ESTHER SHERROW: connections, knots, nebulae
ESTHER SHERROW is a Paris-based American artist. After graduating in Fine Arts from Brandeis in Massachusetts Esther took flight to Europe and has been there ever since. Esther works with oil paint, drawing, collage, and sculpture. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the USA.
To see more of Esther’s work, please visit: www.esthersherrow.com
Interview by Will Kitson
Do you come from a ‘creative’ family? As a child were you encouraged to express yourself creatively and freely?
Creative? My parents were truly off-beat independent thinkers. They are the two people I know who are the least affected by what others would think of them. For better and worse. Not artists, but resisting (and/or unaware) of all the norms they came across. My mother spent a lot of time in the archives and the cemeteries researching local history as a passion, while my dad, when he wasn’t hanging drapes, could be found on his Vespa or in his 15 foot outboard-motor dingy on the river or ranting outlandish libertarian political agendas. Role models of a kind. But what they really did to encourage me was they let me be. No coercing, almost no limits. It was freedom.
Your works are often quite intricate – I imagine that the creative process is a meticulous one. Do you often find yourself in a meditative state while working?
At times yes definitely there is a hush … a still. I’ll feel clean. A meditative discipline. But also when working I find my thoughts flowing quickly and randomly. The opposite of meditation. A purge, a frenzy. Dionysian? Sufi? Gnawing. Constructing and connecting. Sifting. I rattle back and forth between the two.
Your sculptural work has utilised some unique materials; for example, spider webs, cocoons, hair and wax. What is it that draws you to a particular material?
A certain malleability. A sensuousness, tactility. Something biological, organic. Now I’m using ink and pen. Old fashioned. And learning print-making techniques. There needs to be a certain slowness in the instrument for me. When I was doing sculpture I recuperated material, lots of cloth. Lived with them for a while. I like to touch the work. Hand stitching, candle dripped wax, waiting for hair to grow out. One can feel the time. I’d be very pleased with myself to make stalactites, not a false reproduction, but one that takes millennia and water and found minerals to make. What a material that would be.
Much of your work is concerned with ‘mass interconnectedness’: ‘Corpuscles, DNA, chains, connections, knots, nebulae’. What triggered your interest in this idea and how do you use art as a way of exploring it?
Those ideas have been around the work for so long I couldn’t say what ‘triggered’ them. It has been more like an exploration into those ideas. Discovery, discovering what I am exploring. Interconnection has been resurfacing for nearly 25 years. Skritchety little map-like marks were in paintings from my student days. But at that time it was aesthetic, or I didn’t know what it was. It was part of the free-form brainstorming that accompanies the beginning of a creative path.
In the early 90s I was seeing relationships in my work, literally. I had friends in San Francisco, Prague and New York, family in Connecticut. I was disconnected in Paris. Doing lots of old fashioned letter writing. Keeping and making connections. In a solitary bubble, linguistically handicapped, pre-internet. And I was making webs and tying knots of all sorts. Not intentionally, perhaps it was psych 101? More recently I’ve been reading about Buddhism and meditation (reading more than practicing) and it is chock-a-block with ideas of oneness in the minuscule parts. Of a deep interconnectedness of spirit of perception of prana (interconnection by breathing). But I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that is what I am doing. It just comes out in the flow of thoughts. Ideas I read about are connected to ones I have while working.
You’ve said that your work is the ‘repetition of objects,’ ‘symbolizing the quotidian and the act of being.’ Please expand on these themes.
Well, my most recent show I entitled “Wallpaper is to Art as Life is to the Events (of life)”. To expand on this idea I was reflecting on the difference between a work I was making one day and wall paper. They were large drawings on the wall. Art vs. wall paper. (Art as wallpaper, but that is another story.) And I asked myself: what is the difference? And in some ways there is no difference. No difference in the tasks of mark making, cleaning, knitting, cooking, bricolage, plotting a trip … there is a certain existentialness, an egalitarianism. Do we put a sacredness in the act of art making? and hanging clothes? cooking daily? Or is it simply something we do? An activity. A construction. An ordering of the world around us to make sense, to show us how we are there. It could have been another path chosen into which I put my energy. If I don’t leave my house to go to the studio I take that energy and put it into organizing the house, the laundry, the bills, the rdvs, etc etc. (Not very effectively but nonetheless.) But if I take that energy to the studio it becomes art. Not to make it sound so robotic but personal energy interests me, and how one manifests it. In their actions and in their being. What is it that separates art from another activity? Perhaps it is a touch of futility, making for no “practical” reason, so anti-capitalist. It becomes a quest. It’s all so debatable. Nooks and crannies of reflection.
How has the continued study of these areas affected your life in a positive way?
“These areas” I will interpret as the ideas that go hand in hand with my art making. The interconnectivity.
With the exploration of these ideas I find energy, compassion, understanding. I read an article on the atrocities in Rwanda a couple years ago. Horrific stuff. And I realised profoundly that I was also those people. The victims and the kids with the machetes. We as people are linked, like a single being. We are our poorest most vulnerable and we are our most talented and we are our most atrocious. We are old and young. And we want to be understood. In some form or another.
But then beyond the human element of the interconnectedness is a galactic view up and down, out into the cosmos, down into our atoms. This makes the human element almost silly, little, petty. Or it makes us part of something so much larger. I often see visual connections in bacterial as well as astral imagery. Those highly interconnected environments. My sister-in-law the brain researcher is quite happy to feed my compulsion with synapse imagery which according to her is mimicked (or vice versa) by galactic stellar imagery. I eat it up.
And when I am thinking of this and that while making my ink marks, yes, it has a knock on effect that is positive. It puts things in perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I’m terribly human and full of all the anxieties and passions that go with being. But puttering around in these ideas, which come up in bits and pieces while working and reading and watching, gives a bit of distance that makes me feel more solid.
Because life is generally at this time paying bills, raising kids or asking why one is not raising kids, looking after ailing older generations or guilt of not doing so, dealing with surly administration, keeping it all afloat for better or worse. One can get swept up in the bits and pieces. Holding onto one part that pulls us under, emotionally. So for me, my art and the plodding through of ideas that surface within it, gives me perspective so I don’t get pulled down, or at least can pull myself back up when I do go down.
If the universe inside you were to be contained in just one symbol what would that symbol be?
Well a web of course.
[photo detail on cover of magazine of Esther by Rich Wilson]