Artist Interviews 2022

Sarah Buckley Samiani  
By Laura Siebold

Buckley will change your perspective on the human body, notions of femininity, and our social value system. In her interview, the artist tells us about her artistic evolution in life, constantly evolving while remaining true to her craft, as well as the symbolism behind her paintings of body arrangements, speaking a “universal language”. Besides painting, Buckley expresses herself “through the language of dance”. In her work, she raises important questions about society’s current value system.

Read on to learn more about the mythology of Buckley’s work, future projects, and the legacy she would like to create with her art. Buckley is originally from Baltimore.  

Sarah, your art is so unique, so I am really excited about how you will answer this question. Can you please try to define your art in three words? Please go into detail about why you chose those three words.

Feminine, Self-Care, Interconnectivity. These are the fundamental themes I explore in all of my work. I believe that these three words represent what needs to be elevated in this phase of our species’ evolution. To begin to integrate feminine principles in all bodies, systems, and institutions; to understand and honor one’s inner experiences; to increase awareness around our personal impact/responsibility to one another and all life on Earth, is to shift our collective value system towards care, sustainability, and a more abundant existence for all.

We are curious about your background. When did you first start creating and how did you develop your unique style?

I remember starting to draw in middle school. I was fascinated by humans, and in particular I was very interested in the symbolic qualities of womanhood and femininity. My body was a reflection of both my inner and outer transformations, and I used drawing, poetry and songwriting to explore who I was becoming over time. These mediums kept me close to myself and my internal world, which despite being naturally social, I was always intensely sensitive and required a lot of introspection and expression to feel centered. I moved houses often as a child and kept up that pattern as an adult, changing cities and traveling constantly. As a teen, I was mostly focused on poetry and music. In my early 20s, drawing became my central focus because, besides that, it was what I felt most connected to, it was so easy to do in transit. For 10 years, it was impossible to find me without a sketchbook, anywhere I was.

I continued to develop my curiosity around what the feminine represented, as I tracked myself through my early stages of womanhood. Over the years, I used my travels and relocations as a contrast to observe how I was transforming in new environments. My voice developed, as my lines, thoughts and skills became more refined. In my mid-20s, I began creating salon-style events, doing dance & performances, and painting clothing. Then, in my late-20s, I became interested in scaling up the work and making murals, which then inspired me to begin painting on canvases and exploring sculpture. Now in my early/mid-30s, my experience in large scale is moving my interest towards designing for more permanent architectural elements, which will be the next phase of work for me. Across all these shifts in media, I’ve developed my voice/style by seeing what remains constant despite the fluctuation of form. Perhaps as a metaphor for the way my process of self-development has remained rooted in perpetual change.

Your murals and paintings feature slightly distorted human dimensions while the bodily movements seem dynamic and fluid. How do you achieve this effect in your work?

For me, each body part is a symbol with various associations and feelings it evokes. Composing a symphony of body arrangements is a way to communicate symbolic messages in a universal language, where anyone with a body can relate in some way to the image. Perhaps to enlarge/reduce body parts is a way of increasing/decreasing metaphorical volume for effect. But I don’t really find my figures to be ‘distorted’ per se. Rather, I show a variety of forms, as in truth, not all bodies are symmetrical, ‘proportionate’, or gendered. I give no credence to what [is] considered ‘normal’ or ‘correct’ dimensions. In fact, I much prefer to put imagery in the world that subverts the hegemonic perspective on what bodies are ‘supposed’ to look like.

As for motion, my first love is dance. I think of my art as choreography for stillness. A way to observe and connect to beings at particular stages in their evolution. This effect really interests me because, even when I’ve looked at one of my paintings every day for years, the movement in the work leads me to continuously discover new things in it, similar to the feeling of being in relationship with self or other over time. My works are contemplation devices and incorporating a sense of motion helps create an active dynamic between the viewer and the art. I achieve this effect in a variety of ways, some conscious, and, otherwise, it is likely just born from my proclivity towards expressing myself through the language of dance. As far as some intentional techniques, I keep my eyes moving across the complete composition throughout the process, and I try to connect lines, even imperceptibly, throughout the work to give a sensation of continuity and fluidity.

How do you manifest your vision of a “mythological ancient-future society […] with an evolved collective value system” in your work?

Our ancient past holds an incredible amount of wisdom that we have lost touch with in modern times. We’ve evolved certain technologies that give us the impression of being an “advanced” society, but in terms of deeper definitions of thriving, our species is still in its infancy. Relative to the primordial value systems which govern nature and all other life on Earth (the capacity to lead a cooperative, sustainable existence that functions holistically and consistently redesigns itself to proliferate prosperity for the greater eco-system), we are living outside of that harmonic order, and, therefore, need to begin to reconsider what is truly valuable in the long run for our own survival. At great tipping points like the ones we are in ideologically, environmentally, and societally, we need new stories, new imagery, reminders of other aspects of our nature that have been suppressed to keep our minds narrow and our systems running without question. We’re living in a time where shocking/alienating art, advertisements, sensationalized media, and violence are the most common stories we see.

That is the mythology which reinforces capitalism and domination culture. At this point, I find it more subversive to show stories which equate strength with tenderness, empowerment with healing, courage with vulnerability, happiness with compassion, and promoting self-inquiry to stimulate deep curiosity for one’s own inner wisdom as a form of spiritual navigation. I refer to my work as mythology because it uses symbolic language to discuss life and ethics. I tell stories that encourage personal agency, collaborative systems, and care as principles that are not idealized, but rather, completely available to us, should we elevate their importance and insist on their implementation. I imagine a future where our ancient technologies of Earth wisdom and collaborative coexistence are woven back into modern times, and we redesign our shared reality to value wellness and generative actions, rather than degradation, domination, and destruction.

Your mural “La Vida Andina” (2020), was a commission-based piece for a Peruvian restaurant in Portland. I read on your IG that you actually went on a research trip to Peru for inspiration. How did this collaboration come to life and what did you gain from it?

I went to Peru with a group called Aula Artesana in 2019 to audit an incredible experiential workshop they offer, where I got to travel throughout the Sacred Valley region and up into the Andes to meet indigenous artisans and learn to forage, dye and weave textiles in their traditional methods. I felt deeply connected to Peru, from the Inca society to the Andean people and their customs, through to modern Peruvians. The warmth of the people, the food, the art, the nature, the culture in general, it’s all very sacred. In 2020, a family-run Peruvian restaurant in Portland invited me to create a 5 paneled mural that reflected themes from daily life in Peru. That project was monumental for my growth as an artist, and I’m still learning from it years later. I gained an even deeper respect for the country and its culture, and through really studying the particularities of another society, I was given so much inspiration to look at the society that exists within my own work, and ways of researching and refining how detailed I can be in the exploration of it.

Do you prefer working by yourself or do you like to collaborate with other artists? What are the benefits of solo work vs. collaboration?

I do a pretty even share of solo and collaborative time, if you count commissions as a collaboration (which I do). I set up my practice to have windows of working alone and then working with clients or others. I find it essential to my growth process. When I work with others, I have their constraints, their influences or ideas inspiring me to leave my comfort zone and attempt new things that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Sometimes in those new attempts, I’ll find things I want to try alone once the collaboration is over. Working solo is really healing and allows me long hours of thinking and integrating.

Can you name some of the most influential projects you’ve completed in your career so far? Why are those projects meaningful to you?

Every project is influential to me. From big to small, each holds so much meaning because they all play a part in me evolving as an artist and a person.

How are commission-based corporate projects like those you did for Youtube headquarters (2019), Starbucks Design HQ (2019), or Warby Parker (2019) different from public, or private commissions? Which of those projects do you enjoy more? Elaborate.

I use a streamlined process for all of my commissions at this point, but the larger the work and the client, usually just means it will take more time. I love all my commissions equally. My clients are always very considerate of my voice, and I enjoy making the process intimate and meaningful, no matter the scale of the project.

With the current political climate, and the many threats to minorities and cultural groups around the world, do you feel that art can be a catalyst of hope, and the artist an architect for change?

Of course. I hope to see artists, scientists, leaders of institutions, communities, indigenous peoples, politicians, activists, entrepreneurs, caregivers, youth, educators, and anyone who has the desire, collaborating to envision new futures. I think art can inspire minds and hearts to change, and the action to change it requires all of us to work together.

What are you currently working on and where can we see your art next? What is the legacy you would like to create for yourself and your art?

I’m currently doing a lot of design work and some private commissions. I have two clothing collaborations releasing next year, some stained-glass work underway, and the next place you can see my work starting early 2023, is in the new Delta Terminal at LAX, I’ll have a mural there above the TSA security line, which I’m really excited about!

The legacy I’d like to create for myself, and my art is to inspire an integration of feminine principles in all bodies, institutions and systems my work comes into contact with. I’d like to be part of a movement to re-sensitize humanity, engaging a connection to our innate wisdom within, the Earth around us, and to one another. I hope to continuously explore my philosophies through various physical mediums, and eventually to also contribute my thinking in more traditional forms, like educating, facilitating, speaking / publishing, and serving as an advisor on interdisciplinary teams, in addition to my visual work.

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