Q+Art: Artist Sarah Lederman Treats Her Moody Paintings Like a Bleeding, Leaking Body
“The painting is treated like a body,” Sarah Lederman has said of her watery works. “[It] is not something that is neat, pretty, and contained; it leaks, bleeds and excretes.” Using pencil and thin washes of oil color, the London-based artist creates moody paintings that explore the boundaries of the human body with atmosphere, emotion, and memory.
Lederman starts with an idea, a memory, and a doodle on canvas. Using rabbit skin glue as a primer, the artist layers paint and pencil, then removes it, repeating the process until only faint traces of the original mark remain. Lederman’s process transforms the canvas into a kind of second skin that traps grime, trauma, and memories beneath a transparent layer of oil paint. Though the artist often uses her own memories for inspiration, she also appropriates imagery from Medieval manuscripts and children’s storybook illustrations to create a loose narrative structure.
Teeming with animal hybrids, crude figures, and bizarre sexual acts, Lederman’s work ultimately obscures the whimsical linework that lurks under the surface. “Although the starting point for my work is often drawings and ideas, the paint will eventually take over,” she notes. “The figurative elements become less important and the negative space starts to take priority.” As a result, Lederman’s figures float in a sea of soft color, forgetting, remembering, and forgetting again.
“The canvas has a memory, much like our own bodies, which I try, and fail, to erase,” writes Lederman in her artist statement. Like a sun-bleached tattoo, her drawings linger below the canvas’ surface, impossible to scrub away, impossible to decipher beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sometimes Lederman layers pigmented glue over her drawings in an attempt to mask the images, mimicking the way our bodies deal with past traumas: “The extra layers act like scabs building upon the canvas, the pigmented glue rushes like platelets to heal a wound,” she notes. “But the damage has already been done, and the viewer can still see the residue, like veins beneath the skin.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Sarah Lederman discusses the boundaries of the human body, cultivating emotion through color, composition and space, and making the most out of an academic environment.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
SL: I can’t speak for all artists; the book that has impacted me the most was Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. She talks about skin being a container for bodily fluids and once these fluids exist outside the boundaries of skin they become disgusting. These ideas have heavily influenced the way I view paint and make paintings.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
SL: I am not sure, I feel like it’s best to never meet your heroes. But If I could have dinner with Degas and Bonnard, that would be cool. Even better if I could have dinner with one of their paintings.
What are you trying to express with your art?
SL: A sense of emotion and feeling through color and space.
Do you prefer New York- or Chicago-style pizza?
SL: Italian with lots of Garlic olive oil; I am European after all.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
SL: Definitely chocolate.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
SL: There are so many I wouldn’t like to single it down to just one. I feel like every time I finish a painting and put on a show it's an amazing achievement.
Most recently I made a book titled Yellow Sunshine, Yellow Pee. I have never made a book before, so that was pretty special. I also taught myself to etch a couple of months ago, which was amazing.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
SL: For me it definitely was. I like an academic environment, and the contacts I made have definitely helped me out. However, I don’t think it's always the right path to take. When I did my BA it was much cheaper; the cost of art education now is ridiculous.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
SL: Historically significant!
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
SL: I listen to a lot of podcasts. At the moment I am listening to this American Life and Criminal.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
SL: I have been drawing loads and working with line a lot. I recently had an online show called Crowds and Spit. In the show the drawings had lots of figures, birds and bodily fluids. The fear of touching made me want to crowd the figures all together. It's interesting to be able to draw something that would create fear and anxiety in real life.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
SL: I really can’t answer that; who knows how it will affect the world, let alone the art world. I know personally it's made me try out a lot of new things in art practice and my life.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
SL: I am learning to etch, which is so exciting; I really love this new way of drawing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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