SARAH SLAPPEY / INKA ESSENHIGH

December 4, 2018

Alison Karasyk: I wanted to start out by asking you, Sarah, why you chose to invite Inka tonight to be in conversation with. 

Sarah Slappey: Well, we are not just in the same painting family, you are such a kind, interesting person that I thought having a conversation with you is fun enough when it’s just us, and there might be something to come out of it in a group that other people might find fun as well. 

AK: How did you first meet? 

SS: So in 2015, I did a residency called Atlantic Center for the Arts, which I highly recommend. It’s a ton of fun. It’s three weeks in this damp forest in Florida, kind of a jungle environment.

Inka Essenhigh: It’s near Daytona Beach. And the whole point of Atlantic Center for the Arts is that if you are the head artist, people can apply to work with you. And so if there’s an artist that you really want to work with, you apply to do so, and then they choose a bunch of people to come in. I had met Sarah from the MFA program, and I also met Ali, who is somewhere else here. And so I had a crew of six or seven people? 

SS: Eight. 

IE: Eight people and we had a great time. And I went out of my way to curate a group of people, I kind of looked for people during this residency who were doing narrative works, and that’s something that I’m interested in, as artists, people that want to tell stories in their artwork. But people who do it with a high degree of skill, so that they’re ambitious. So they want it to go out into the world, into the New York art world so that they can do both. Because if I could be so crass as to say that a lot of narrative work is usually for something. Or you could say that it’s the Juxtapoz world, or this kind of LA New Image aesthetic, I don't know what they call it. But there’s sort of a separate world. And there’s even another world, which many of my best friends are in, like the Wyeth through America world. That’s yet another kind of narrative-driven, image-driven work. 

I was interested in trying to find people that want to bridge the gap. People who want to do both. So I went looking and I found some girls. They were all girls. Except for one. Well, there was one girl, her name was Alison, but then she had to cancel at the last minute. So one guy. Poor Stewart. 

SS: Lucky Stewart. 

AK: Inka, what attracted you to Sarah’s work? 

IE: Well, at the time there was this kind of dark narrative, but it also wasn’t naturalistic. It wasn’t as if you were going to make a painting based on what you saw, but clearly there was enough information that it was something that you were supposed to experience and walk into. But it has nothing to do with the way things actually look. And so it would turn into this painting from your imagination, painting that’s been altered by the imagination and all the things that come with that. 

What happens when your brain can take the way things look, and wants to create an experience that, like this, is a world. This is a believable world. But it doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen. And I’m interested in that. I think that’s a good place to start, to try to make something new. I think that what’s really reversed with Sarah’s work since what I saw you doing—they were darker, and much more traditional. What I mean by traditional is that they were built up, you had dug out the space with darks and lights, and you were kind of glazing in colors, and it wasn’t really about the paint. It was much more about the scene that you were walking into. And now, with these, it’s much more about color and I would say that if there’s a big change, and I totally think that this is a wonderful change, it’s that you’ve put the abstract qualities first and the narrative second. And I was wondering if that was something that you intentionally did? Or if it was something that you gradually started to do? 

SS: Certainly gradually, but with intention. It kind of came into my practice almost immediately after I left that residency when we met, right before I graduated from Hunter. And at that point I think it was really a size issue. I started making paintings that were bigger and bigger. I had less time to fuss over details. The luxury of polishing and polishing was just not there. I had three months to make a thesis show. 

IE: A brand new body of work. 

SS: A brand new body of work. And I think the hustle just kind of forced my hand to let go a little bit. And then once I saw, oh, this is interesting, I don’t have to spell everything out, and leaving these areas of open space, space that lets a viewer in a little more, is so much more functional. 

IE: It’s also more about the paint. Would you agree that in New York City, we judge a painting by its paint firstly? We can take anything. I mean, we can take any imagery, we don’t care. We barely notice it. 

SS: I would agree with that. I think because there’s such a huge amount of really skilled people here, that if you don’t check that box off first, then it’s hard to enter into the work. It has to be, and this is also coming from a painters’ perspective, that I want to see, I want to double check that you did everything. 

IE: You did a little bit of de-skilling along the way. I would not have guessed that you were necessarily after being really good here. Even though these did end up being really tangible. But I wouldn’t have guessed that that’s what you went for, it felt like you discovered that through the paint.

SS: If I’m understanding what you’re saying correctly, I think it’s that I want to see a level of care in paintings, even if it is de-skilled or really intentionally quick. I care so much about paint and painting that I want to see somebody else really work at it. Even if the work is having, building up so much confidence that you can make one stroke and it’s just like the perfect stroke. I think that’s a skill level that I don’t even have quite yet. 

IE: Do you want that? 

SS: Yeah, I want to do everything. I want to make a painting in three marks, sure. But I don't know if that’s ever possible for me.

IE: How conscious are you about a lot of these things that are very creepy? And yet they’re slightly hidden, in a way. Like as if you’re doing a, “this is beautiful!” and I feel a little bit creeped out by it. I go back and forth. I find breastfeeding creepy. I have a kid, so I can say that. I find it kind of creepy. Do you feel like you’re trying to do that with the abstract qualities? Like it’s the abstract qualities that are almost saying it’s okay. 

SS: I think they have the potential of doing both, and I’m just sort of at the forefront of figuring that out right now. Leaving empty, blank space as a place where a viewer can go, but also maybe a place where it pushes a viewer out, so that it can kind of do both. It can feel comfortable and familiar, but also what is this space doing when it should be drawn in or painted in or recede, but instead it’s an area of flat paint, where the paint just sits on top of the canvas itself. 

IE: So you’re talking about the paint. When you say bring people in and push them out, you’re talking about the surface of the painting, not the content. 

SS: Exactly. 

AK: In terms of the content though, what pushed you into this terrain? There’s this change within your work — the lactation, the breasts, the female body and maybe most importantly, the viewpoint that you have cultivated. It’s a distinct shift from your previous bodies of work.

SS: So I’d been painting hands for so long. And I think it’s because, I’m still really interested in reducing down. And that’s one of the things that happened, that changed from the work that I was making when we met for the first time, when I was trying to cram everything, a whole story, like a Henry Darger moment, but in one drawing. And it was so hard. It made art unnecessarily hard. Art is difficult enough. And so really it started with these paintings on paper that I wanted to make, for a flat files program, and it unintentionally just became hands. And then I stuck with that motif and I found that the paring down was extremely helpful. So I was working on these hands for a long time, almost as substitutes for the human body. Hands can be more specific than a face, or certainly more specific if you were to paint the legs and torso of a person. There’s something about hands...

IE: They’re gestural. 

SS: Right. They move, they behave, they have their own voice, they have emotion, and they can betray a person’s face a lot of times. They can be sexy and sensual. So I was working on that body of work, and I think that’s what Karen and Alison saw. And then the narrative about the breasts and the body came when I was visiting my older sister, who had a newborn and two other kids. And I said, oh, it’ll be no big deal, let me take your night feedings. I can give this baby this bottle. I can totally hack it, this is not that hard. I did not say that. But I did think it wouldn’t be that hard. And it was gruesome and terrible and horrible. 

IE: You see human beings as little creatures. 

SS: Right and obviously I wasn’t breastfeeding, but I was feeding with my sister’s breastmilk and having this baby who was, for lack of a better word, looking for something to latch onto. And it just made me feel differently about my body than I ever had. And at 3:00 AM, you already sort of feel like you’ve taken a little dose of something. And it created this feeling about my body that I had never discovered. And when I got back, I just felt like there’s something about breasts that’s so suggestive, but not in a sexual way—certainly in a sexual way, but suggestive in an emotional way that hands are also, and I don’t know what it is yet, but I should probably start painting them, and just figure it out. 

IE: When did you come up with the highlights? Because I think that that’s also what gives it the strange quality, and fact that it looks like it could be porcelain.

SS: Right. Or like when bodies decay, they bloat, and skin gets a wax on it. So it’s like all of these things, is it supple, or is it breaking down? I don’t know and I’m trying to figure out which painting it happened in first. I think it happened a little bit unintentionally, and that’s just one of those things in the studio, where you make a mark thinking that it will go away, and then you put it down and realize oh, actually I like this. And then it just seemed to fit into this slimy world. A world where the dials were just turned up a little too high in terms of everything. In terms of secretion and color and sensuality and repulsion. 

IE: Is everything made up in your mind? 

SS: Yeah. I never really had so much of a sketching practice before these paintings, or things would come together more on the canvas, but they’re thin enough now that that got really important. Studies became really important. But I don’t use references for anything. I’ve found that sometimes using references makes things too anatomically correct. 

IE: Like it doesn’t mix with this world. 

SS: Exactly. There’s really only one joint in each of these fingers, which could not be the case. So it’s easier to work from imagination. 

AK: That makes me think about the fact that you’ve done a lot of auto-painting, Inka.  

IE: Yes, I do a lot of automatic painting. But that’s actually not the way I’m painting right now. I actually picture what I want in my mind first. And I have a practice of looking for a way of painting where I’m thinking about how I want the painting to feel when it’s done.  And that’s the intention. And so I try to hone in on what it’s going to feel like when it’s finished, and then an image comes to me. And so I paint that. And whenever it starts to get away from that question of how does it feel, I go back. So it’s a still life in my mind. 

SS: Is it a feeling that you can name, or it’s nebulous? 

IE: Sometimes it’s a nebulous thing. It’s different stuff. It can be really abstract. Like right now I’m painting things that are from the future. So it’s not like I’m looking for happy or sad. But I want it to feel foreign and familiar at the same time. But something unfamiliar has happened, and altered in some way. 

SS: Does your intention change as you go through a painting? 

IE: Each painting will have different intention. I have a storyline, and my big coup de grace, I’m going to try to do it—I’m going to do it. I want to make a painting about enlightenment. I have the storyline of, so it’s the future, and one day we will all be enlightened. We will get there. And I can’t wait. And so I’m trying to imagine what that might be like, what that might feel like, and do I need patterns? Do I want it to be a story, you know, that you can read, so that, is a scene depicting this? Or is it meant to emulate something that will have that effect on you? 

I think that painting has got that ability of changing how we feel. That’s what I’m mostly interested in. So that means that I have to sit there and to the best of my ability—I have a meditation practice—and guess as to what that might feel like? And obviously I’ll just see what happens. Obviously I can fail. Obviously these paintings do not need to be about the future, but the attempt is, to me, as good as all of us trying to attain that. And I think that’s one thing that people don’t use painting for enough. Because we can create the future. We have that ability. And so why not make a pretty painting? 

SS: So that doesn’t make painting feel replaceable to you? Or unnecessary? 

IE: What do you mean? 

SS: Well maybe I’m misinterpreting. But when you just said, why not make a pretty painting…

IE: Oh, I just meant—when I say pretty, what I call pretty is obviously not what other people call pretty. 

SS: Right, but maybe it was before that, something about the ability to create the future. 

IE: If we all become enlightened, we won’t need painting anymore? Probably not. 

SS: Don’t tell us how to become enlightened. 

AK: Sarah, in thinking about the past, the present, the future, where do you think this body of work sits in terms of its temporal register? 

SS: You know we were talking earlier about my older work feeling much more connected to the past and I don’t think I’m quite interested in the future. 

IE: Don’t you want to be a part of the dialogue of today? Or do you not want that?

SS: Yes. I certainly do. I mean more so, is there a time that these images live in, in this world? Not so much the images in this canvas but would this body live in the past, present, or the future? I think maybe they don’t have a time to them, because I am more interested in making a world that lives not in this world. And so maybe it doesn’t quite have a time. I’m not sure. That’s a really good question. And they’re also always moving. So in that sense, they have a timeline within them, but I don’t see them as existing in a greater timeline. 

IE: They exist now. 

SS: Well, I guess if they’re moving, they have to exist now. Because they’re always existing now, and then now, and then now. Right?

AK: When you say they’re moving, what do you mean by that? 

SS: Things are kind of sliding around. And so I don’t want anything to jump. I want it to seek. 

IE: But this is motion, right? Is this pink milk or a body kind of all frothed up? 

SS: I think of it as the body attached to those limbs. It has been both absorbed by this pink goo, the ectoplasm, but also—it’s absorbed, it has also become, so it now is the body. And in a sense, like what Inka was saying, the intent behind these paintings is to make a feeling, to make a feeling of the slime and things that are luscious, but a little disgusting, but to still want more and more of it. I think that’s what it is to live in a human body, and to have a body. 

IE: Have you always been interested in guts, in some way? I actually, my friend Anna was telling me about a painting that you made, from undergrad, where there was an intestine at the bottom. And I was thinking about intestines, and painting intestines, and how that would go along with it. 

SS: Always. I’m from the South, where hardware stores also sell a lot of bait. When I was even a kid, my dad would always come home with a Styrofoam cup of earthworms for me. Like okay, go crazy. But just that feeling. I love snakes. I think it’s always somehow registered in me. I’ve done a cadaver dissection and your personal earth axis just tilts a little bit after you experience something like that. I think there’s an innate human quality to that feeling that I’m trying to dig out in a painting. 

IE: Investigating what it means to be alive through things that make you feel… different. 

SS: Yes, a paradoxical difference. There’s this space between those two feelings that seems the most human to me. 

IE: Are you going to have a kid? 

SS: That is a great question. I don't know. Maybe. 

IE: Sorry! I was just wondering if this was something that also made you think about things like that, or not at all. 

SS: More so after, the body interacting with the baby moment. That was the real weird time. I think also, something about the lack of sleep did something to my brain where it’s like a flashback thing happened. And it probably also has a lot to do with the female body. And finding a connection to a human being that for a very, very small amount of time, lives on the fringes of culture. And that before they communicate, they’re the closest we can see to a being outside of us, to the primal, is what I’m trying to say. And that was a very interesting time for me. 

AK: In terms of the color palette and how it’s shifted, I feel as though a lot of the works in the front room, and then on this side of the gallery, take place in the middle of the night. And then we move into what I would call twilight. And so your tonal and color palette has really shifted in the last two works that you completed, which are these two ectoplasmic paintings, as we’ve been calling them. Tan Cloud and Pink Cloud. I’m curious to hear you speak a little bit about this shift in the expression through color. 

SS: Maybe this goes back to your question about time. Because I was thinking about them as existing, not just at night, but also in a dense forest, the way that you can go into a forested area and it still feels like a different time of the day because of the canopy. And then at night, of course, it gets really dark. So once I started making the ectoplasms—and I think about them as clouds, but kind of lethal, disgusting clouds. I was making them with this idea that a world existed underneath. I started wondering what happens on top of the clouds. Because there is another world on top, and it would likely be daylight. It wouldn’t be obscured by branches or canopies. And so because of that, I thought maybe I’ll just blow out the light with sun overhead. Strong shadows, but not with a spotlight. That was a place I was more interested in. And I’m still there. I’m still interested in what’s on top of the clouds. So that’s where the next paintings will be, on top of the clouds. 

IE: When did you start doing the highlights? I really do think that that was such an innovation. People do highlights all the time, but to have it everywhere, it’s so much fun. 

SS: It’s fun to make. 

IE: I can see myself, like, oh, I’ll just put one highlight and then putting it everywhere. And I just want more of it. 

SS: It happened in that painting first. Sorry to make everyone turn around. And if I’m thinking correctly, I believe I put those in initially as a way to—you know if you lay down a certain amount of paint, it doesn’t just blend in cleanly. It dries just the right amount. You can blend it in on both sides so there’s still a pretty hefty amount in the middle. That was the intention. So I put that in, and then I was like, oh, this just did the work for me. I don’t need to fuss around with it anymore. And it was an accidental moment. It’s like tripping over a puzzle piece and it just fits in. Which maybe I get twice a year. A good accident. 

IE: I get that once a decade. 

SS: My accidents probably aren’t as good as yours. 

AK: In thinking about the inclination to try something different from what your viewers expect of your work, Inka, I have a question about the mural you recently made at the Drawing Center. Most of your work that I’m familiar with depicts a more natural environment or a pastoral landscape. And so I’m curious about the experience of navigating painting or drawing a city, and if that was new for you, what went into your planning and thinking process?

IE: I had made maybe just one or two paintings of a city. And Brett from the Drawing Center came over and he requested that. And I’m happy for my work to do more of what people want. Up to a point. You know, I’m interested. It’s got to be interesting to do. And I had never done a mural before, so there was a lot of different things that were brand new for me in doing that mural. And also, doing it on a stairwell. I don't know, there were so many different new things, it wasn’t difficult to do a cityscape, because there were some straight lines. Usually there are not a lot of straight lines in my paintings. But certainly I made it as curvilinear as I wanted, as I enjoyed making. And I think one of the problems that I found doing the painting at the Drawing Center is that it’s a temporary piece. They only give you a certain amount of time to put it up. I think it was more than a week, but not a lot of time. And I think that kind of restriction, you can’t see. The context is not in the painting. I’m criticizing my own work there. But I do things rather finished. And this was something that had to be unfinished, intentionally so, but somehow I keep wishing that it was either more like an opera set or less. And maybe next time, if I get the opportunity to do something larger like that, I’ll either do something permanent and like an opera set, or something much more spontaneous.

SS: I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do buildings aside from that show. 

IE: There was just one painting I made, New Condos

SS: Well, Girls Night Out, in that group, I guess there are alleyways. There are buildings there. But from a distance. 

IE: Yeah, there have been other paintings where it’s crept in. But generally I do nature scenes. There’s a painting Lower East Side. Or Spring Bar Scene, that’s a lot of straight lines and bottles and things like that. 

AK: And when do your titles come in? Do you have that kind of framing mechanism in your mind when you start, or does the title come once it’s done, and the feeling is manifested? 

IE: I think that it started off, many years ago, if you had to move a painting, because it was abstract—it wasn’t, but the way it was handled and the way it was thought of was abstract—I would say, the pink blob with the blue tubes. So that’s what it would be called. If you had to point at a painting and say, “Can you move that blue one with the…”, what was it that you would call it? And so for a long time I would call the paintings whatever they looked like. And then it just changed naturally with the intention. 

SS: I still call them… 

IE: The blue painting with the…? 

SS: Yes

IE: So what’s this? 

SS: I think it’s Blue Spotlight

IE: And this is? 

SS: Yellow Field Figure. Finding words to describe paintings in a beautiful way, or in a way that adds to the painting, makes me uncomfortable. I can’t seem to do it. And I also don’t want to limit the painting, or what the painting could do or give to somebody by giving it a title that would…

IE: Confuse them. 

SS: Yeah. Or lead them in a very specific direction. 

IE: So you’re conscious of your audience, and you want them to make what they will of it. 

SS: Yes. 

IE: And for things to be open enough. Or at least not stop a sale. 

SS: Right. Like if I named it, For Brenda, or something. I’ve also had enough responses to my work over time, where some people say it’s really disgusting—in a good way, hopefully. To my face they mean it in sort of a good way. Or they think, it’s graceful and gentle and caressing and soft. And so I worry sometimes that a title, a very specific title, would pick one of those two lanes. And push one of those groups out, when I like that they both exist. 

AK: I’d like to open it up for the audience to jump in with questions.  

Audience member 1: You were talking about time and how you go into a forest and you’re below a canopy and it’s dark, regardless of what’s going on outside the forest. And then something’s got to be happening above, like that whole part of the conversation, just isolating this room. I’m curious if you see this as one creature in the cycle of the night or a day? Or is each one of these scenes its own little story and its own person—not person, its own thing in the forest? Or is this more like, that’s the sun setting, the blue is the middle of the night, the sun is coming back? In other words, is this one cyclical room? 

SS: I don’t think it’s that connected. I can see exactly, especially the way it’s hung, how that narrative fits within this group. I think of them as all different things, but not specific of a thing—

AM 1: But within the same forest. 

SS: Right, within the same place. I think I’m more interested in the place, anyway, than the being. Or maybe they’re sort of one and the same. As far as creating a recurring character, I think that if I go down that train of thought I will become so specific in a way that I’m not as interested in. And so I stay a little bit removed from that. 

AM 1: You’ve almost created a species rather than a person. 

SS: Yeah. But a species that I know very little about, that I stumble upon. 

IE: And you want to make more of. 

SS: Yeah, I do. But I don’t want to know, I want to still discover it rather than describe it. 

Karen Hesse Flatow: Sarah, when we met, the first show that I saw your work, at Ortega y Gasset, and what I have seen since is this amazing movement from painting to painting. Like you’re focusing in on the light. So there seems to be some connection about the way that you work, not necessarily that these characters are connected, but somehow it’s your exploration from painting to painting. There’s always something new that you’re looking into. 

SS: Yeah. I think that’s a good way of finding that train of thought, or the line. And it probably has to do with the reality that I spend enough time with a painting and have to think about it for so many hours that in the next painting, I’ve already figured out, okay, I’ve tried that. What do I want to do next? And that creates a natural progression of something, and hopefully it’s in a good direction. 

KF: But you could almost see your brain working. 

SS: Yeah. Which, I love when I go see a show of paintings or work by any other artist, and you can see it. I like not knowing exactly how the paintings are made. But to see the sort of mental gymnastics or that lineage is always really rewarding to me in other people’s work. 

AM 2: So I know that Inka can envision her work before she starts, and I know that you said you started sketching more recently. And I’m wondering, how much you can see something in advance, or is it more automatic in the sketch itself? 

SS: With this body of work, I’m not seeing so much in advance before I’ve put pencil to paper. And even that said, a lot of these, there are very few in this room that have stayed true to a sketch. They shift, I sand them down, I paint over. So they morph a lot. A lot of times even until the very last step, they are changing. 

AM 3: I know you were saying that you don’t paint from references, but I was wondering if you collect imagery or find inspiration in specific things in the world?

SS: I do. Probably from movies and films more than anything else. Sometimes I worry about seeing too much art, too many paintings specifically, because you run the risk of not being in your own studio, because it’s New York and there are so many amazing paintings to always see. I feel like, I have no idea what I’m doing, all these amazing things exist around me. But also, it’s hard to not become so influenced in your own work by other people’s work. And to unconsciously do things where you’re like, oh, shoot, I made somebody else’s painting. And so because of that, I think the references that I tend to be drawn to are more theatrical. 0:50:31.3 

AA 4: So you’re not observing bodies or doing sketches of nude models or anything like that? 

SS: No, I haven’t been. Also, they have so many joints, too. Things that make so much sense that, yeah. I almost don’t want to know bodies that well. But I want to do another dissection, if anyone knows someone. Well take it for yourself first because it’s extremely powerful.

AM 4: Because there was so much talk about the bodies, and the backgrounds were talked about like a space where the bodies exist, but I keep seeing the plants as so much of an active participant in the paintings, just as much as these hands. And it got me wondering, how much, in the way that they undulate like these fingers are undulating, how much is mimicry and camouflage really coming into your thought process? 

SS: I love that you made that connection. I’m so glad that that happened. Because this world that I have in mind, I like to think that it’s this place where everything is sort of always breathing together, including the plants. And maybe if you took a leaf off it would have guts in it. So it’s this flow of natural space. I want the plants to be active. I want them to feel like they’re moving or like maybe they could grow into a hand or the hand is growing out of them. Like it’s connected to something, or maybe it’s not connected to anything at all. And so those backgrounds are really important in that sense. And I’m still learning about them. I want them to do more, and I’m figuring it out. 

AM 4: Would you ever do just a plant? 

SS: Yeah and I have, but they haven’t told me enough, yet. They haven’t told me what they want to be. It’s just so easy to stick a beautiful finger in there. 

AM 5: May I ask a follow-up? Do you think of the hands as having one joint? Like the formal structure of a leaf or a plant?

SS: The fingers as a leaf or a plant? 

AM 5: Are you abstracting the leaves and the vines the way you do the hands? You know, like you’re reducing it to one joint. 

SS: Yes, exactly. 

IE: I think if a leaf was looking at itself, he’d say, no, that’s not the way we would look. That’s not a leaf. 

SS: Have you ever pulled up a lily pad from a pond, and it’s got that long thing that’s covered in slime and it’s floating in there? That might be the only plant exception that I can think of that would look at these and be like, yeah. I know that. 

AM 6: You talked earlier about narrative and this idea of a whole story, but I’ve noticed in a lot of your paintings, there’s something really interesting about the zoom. There’s the light and the closeness that you have to these bodies. And I was wondering if you think about, not just the narrative that you’re showing, but maybe also the narrative that you’re excluding by moving in so close. 

SS: Totally. I really like the idea of having a flashlight in the forest at night. When you are so forced into this one perspective. Like you shine it on that space and things crawl away. But everything else is black. Or it exists around you and you can hear it and you can feel it, you just can’t see it. I think that’s what these spotlights do. It also forces really strange, harsh shadows, which become maybe their own thing. Or it’s like if you have a really dense cloud cover, and there’s a hole in the clouds, the sun somehow gets through and everything else is covered up. I think it’s its own way of forcing your eye to go to one place but then to remind you that the rest of the world has to exist outside of it. 

AM 7: I loved what you said about body language and the hands betraying the eyes and so I wondered how much you thought about body language while you were painting these because the gestures of the fingers are so specific and I wondered if each gesture says something specific to you like the crossing of the fingers?

SS: They don’t have a specific sentence let’s say but I think there’s a specific emotion that’s needling, or a particularity, a slowness or the way they interact with each other too. Or touch but also squeeze. In a way that’s almost inappropriate. That I’m always kind of looking to find. They’re soft and gentle but like if a stranger was to touch your face. Or something. It’s not right.  

IE: Or you know when you were talking about that they could mean decay, I actually see these as being very full of life. I mean maybe the backgrounds have decay in them. But it’s true there’s something like a decapitated hand, a little bit. You know an Adams-family quality.

SS: Right, but it’s like its own character.

IE: It is its own character

SS: It’s just a hand. And yet it has personality, it has voice, strangely somehow, and it’s just a hand. 

IE: I think it kind of has a will of its own. 

AM 8: I’m just thinking about the last question. When you’re working on a new body of work, sketching and thinking, have you ever drawn something that disturbed you yourself? Like it just came out of you and there’s something really there and you’re not sure what it is. I would want to know like is there a narrative – would you not do certain things? Or is there something that you want to do and you’d shy away from it?

SS: I don’t think that’s happened so far. I wish that I could draw something that I could look at and I’d say “too far,” I think that is when I would know so much more but maybe that’s a New Years resolution. Find my limits. I don’t think I would ever paint children, that would maybe just feel weird for me. 

IE: Because they’re different? Because these are so intentional and gross and you wouldn’t want a child to be part of this world? 

SS: Yeah and it’s so hard to find a good painting with kids. They’re just usually really gross and grotesque. Either they’re too good or they’re bad and their heads are misshapen. But I’m going to work on that. Thanks for giving me that question. What about you, Inka? 

IE: There’s actually a lot I wouldn’t paint and I actually feel like there’s a lot I wouldn’t put out into the world and some paintings I even wish I could take back.

SS: Wait, why?

IE: I don’t know. I’m gutless. I came from a time where I wanted to be edgy, making narrative paintings was so un-edgy and so not avant-garde and I think I tried to make up for that by proving something else. 

AM 8: It’s interesting that you mentioned children because I got a lot of Dr. Seuss vibes from the hands. But anyway, my question is, is there any gender narrative to your work? It seems very unisex.

SS: That’s actually very good to hear. I have female hands, and I don’t know what it feels like to be in a male body. So they feel pretty feminine to me, not intentionally so. Well actually, there are breasts in them… so I like that idea that you can see unisex or no sex even, no gender. Although I guess they are universally female. But I don’t know if I could paint a male hand. I just don’t know if I understand – not the anatomy – but the feeling, what it feels like to have those hands.