My recent paintings depict tangled piles of inherited vintage fabric scraps as a means to contemplate my own sense of self as a millennial woman now and in the future.

instagram: @SarahESwist

Collaborative project between Sarah and Kevin: BubbleGumAndWhiskey // // instagram: @bubblegumandwhiskey


Sarah Swist received a BFA from Western Illinois University in 2011 and an MFA from Penn State University in 2014. She joined Hastings College as Assistant Professor of Visual Arts in Fall of 2017. Prior to moving to Nebraska, Swist taught drawing and painting courses at Penn State Altoona, created architectural models for the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, and assisted students in the digital fabrication lab at Penn State University Park. Her studio work has been shown in exhibitions across the country in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York. Bubblegum & Whiskey, a collaborative project with Kevin Mercer, was recently featured in Satellite Art Show in Austin, Texas with Treat Gallery New York.

My recent paintings depict tangled piles of inherited vintage fabric scraps as a means to contemplate my own sense of self as a millennial woman now and in the future. The onus of sentimentality weighs heavily on my mind. My grandma studied home economics in college, and her thrifty sensibilities led her to save every remnant of fabric, no matter how small or oddly shaped. In the presence of these heirloom textiles, I find myself yearning for simplicity that never fully existed. These brightly mottled patterns reflect different eras of warmed beds and bodies. Kitschy trinkets, cheap toys, and crafty materials adorn paintings created from observation and imagination. Deciphering specific details in a visually confusing snarl of overlapping lines and shapes means wading into the thick of things. The textiles are pretty, but the labor is intensive. Through the process of painting, I can identify and map moments of optimism, longing, fear, love, and sorrow.

What motivates you to create? Do you have any "rituals" you do when creating?
I’m working on new things, but they aren’t solid yet. To be totally transparent, I haven’t felt as motivated as usual for a few weeks now. I know exactly what I want to do when I go to the studio, but after a while, I find myself doing other random creative tasks. This is totally new for me, and I am working through it optimistically. When I realized what I was really doing, I felt fortunate to have identified my own tendencies. It’s totally fine because I think it’s a moment of growth, and it’s like I’m watching things unfold from the outside. I like to imagine that something special will happen that gets me really excited for my next bigger projects, but in all honesty, I think it is just a bit of ebb and flow that artists don’t typically talk about with others. I frequently remember an interview I heard with Tara Donovan for the Louisiana Museum of Art. She said, “inspiration is a joke…real artists sit down and get to work.” That is what I’m going to do.

Who or what are your artistic influences and how have they impacted you or your work?
Right now, I’ve realized that my family of makers and artisans has influenced me more than I ever realized. I think in college I was encouraged to learn and try new things, and that was great. I learned so much about art, history, and contemporary trends. I recently have felt like I stepped too far away from things I already knew, or that maybe it’s just time to come back home in a way. Everyone wants to go home. I think a lot about social media as well. I love Instagram, but the content can be so overwhelming when there is so much to sift through each day. These are the biggest influences on what I am doing right now, and what I want to do in the future.

What would you like to see more of in the art world? How does art impact the community - what would you like to see more of?
I really love it when art shows and pop-ups are more casual so they can be low-cost or entirely free for artists, curators, venues, and guests in the community. I like to see things in flawless white-cube galleries now and then, but it doesn’t usually feel real to me. I want to see things that are unexpected and refreshing. I want to meet other creative people and support emerging artists. Art and the spaces used as galleries don’t have to be very formal or elite; it can look doable, be real, and still be inviting or impressive. Many things can be done without money if there is hard work, generosity, and a few friends sharing ideas.

How does your choice of material impact your work?
I work primarily in oil paint and acrylic in my studio. I love manipulating wet paint, and I need the immediacy of the visual proof of progress that paint provides. I have been including trinkets and toys from meaningful moments in my life and stacking them on my paintings for a little while now. This makes my paintings physically functional like little shelves for my tiny treasures. Sometimes my paintings hold other paintings. These areas are often featuring light-hearted inside jokes that become micro-landscapes. They bring silliness to something that might be sad to me, but other people wouldn’t necessarily know there is any sadness at all. It’s a bit of a game. In the gallery, the work is impulsively hung like it is in my studio or a thrift store. Things don’t necessary get displayed twice, and things are often flexible or rearranged if possible.