Please introduce yourself and your practice.
I’m Sarah Emily Porter, a process painter who is interested manipulating materials to place emphasis on the process of making. I originally studied history, specialising in 17th Century Architecture so my work often has sculptural and architectural attributes but is born out of the traditions, history and language of painting.
In response to the connection to architecture and place, I’m particularly interested in using household gloss paints to make my work. More recently I have been experimenting with recycled gloss and enamels as the chemical makeup of older paints lends itself to manipulation through the forces of gravity.
By gaining an understanding of my materials and manipulating their traditional rules, I am able to form a collaboration between my own desires and their unpredictable tendencies. I seek opportunities for chaos and order sit side by side, creating mathematical systems and processes where chance can occur, thus making visible the materiality of paint and the event of painting itself.
In works such as 55 pours and spins and Hera no. 1-4, canvases are hung on sculptural wooden frames, the paint poured and tilted at angles onto further canvases to create pairings that challenge the idea of authorship – one that is carefully considered by the artist as it tilts, the other, static on the floor, waits to collect the waste materials.
You did a GradDip at Chelsea College of Arts while maintaining a successful career in events at a government office. What made you go back to study fine art?
Since I was tiny, I had always imagined I’d be an artist when I grew up. My big sister had studied at the Royal College of Art in the early 90s and my mum was similarly creative. However, they had both struggled to make it financially viable and I thought I’d be better equipped if I had another career to fall back on first. Happy with that decision, I always thought I would indulge my passion for fine art when I retired, but when my dad had a stroke at the age of 60, I realised, if you have the chance to do something you love, you shouldn’t wait for the opportunity to pass you by.
You’ve done a lot of commissions in the past – can you name some and tell us why you like doing them?
One of my favourite commissions was for a stairwell in Westminster Gardens – a block of 1930s flats in Westminster. The clients had a new roof garden, but the only access was the back staircase so they wanted some artwork that would enrich the space and make it more pleasant for the residents and their guests. By taking on the commission I was able to make work that directly responded to the architecture it was going to reside in and research the rich history of the building.
With every commission I’ve taken on, I’ve been able to experiment with a new process for making work which has been instrumental in developing my practice.
For these commissions, how were able to adapt your practice to commercial and/or institutional spaces?
I love the challenge of adapting my practice for commercial and institutional spaces. Each work is unique to the client and their spaces so they are really special. The key concerns of my practice – architecture, form, colour, material properties and process – underlie everything I propose but I use research to reflect their business and meet their objectives for the artwork. I often create mathematical systems and colours based on their business which give a personalised order and structure for my abstraction. For example, a commission for an economic consultancy used their five locations to create a system for the number of pours. These were produced in their brand colours and reflected the relationship between the offices. Similarly, with the Westminster Gardens commission, I was able to reflect the colours found in their garden in the artwork and combine this with the architectural geometry of the 1930s railings.
If you could place your work anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’d love to make a series of paintings on very tall frames that tilt paint onto multiple canvas’ in the greenhouses at Kew. I think the tropical setting would make a great drop for the bright colours of my work and the victorian architecture of these buildings offers so many opportunities to create relationships between the structure of my painting tool and the building itself. The humidity is such a far cry from the cold of warehouse studio, it would also create some really interesting and unexpected reactions in my materials.