Sarah Bold, Waterhole, 2013-2. Oil on board; 38 x 30 cm.
postcardwall’s Sophie Hill talks to Sarah Bold about the crux of the influence behind her paintings; how her years growing up in isolated rural Australia, witnessing the devastating effects of climate change, have deeply influenced her work.
The drive behind your painting is admirable, as you state that you aim to convey the onset of climate change. How did this aspiration come to play a role in your painting?
Climate and isolation have been two very defining factors whilst growing up in rural Australia. The livelihoods of rural communities are dictated to & affected by patterns in the weather and changes in climate. These changes can have devastating effects on those dependent on the land yet the reality for these rural communities is that they often just try their best to get on with it. It is only when the economic fall out hits the wider country that response comes, often too late. This is why I describe my work as being concerned not only with climate but the slow creep of catastrophe. I describe it thus because I am referring not to the tragedy of a single cataclysmic event, but to a daily incremental change that is barely discernible in real time and only recognized in retrospect. These isolated rural communities are often at the frontline of these changes, trying to adapt and make a living, yet are often overlooked. From living and traveling through these isolated landscapes I have experienced the dependency on the predictability of the seasons. With the onset of climate change the seasons are no longer predictable and so, in turn, the future for rural communities is more precarious than ever. I feel this connection with the land is ingrained in me from childhood and so wholly informs my work.
Your landscapes are vast, encompassing the entire composition of many of your painting; distinguishing land from water almost becomes impossible. Is this a deliberate blurring of depth and texture?
Yes. I am conscious of the romantic notion of the sublime and the insignificance of our existence. Although we are causing havoc with climate and the environment, the Earth will continue to evolve as it has done for billions of years, the landscape will adapt, with or without us - we are superfluous, the land does not care for our existence, if we live or die. Although this presents us with futility it also awakens the instinct for survival. I like the boundaries between land and water to be blurred so the viewer questions their position not only within the landscape but also within ‘time’.
Sarah Bold, Water Pipeline 2, 2013. Oil on board; 38 x 30 cm.
Through vast landscapes and blurring of land and sea the landscape becomes unpredictable, undefined. I try to engage the viewer with the feeling of isolation and the unknown; do they find desolation and abandonment or does the sense of isolation offer a promise of something not yet seen or discovered.
The watery layers in your work, where color and light appear to teem with emotion below the surface, are beautiful in their subtle and incredible detail. How do you go about creating this effect in paint?
Photography plays an important part in my work. I take a lot of photos referencing light and color as well as trying to capture the mood and emotion of a particular place. Although I never paint directly from the photographs, elements from pictures taken influence the painting.
I generally start with quite a bright ground covering the whole canvas and then start to knock this back by working in thin layers over the top. Paint is often applied and then rubbed back. I tend to just keep going until the paint emerges and I find myself in the 'feeling’ (cheesy as it sounds!) of the landscape. It is important to me to have experienced and photographed the landscape (& issues) I am concerned with first hand. I think it is this direct experience that forms the emotional content in my work and allows me to be truthful in what I am painting (to myself).
Sarah Bold, Feed Me, 2013. Oil on canvas; 150 x 120cm.
The quiet nature of your work creates an almost haunting atmosphere for the viewer – is this intended to be the embodiment of the dread many feel when thinking of climate change?
For some it is dread maybe, others despair, for some apathy, even inevitability. I think for me what I am trying to relate is a feeling of unease. How do we fit into this landscape? Is this a place viewed only for its aesthetic beauty, seen through a lens, or screen, somewhere to visit, or do you feel immersed within it? Do you feel a connection with the landscape or are you an observer? The unease arises when realizing that although the landscape may continue to change, we may no longer have a place in it. Or on a grander scale, when confronted with the global issue of climate change how do we individually respond to such responsibility?
You say that “life appears precarious” in your paintings; for you, what imagery/details represent this life?
Generally, the empty canvas or vast landscapes indicate an absence. This suggests our temporal existence. In an isolated or empty landscape, life appears precarious as it gives the illusion of living on an edge, of scratching out an existence. More frequently I have been introducing suggestions of buildings; structures that feel impermanent, cast offs of industry or habitation. I like to play with scale, almost losing these buildings within the canvas to try and gain the sense of being overwhelmed by nature and the landscape.
Sarah Bold, Over and Out, 2013. Oil & pencil on canvas; 120 x 150 cm.
What are your plans for the future? Do you see your work evolving with human reaction to our climate’s problems? (as slow as that may be).
I see my work about climate change as documentation rather than as an activist, per se. Primarily I am a landscape painter and I will continue to paint the land. Whilst doing this I hope to reflect the issues that concern the landscape along the way. For me painting is directly related to the landscape I am immersed within. Investigating climate change will be ongoing but more likely as the 'slow creep of catastrophe’ as described previously. Living in and investigating rural communities has unearthed many other issues which I am now also considering. With farming under threat from unpredictable seasonal changes, there is increasing urban migration from rural areas. As youth leave to seek employment, an aging population is left amongst ghost towns of second/holiday homes. As livelihoods struggle economically the predictions of climate change will only serve to make life more precarious and fragile than ever.
After years of regular visiting, I have just moved my studio to the west coast of Scotland, a landscape which in some ways is the antithesis of the Australian one of which I’m familiar, yet its remoteness and wildness is also very similar. Although my research is concerned with issues that affect rural communities globally, I am looking forward to trying to get under the skin of Scottish life.
Sarah Bold is number three hundred and forty four on Postacardwall.
For more information on Sarah Bold’s practice, visit http://www.sarahbold.com.