AN ART-SIDE CHAT WITH SARAH GAY O'NEILL
The coveted HausWitch Artist Wall has been filled with mountains and magical women all thanks to Sarah Gay O'Neill's colorful frame collages and multi-media pieces. If you haven't made your way to the shop yet this August take an afternoon to come marvel at this absolutely arresting art—and maybe buy a few prints to take home!
Hi Sarah, aka @heysgay, how do you feel about being showcased in Salem and at HausWitch?
Oooohhhh, I feel super psyched about it!
I love HausWitch and Salem is one of my most favorite places on Earth.
I grew up in a Catholic family (though I recently learned that our family just a couple of generations ago, was actually Jewish and converted to escape antisemitism in Germany—that’s a whole’nother story.).
Anyway, yes, I feel having my art shown in HausWitch is a perfect fit. My art is a very existential experience for me, and in the last few years I have come to realize that I really align with witchy-ways. I’ve always been extremely connected to nature, intuition, spiritualism, and natural healing—and I see HausWitch (and clearly Salem) as being paralleled avenues. How lucky am I?? #SoGrateful. Thank you so much for having me!
You're totally welcome, obviously! Tell me, where do you channel your pieces from?
My inspirations vary from emotional depths that need expressing, to appreciating/ wanting to capture something that I find beautiful. Example: Nature, science, existential curiosities...are huge draws for me. Why are we here? What are we doing? I look to nature for answers. Seeking patterns/cycles that make sense to me...and apply them to my artistic explorations.
Are these real mountain ranges in your work?
The mountains are something I’ve been ruminating on a lot recently, which reflects in my work: The Rocky Mountains, for example, in terms of mountain ranges, are still quite “young”. They’re still growing (on average about 5-10 mm per year!) How incredible is that? We look at them, so static and strong...but they’re growing. Then, we look at a range like the Green Mountains in Vermont, and those mtns are very, very old—they once had heights as great as Everest! However, looking at them today, they’re soft and covered in furry trees. Their edges have been rounded, and crumbled over the years. They remind me of the soft papery hands/body of an older person. Even their posture is similar. Sloping soft edges. Not sharp and aggressive like the Rocky Mtns.
So with my art, I sometimes look to nature to make sense of the chaos of our world. I use colors, textures, and fragile/strong figures to create tension or conversation.
Your art spans a few different mediums, but my favorite by far is the tiny art books we have in the shop. How did those books come about? (Especially the Sad Books!)
Thank you! Yesssss. Well, I am a Gemini. And as we all know about Geminis (generally speaking) we have many interests, and it is in our nature to want to communicate.
I started making tiny books, maybe, 5 years ago? And I guess the best way to describe the how and why of their existence is: I think communicating ideas can come in many forms. While some of my ideas are best expressed in 2D art, others are best communicated linearly. (I animate/make videos too). I find the tiny books to be another avenue of discussion: They’re small, you hold them, you interact with them, and they’re much more personal or intimate. Many of the books I have been making recently invite you to pull even smaller notes or books out, or peak through holes/shapes in the paper. (They are also spritzed with a fragrance). For the ‘Sad Books’, I call the smell: “The smell of melancholy”. It’s Earthy, familiar...kind of warm...but also kind of musky/distant.
(I’m glad you’re enjoying them, I really love making them.)
Did I hear you just did a mural somewhere? Where is that bad boy?
I sure did! Yesssssss!
There are photos of it here It’s located on the Continuum building on the corner of Western Ave & North Harvard Ave in Boston (right next to the Harvard stadium in Lower Allston).
It’s pretty incredible...it’s an entire city block...wrapping around a building spanning the length of two major city streets. It’s a wild dream come true to have my art large scale and in a public space. (I also did another mural on the front of the PRX Podcast building just next door to Continuum! They’re going to have to rename that corner of the city to Heysgay’s Corner LOL. You can see photos of that here.
Anyway, back to art in public space:
I’ve been showing my art in galleries and various places since finishing college in 2007 and I have to say, while I am grateful, and I love those opportunities, I find it so much more nourishing to see my work outside. I think art in public places—especially along the sides of buildings instead of advertisements—is really important. Art inspires, creates dialogues, even when people maybe don’t like it, it creates conversation. I think we are so flooded with advertising and marketing that distorts our perceptions of reality, that we need safe visual spaces to lay our eyes on. We need more green spaces and public art. And Boston is pretty void of murals, and the few that do exists….are all created by men. So this was an especially amazing opportunity.
Do you try to weave your politics in with your work?
Yes, I totally do.
I think art is the perfect avenue to discuss any political problem. Sometimes actual verbal conversations can fall on deaf ears, but art has a way of pulling people in—especially if you can draw them in subtly. (Draw them in…#DadJoke).
Generally speaking, I think everyone has good in them. I do not believe in real evil. I think there are a lot of misunderstood people who are just figuring everything out as they go. I do believe that in any given moment people are always doing the best they can, even when it appears they are being the worst.
I also believe art plays an important role in helping people understand various perspectives without being ‘preachy.’
So when it comes to my political views and art, feminism has a very strong pull for me. I also have a very sincere drive to make more art that sheds light on racism and homophobia in this country. But as a white lady, I struggle with knowing how to voice that visually without looking like, well, a privileged white lady making art about systems where I am also the face of the oppressor. It’s very complicated isn’t it…?
I have my avenues though, and I do make art about that stuff because it’s important and I am tired of seeing my friends and chosen family who are POC treated the way they are in this country. I am hopeful that people are starting to wake up and change their behavior in a systematically racist society.
Wake up everyone! Come see Sarah's work at HausWitch in Salem, MA for yourself. Originals are for sale as well as prints. See you soon!
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