Artist Speak: Sausan Saulat

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Tells us a bit about your art/design background. How did you get into painting?

Clichéd as it sounds I was obsessed with creating since I was a kid. I was a pretty rowdy and restless child, so in order to calm me down a notch, especially at social gatherings, my folks would hand me a notepad and a pen which was the only thing that would mellow me down briefly. My dad used to frame every little scrap that I created and used to put it up in our house, it was like kitsch central, our walls.

My siblings and parents, especially my dad gave me a lot of validation so I took art for my A levels. I was really horrible then but persisted on to do my BFA. That is when I felt a real connection, when I began to grasp the conceptual underpinnings of fine arts. It was a moment of clarity, the entire two years and especially thesis when students were given the freedom to explore their own ideas, I knew then that this is what I want to do for life.

Where do you find your inspiration?

One has countless triggers, there isn’t one set thing like nature or people that inspires me. You never know what will channelize what thoughts, ideas or visuals and when. Having said that, of course one is not always inspired or stimulated and the process can be tedious and challenging especially with deadlines looming over you, it is pretty anxiety-inducing. What keeps me stimulated is looking at other works, online, in museums/galleries and keeping up to date with the contemporary art scene. When I’m in a slump or faced with a mental block and God only knows how often that is, I look at documentaries about other artists and their tumultuous journeys. Art21-Art in the 21st century is amazing.

How would you define your art?

Since graduate school my work has become more and more interdisciplinary. I went into the program with a very rigid idea of what the arts entailed, but the wonderful exposure I got through my travels in the US made me realize that my outlook was much too myopic. I still do enjoy and practice figurative realism but have moved onto more new media approaches like installation and film. The latter can be less exclusive and open up the works to a larger discourse. Also, exploring different means and avenues to convey the ideas in mind is something that both challenges and excites me.

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We love your portrait style. Who has influenced you the most in your work?

It is very natural to be enamored by representational pieces, especially when one is starting out. Technically sound works still impress me a great deal but they cannot be just that, or the impact is fleeting and insubstantial. A successful piece needs to have an experiential impact, an ability to transform the spectator to another place, be in their heads. If a work has both the skill and idea going for it, it can be magical. Art history is ripe with examples of artists who very successfully did this, the few that never cease to inspire me are American born Edward Hopper, whose melancholic works heavy in mood so articulately convey the emptiness of the protagonists. There are countless contemporary realistic artists like Belinda Eaton who practice the quirky and ornamental brand of figurative realism that I so enjoy. I recently stumbled across the works of French born Philippe Bertho and was instantly struck by the graphic, pop sensibility in his paintings.

Of late I have been looking at artists whose work relate to mine in a broader conceptual sense; artists tackling notions of orientalism, feminism, religion and identity mostly hailing from the Middle East and South Asia such as Lalla Essaydi, Amirali Ghassemi, Ghada Amir and many more. These artists, steadfast in their practice have earned much respect and international acclaim by not only creating visual and conceptual masterpieces but by also changing history carving a substantial niche, place and context for other artists/discourses by legitimizing middle eastern works in the art historical continuum.

What is the hardest aspect of the kind of work you do?

My relationship with painting can be best described as a love hate bond. There are many days of fear and loathing. The slow pace of a realistic approach and the time employed frustrates me when deadlines are involved. The tasks set out often overwhelm me, but I have come to the conclusion that biting off more than I can chew is just the way it works. The stress both cripples and excites. Part of why I am moving to more varied approaches is because I find them so liberating; a collage or video- of course depending on the content and how ambitious it is, can be much more effective, without the repetitiveness, routine and monotony that realism can present itself with. With painting I have to hold off the ideas till the 2, 3 pieces being juggled are complete, whereas with other works I can get them out of my system sooner moving onto new ideas. The latter is more conducive to my scatterbrain ADD temperament.

Is there a list of people you would like to paint?

Not really. The model is a vehicle for the fulfillment of the idea. I am drawn to characteristics and mannerisms. There have been people I have come across especially women, whom I have approached … of course it is safer to say you have ‘artistic’ features instead. But yes, I have photographed people whose faces have character. I like long unusual faces.

What are you listening to these days? 
I prefer mellow songs while working and generally too. Lately I’m getting into world music African/Arabic eclectic singers Fatouma Diwara, Hindi Zahra are some great female vocalists. Very soulful and bluesy. In English music I like folksy chill out type stuff like belle and Sebastian, kings of convenience, Angus and Julia Stone etc. Boring tunes basically that could put you to sleep.

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Would you be interested in collaborating with other artists? Which discipline would you prefer?

Collaborations sound exciting but can be quite challenging, especially when people have different work temperaments/ethics, there can be creative differences and ego clashes. I am a loner while working, but doing something collectively can be refreshing if two people are on the same page. That is very important. I usually paint all night starting 12 am, plus my paintings are not dynamic enough to allow for that exchange, the interdisciplinary work that I am doing is a lot more open ended with room for more performance based collaborations. I would love to do a video based piece with collaborations on the acting front or with regards to editing. I am so technically challenged it would be amazing to pair with some tech savvy individual. I’d like to work with people from other disciplines so we can both inform and change up each other’s work.

What’s your greatest aspiration?

Respect as an artist. Fame in this day and age of reality television comes cheap and easily. Often, even art historically just cultivating the persona of an artist rather than being sincere with one’s work can open many doors. Shock value, concocted eccentricity, its a cop out. I want respect as an artist amongst artists, those whose opinion really matters to me, the canons, the critics, my professors who know their stuff.

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You can see more of Sausan’s work here.

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Artist Speak: Sausan Saulat