I am in awe of local artist Sarah Hickey’s mixed-media creations that combine beauty, spiritual iconography and the feminine, in complex layers ablaze with vivid colours, patterns and images. Over the past four years, Sarah has held eight solo shows and participated in twenty-two group shows. Her latest solo exhibition – Tabernacle of Skin – is being held at Lust For Life Tattoo, 175 Wickham St, Fortitude Valley (Brisbane); launching this Thursday 6th Sept. and on show until 30th Sept.. Be sure not to miss it!
I only recently came across your art but I wanted to let you know it has really moved me; words will never suffice to explain the joy I feel from looking at your work. Who are the artists whose work moves you?
SARAH HICKEY: Oh wow – I’m so thrilled to hear those lovely words. It’s nice to know that the work connects to someone out in there in the ether. I have many art crushes: Lori Field, Catalina Estrada, Tania Wursig, Wendy Arnold, Margaret Preston, Michael Zavros, Damien Kamholtz, Abbey McCulloch, Belinda Suzette, Fiona Kennedy Altoft, Gustav Klimt, Mucha, Frida Kahlo, a range of contemporary illustrators, vintage religious iconography, Indian Goddess imagery, fashion photography…. The list goes on.
How did you get started in art? Is it something you’ve been doing forever? Does it come naturally to you?
SH: I believe creativity comes naturally to all of us and is especially prevalent when we’re young. I was always interested in expressing myself creatively but turned the funnel off when I got older to ‘get serious’ about an adult life without practising art myself. I read a book called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and it resonated so strongly. It opened me up to the possibility of reconnecting with that creative spark again. I always searched for a reason to create – I now know for me it’s based in spirituality, an expression of who we all are at a soul level.
To me, your art is evocative of the Art Nouveau movement, are you inspired by this?
SH: Absolutely. I love the fact that this movement was influential and morphed into different spheres – wallpaper, furniture, fashion, popular culture, architecture and design in general. I really like that idea of art travelling and expanding into many different fields. And the fact that it was earnestly concerned with the pursuit of beauty in the every day.
Your series of female idols is inspired by images of women from a variety of contexts, histories and worlds. The complex layering of imagery and patterns depict beauty, spiritual iconography and the feminine; where does your interest in spiritual iconography come from?
SH: I can’t seem to escape my Roman Catholic upbringing! I jest. I can remember looking at iconography when I was younger and thinking it was the most beautiful thing in the world. Those Mary’s would look down on me with such warmth and kindness – I must have thought, that’s what I’d like to be. Even though I would no longer classify myself with any religion, I deeply believe in a benevolent spirit or energy that exists within us all. We are the gods who choose our lives and we’re all a bit hard on ourselves. It’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz on our quest to gain magic to return home but then discovering we had the magic all along.
What does beauty mean to you?
SH: It’s that lump in the throat kind of feeling that hits you often if you’re lucky. It can happen on a walk looking at the sky; it can be in watching my next door neighbour’s children stumbling around on the grass, I think it transcends the visual and is not found in one thing but in many.
What compels you to paint women? Is it a conscious decision?
SH: I love women. I’m naturally interested in, support and am inspired by all things feminine. It’s so much a part of my identity in this world that it would feel strange not to express a unique feminine perspective on things. That’s not to say that we’re a homogenous group with the same opinions, beliefs and ideas but I’m certainly a supporter of women expressing themselves and supporting each other’s creativity. I always think that these women are like playful visions of the women I’d like to be.
For you, is creating art a spiritual experience?
SH: Yes. It’s like a meditation in action. Time stops and all you need to worry about is the paint and the canvas.
Tabernacle of Skin is your upcoming exhibition at Lust For Life Tattoo in Brisbane. The pieces featured explore the idea of body as tabernacle; the body as a residence or dwelling place for a divine presence. “Part Indian goddess, part Russian icon; these deities are earnest in their attempt to capture something of an inner soul or life force.” How did you come to this theme?
SH: I was exploring the idea of the body as a Tabernacle, meaning a “residence” or “dwelling place” for a divine presence. I like the idea that we all contain a goodness, light and divinity at our base. At times we keep up with that higher self or Goddess within, at other times we are critical and hard on ourselves which creates a feeling of isolation or separation from who we really are. These femme deities are an expression of those thoughts.
Before starting your latest collection of works did you do much research? Can you tell us a little about your research process?
SH: I usually start with a premise of ‘follow your bliss’ until an idea is birthed. I will troll the computer, books, magazines, images that just delight me. I’ll collect them and play with a few ideas until one zings.
I’ve noticed flowers are also a common feature throughout your work; do they have a special significance to you?
SH: They symbolise fertility to me. Fertile; not necessarily the literal interpretation but in creativity, the spirit, the mind and natural world.
What is your personal favourite thing about the collection?
SH: I’ve got a soft spot for ‘Immaculate Connection’ – if she never sold, I’d be secretly okay with it.
I know it’s hard and it must change lots but, what is your favourite piece that you’ve ever created?
SH: I’d like to believe I’m yet to create her.
As an artist, what do you find most challenging?
SH: That inner critic. You have to silence that one quite a bit. The one that says you’re not talented enough, your dreams are too big, you’re not really an artist if you don’t do things a certain way. Those little voices can be enough to silence you creatively for some time. The best thing you can do is remind yourself why you do this in the first place – because it’s fun.
I’ve read that your ‘creative recovery’ was inspired by NY artist Julia Cameron (I loved her book The Artist’s Way); how did Julia inspire you?
SH: She was so empowering to read. It was like a ‘coming out’ for me. For a few years I’d tried to dampen the idea that I was a creative person and when I read her words it was like ‘c’mon – who are you kidding’…
Do you listen to music while you work?
What would I find in your CD player, on your record player or on your digital playlists etc.?
SH: Oh no – please don’t ask me this question… I’m a musical dork… My very cool brother would attest to that. I wish I could be cool here but you will find anything from Walt Disney Love Songs to Bjork, Dave Matthews band and Fleetwood Mac… As well as a few Backstreet Boy numbers that really shouldn’t be admitted to in polite company.
What’s next for you?
SH: Hopefully wonderful things… The past year has been about entering competitions… Perhaps a win in one of those comps would be nice. An International exhibition, a really good portrait in the Archie and a steady back deck on our post-war home… I’ll take all of the above and a happy, peaceful existence doing what I love and surrounded by those that I love.
For more Sarah Hickey.
*All art by Sarah Hickey: 1 – Tabernacle / 2 – In Self, We Trust / 3 – Downtown Milano with Shoulder Companions / 4 – Immaculate Connection / 5 – Bettina the Blessed (with long pearls)