Sarah Swist received her BFA from Western Illinois University and her MFA from Penn State University. She teaches drawing and painting at a liberal arts college in the Midwest. Recent paintings feature vintage fabric scraps, kitschy trinkets, nostalgic family heirlooms, and piles of thrift store treasures. Her studio work has been shown in exhibitions across the country in Illinois, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and more. She is one-half of a collaborative project known as Bubblegum & Whiskey, and in 2020 they participated in Satellite Art Show in Brooklyn and PULSE Art Fair in Miami Beach with Treat Gallery.
What hurdles have you overcome this year and how have they affected your art practice?
I recently relocated and started a new position. I am grateful for this new adventure after several months of not being confident about what the future might hold. With that said, it is hard to say that I have overcome any other hurdles, disasters, and crises thrust upon so many folks. I am just trying to get through the year, and most of the time it is okay. My practice went dormant over the summer while I tried to navigate so many changes, safety precautions, and the well-being of myself and others. It is not what I ever imagined for this year.
How has your art practice been affected by the pandemic?
A few of my shows were changed or canceled which is unfortunate on so many levels for so many artists. My studio moved into my basement and most of my supplies stayed in boxes during the summer. I made a few pieces on my living room floor. It was a period of transition and waiting so I wasn’t sure whether or not I should unpack. In previous years, I relied on my computer to make digital work when I couldn’t paint or make a mess. My computer was so old that it wasn’t reliable anymore so I took the opportunity to slow down on making serious work. Some days, art seemed so far away. In late August, my basement started flooding from a broken pipe, and I was relieved that I could at least move boxes quickly. I can’t remember a time when I went so long without making something. Instead of forcing it, I will continue to let things flow back naturally over time. I am in the process of establishing a designated space for making work. Something will work out.
What support systems have you put in place to help keep your practice thriving amidst these unforeseeable circumstances?
My partner is my whole world. It doesn’t matter where I am or what we face if we are together. We’ve been together over a decade, and hard times always bring us closer. We are both artists, and we can work together, push each other when appropriate, or support individual choices. I don’t think my practice was particularly well maintained over the last 6 months, but I am at peace with it. If there was ever a time to release a little bit of pressure, this was it for me. The distance I had from my usual routine gave me so much to hope for as time passed. Maybe, after a considerable break, I can approach things differently. Being creative was too much to ask at times.
What methods do you employ to stay resilient in your art practice? What tips would you recommend to other artists who find staying resilient difficult?
I think that being resilient has meant acknowledging and trying to better understand vulnerability. It isn’t practical to hover on the edge of burning out all the time. We can’t power through everything- certainly not in 2020. Artists will communicate what this time was like for generations to come, but being sensitive to our own needs, our community, and our reality is crucial in the moment. Many people have their entire life on pause, they are mourning, taking care of family, being brave, and standing up for others. I’m lucky to be an artist and be making wages at all right now. I would recommend that artists make work when they can with what they have available. Trust your gut to sense when to produce like crazy or hustle and when to listen to your body and mind if it becomes too much. If you are doing well, reach out to others and try to be a good friend or lend a hand.
What have you learned about yourself as an artist this year?
I learned I can let go of so much, and it was better than holding on so tightly. (I have to fill this box with at least 100 words, but I think that is all I learned.) I learned I can let go of so much, and it was better than holding on so tightly. I learned I can let go of so much, and it was better than holding on so tightly. I learned I can let go of so much, and it was better than holding on so tightly. I learned I can let go of so much, and it was better than holding on so tightly. I learned I can let go of so much, and it was better than holding on so tightly.
Find Sarah Swist on Instagram