Imitating Life: Posing questions to local artist Sarah Abramson

Sarah Abramson’s schedule is a bit hectic these days. It’s to be expected since she’s curating an exhibit that opens soon with six different artists.

Sarah Abramson

Sarah Abramson

The show, entitled Plagues & Pleasures, is inspired by a quote by poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Don’t take my devils away, because my angels may flee too.” This duplicity in people and things is an idea that Abramson contemplates often, and she chose the artists because they represent one or the other, and sometimes both, characteristics.

Featuring artists Robert Deutsch, Elizabeth McGrath, Ryan McIntosh, Brianna Miller, Mr. Basic and Ryan Schude, the exhibit will take place at 4th Street Vine, 2142 E. 4th St. from Friday, June 26 to Friday, Aug. 28.

Between trips to L.A. and back earlier this week, Abramson took some time to answer a few of my questions about her show’s concept, her own work and her thoughts on censorship of art.

“Untitled,” 35mm photo

“Untitled,” 35mm photo

What interests you about the theme of Plagues & Pleasures?
It’s a topic I think about almost daily: the delicate balance between the two as well as who’s really to determine what’s “plague” and what’s “pleasure.” I actually got the name Plagues & Pleasures from this documentary I really like called Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea. It’s narrated by [filmmaker] John Waters and pretty interesting and funny. I was just trying to find a less commonly used way of saying sins and sinners, or good vs. evil…you know, the usual titles used for this particular topic. I believe there is good and bad in everything and everyone, which, if you think about too much, can make you go a bit mad. 

It’s something I think about a lot because the human condition fascinates me. Human behavior is so fragile and complex and is rarely ever black or white. The quote that inspired me, “Don’t take my devils away because my angels may flee too,” is so thoughtful and well stated. It also hits close to home.

 
How would you describe yourself and what you do as an artist?
I would describe myself as a playful painter, a decent writer and an obsessed photographer. I’ve been shooting for 17 years, since I was 11, and I knew I wanted to be a photographer even back then. I don’t know how or why– what exactly inspired this unwavering dedication and obsession to creating images– but I’m thankful I found my calling so early on. It’s given me a lot of years to fine-tune my craft, and I finally feel like my work is evolving into something much more significant than it’s ever been before. But I’m always pushing myself to be better and better. When I feel myself getting too comfortable with one subject matter or one way of shooting, I know it’s time to force myself outside my comfort zone because that’s the only way to grow as an artist and as a human. 

Outside of art I would describe myself as a spontaneous, weird, fun, positive, sometimes manic, queer feminist who holds nothing closer than art, friends and nature. Nothing makes me more happy than nature and photographing. I also feel incredibly lucky to have such amazing friends who believe in me unconditionally, and I enjoy being a good friend to them in turn. You can’t take your press, your money, your possessions with you when you die, but you can take love. So I love love! 

What do you try to achieve with your art?
I try to achieve several things with my art, as I’m sure most all artists do. Artists are artists because they see things differently than other people see things. I try to create a dream world that’s very similar to my own dream world– beautiful but slightly unsettling. I also try to shoot women differently than any other photographer does, especially male photographers. My models are used to working with me by now and know I hardly ever have them wear makeup, and I’ll even pose them in, not unflattering ways, but ways to almost desexualize them. Women are sexy just as they are. We don’t need to try to look or pose sexy in photographs, and that’s never my aim. A lot of my work gets classified as erotica, which I feel pretty indifferent about. My aim with my images is never for them to be erotic or sexy.  It’s just my lovely friends allowing me to do things like pour glitter all over them and then jump in a freezing cold lake at 7am. 

For me, it’s all the small details in a photograph that make it amazing. It’s paying attention to the things that others normally don’t. 

“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” 35mm photo

“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” 35mm photo

Does your artistic life ever get lonely? If so, what do you do to counteract it?
I wouldn’t say lonely necessarily. But art is a private thing. So yes, I do spend a lot of time making things by myself, but it’s more therapeutic than lonely. 

How do you feel when people ask you to explain the meaning of your art?
Depends what mood I’m in, I suppose. Sometimes I’m much more capable of expressing myself clearly and eloquently than other times. 

Have you ever been banned or censored to any degree as an artist? If so, how did you react?
Ha! Yes, many, many times. I hate it. There’s not much I can do other than obey the rules and post the uncensored photos on the few social-media sites (such as tumblr) that allow that sort of thing. I think the whole thing is quite honestly very contradictory and stupid. Art is so subjective. How can these people definitively say this is art and this is lewd/pornographic? 

If you met a 5-year-old who expressed interest in being an artist, what advice would you give him or her?
I would try to give them all the positive encouragement I could. Creativity is vital and more often than not, we get older and drawing, coloring, sculpting, etc. is considered silly and pointless, especially if you’re not already displaying any signs of having artistic ability. But the more we create, the more we maintain that childlike mentality and imagination, in turn, keeping us younger at heart and less jaded by the harsh, bleak world we live in. It helps keep the bleakness at bay and lets us appreciate all the magic and beauty evident everywhere, even in the most unexpected places.

“Dusky Dawn,” 35mm photo

“Dusky Dawn,” 35mm photo

To view more of Abramson’s work, visit sarahelisephotography.com, sarahelisephotography.tumblr.com or slow_toast on Instagram.

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