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An Interview with Sarah Duncan

Posted on July 27, 2017

Interview with artist Sarah Duncan

Sarah Duncan graduated with an MA in Multidisciplinary printmaking from UWE in 2015.  Since then she has taken the printmaking world by storm exhibiting widely in the UK and abroad, and participated in artist residencies in Italy and Iceland. Sarah talks about her recent experiences and how her work has developed. 


Sarah, tell us a bit about what inspires your practice as an artist?

My practice is based on the natural world and our relationship with the remote and inaccessible, notably the ocean and the cosmos. I am drawn to phenomena that appear on the surface to be constant and uniform but on further inspection reveal themselves to be unique, constantly in flux and ever changing- an observation that may also apply to forms and light that are invisible to the naked eye. Perhaps due to slight agoraphobia, I am drawn to wilderness and large spaces, the gigantic and intangible. My efforts to capture these on paper are attempts to tame them and render them more familiar and accessible. More recently, my work has focused on the earth, sky and water, immeasurable elements, but the process of observing, selecting and reproducing a portion of them inside a frame makes that section more knowable whilst simultaneously revealing how unknowable the whole is.

The prints you create play with light and open spaces. What are the driving forces behind your work?

I seek to embed our experienced physical world into the unknowable enormity of the cosmos.  It shares the central aims of science in trying to make sense of our surroundings, but focuses on an emotional and embodied response rather than a purely intellectual one. I seek beauty in the realms of science, astronomy, and microscopy. Optical technology and scientific research increasingly allow us to glimpse the unseeable. My work reflects on this and tries to grasp what would be unknowable without them.  I am interested in the forces that have shaped our planet and left their marks and traces upon the landscape. Research involves walking and responding to a landscape through photography, sketching and note taking as the starting point for a piece.


Can you tell us more about the evolution of your practice as an artist? 

A recent residency in Iceland allowed me to experience very young landscapes on which the dramatic and potent traces of their births are much more obviously drawn - whether through flowing glaciers, violent tectonic upheaval or volcanic activity.  The cyclical nature of landscape creation and erosion is echoed in my drawing, which has become less about the line and more concerned with the nature of layers. I use layers of organic materials - charcoal, graphite, wax and chalk - to build up surfaces on paper, and eroding portions of them by erasing, echoing the creative forces behind the landscapes they represent.


You recently worked on a collaborative project with UK artist Emma Gregory. What was the aim of this project and how did it work in relation to your practice?

Project Gemini is an exhibition of a series of site-specific installations exploring ocular and astral themes.  The basis was a series of photogravure prints I had produced from my interest in astronomy, light and sight. We revisited the content of the original pieces, re-examining them installed in a corridor full of light-wells, to offer fresh layers of experience and meaning. We developed the way the prints interacted with the physical space of the light-wells, making and installing sculptural pieces with astral, lenticular, geometric and lunar themes, transforming them from 2D to 3D, allowing the viewer look differently at the prints through a series of lenses, mirrors, fishing line fractals and reflections.


You are active in exploring and progressing your work. What have you got lined up for 2017?  

Deep Mapping; a collaborative project with two other artists, Nicolette Mcguire and Lydia Halcrow in response to the unique coastal landscape around Porlock Weir in the Exmoor National Park, Somerset. An area undergoing rapid landscape change as the sea breaches a protective shingle bank, flooding the low-lying land with seawater. It is overseen by the National Trust as a ‘managed retreat’, a new way to cope with rising sea levels. Over four years the beach had subsumed farmland, fences and trees under shingle, with trees dying as the marshland salinates.


Do you think it is important to have a female voice in today’s art world?  

My identity comes from nature, nurture, chance, fate, experience, wisdom, maturity and gender… the list is endless. We are too complex for gender to be the only element on the list.


And finally, what excites you about the future?

Research and exploration!