. I’m also a HUGE fan of John Dyer Baizley. Those two really know how to take the strange and grotesque and make it a thing of beauty. Me, I’m pretty cartoony. Not just on canvas, but in real life, too!

There's always been this debate surrounding 'what is art' and to be honest I don't really subscribe to the art school qualified angle giving a piece of work any relevance just because the person holding the paintbrush has a degree.
Is art something that should be exclusive in that sense, or has the punk DIY ethic got it's place in the scheme of things?

I hope I don’t have to have an Arts Degree to be a “real” artist. I think it’s all in one’s head, you know? Artists have a different way of looking at things. We notice shit other people won’t even see. I’m sure that there are folks who think they “live art” or something… like that lady who didn’t change her sheets for a year and put her grody old bed on display. I don’t think that there should be pretention in art. Just because I can draw something doesn’t make me any more special than the guy who can change an oil filter, or the lady who wipes my grandpa’s ass at the nursing home. That said, I also don’t believe that someone who’s willing to pour tens of thousands of dollars into some hoity-toity education isn’t any more or less talented than someone who’s too poor to go to college, and is self-taught. Not that I’m in any way against furthering one’s education, but you can go to a local community center and take a class in this or that, and expand your knowledge or improve your techniques as you see fit. I’ve always been a proponent of the DIY lifestyle. There’s something extremely gratifying about making something out of nothing, and then using that something to pay your bills. It’s empowering. It’s validating. Then, this wonderful thing happens… you feel good about what you did, and then you feel good about yourself, and you notice the stuff you make gets better and better. A little bit of confidence goes a long way.

Following on from that would you care if your artwork was hanging in a gallery or stretched across the chest of a t-shirt?

My art IS on tee shirts! Aaaaand, I’ve had ONE gallery show in my whole life, and I couldn’t even GO TO THE FUCKER. I’d like to think one day that I’ll have another show, maybe my own show, but I won’t be depressed or anything if that never happens. At the minute, it’s a paint-to-live situation. Since I busted my back, I can’t really DO much else. I sell everything I make, and the rent’s paid, and that’s my motivation at the minute.

I suppose we all live in a world where success is measured in cash.
As an artists does that sort of break your heart, and if it does then how would you balance out doing what you want as opposed to pandering to commercialization to make a buck?
After all, we all have to put food on the table. So where would you draw the line figuratively speaking?
Commissioned work is of course a path to financial recompense, but I guess what I am asking is do you think you have to sell a bit of yourself when it comes to that and how far could you take it before you felt you had sold too much of yourself?

Dude, right now, I’m almost doing ALL commission work. While selling a piece is validating, I do sometimes struggle with the whole “sellout” conundrum. I try to look at it like this: someone wants something that they can’t do for themselves. I’m more than happy to help bring their vision to fruition! If I look at it from a ‘providing a service’ perspective, then I don’t feel like I’m compromising my integrity or anything. I guess the line I’d draw is when someone wants a total perfect copy of someone else’s work… but then again, I’ve done it before. I painted an Ian Hunter album cover on the back of a leather jacket, but I knew that the jacket was something this chick had wanted for 20+ years, so it didn’t make me feel like a tool at all. Making people happy makes ME happy. Just like having my rent paid and having electricity and feeding my son makes me happy. Those are all necessary things. Art is often a luxury (to some, at least… for me, it IS necessary!)

Right now, I’m waiting to be approved for disability. I don’t think that when the checks start coming in, that I’ll stop painting, though. I’ve got THE FEVER, baby!

If I was to wave a magic wand and you had the time, and the finances, to do whatever you wanted artistically then what would be the one thing that you would have to do?
What kind of statement would you want to make?

The first thing I’d want to do is TRAVEL. There are so so so many interesting, exotic, beautiful places out there, that I need to lay my eyes on… so many foods to taste, so many scents to smell, so many sky lines to appreciate. I would LOVE to see more of our planet. Not that I’d drag an easel along or anything. I’d also like some cyborg parts, so I could walk better and without pain. Then I’d REALLY enjoy my travels. I’d also like a work space, a room with a lot of windows where I could spread my arty mess all over. I think that experiences are what feed our souls, and our souls are where art is born.

I’m not really good at picking ONE THING, like ever. I’m too indecisive, too flighty. I’d probably make one statement, and as soon as it was done, I’d come into another point of view, and make another statement and another one and another one… 

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