Sarah Louise Hawkins interview: Left Bank Leeds Art Prize 2019

The Left Bank Leeds Art Prize exhibition opening event, showing the work of 38 artists in a Grade II* listed former church building, is on 17th July at 6pm, and the exhibition is open every day from 10am-5pm from the 17th to 20th July.

Five of the exhibiting artists have been shortlisted for the £500 Left Bank Leeds Art Prize, awarded by a public vote taken during the exhibition. The shortlisted artists (and their Instagram profiles) are:

Katy Bentham / @katy_bentham 

Arit Emmanuela Etukudo / @arit_emmanuela 

Sarah Louise Hawkins / @sarahlouise_hawkins 

David Sowerby / @davidsworldtoday 

Leon G Varga / @varga_leon 

Left Bank’s mission statement includes its aims ‘to promote creativity, connection and well-being … to inspire and empower our community’, and this year’s exhibition invited works on the theme of ‘connection’. At The State of The Arts, we’ve asked each of the shortlisted artists a few questions, inviting them to tell us more about their work by using the themes of creativity, connection, well-being, inspiration, empowerment and community.

Below are the thoughts of Sarah Louise Hawkins, whose work can be found online here.

Our other artist interviews are here.

What were the first artworks or artists that connected you to art, and inspired you to become an artist?

I remember seeing The Lettermen by Peter Blake at a very early age. It was in the Ferens art gallery, in my home town of Hull. I remember being intrigued by the (quite literal) blurring of reality. It is the first time I can remember seeing a painting as an object in and of itself, with the material quality of painting front and centre, not concerned with creating an illusion of reality. It was quite different to the Victorian narrative paintings and seascapes I could see in the rest of the gallery. My Dad was a signwriter for a while during my childhood, so font was something I was familiar with, but here it was framed in a different context, highlighting and questioning the value of the everyday and commonplace. Though, at the time, what struck me most was the brilliant colour and gorgeous painterly-ness of the thing! I would seek the painting out whenever I visited the gallery.

What influences or inspires the work you’re making now?

I’m fascinated by shape, colour, light and space. I experiment with how they interact, and the visual and spatial experience I can create with them. This is usually through a language of minimalist, optical or hard-edged abstraction. I am often inspired by the everyday shapes and patterns around me, particularly the lines, colours and patterns I see in the city. There is a symbiotic relationship between my sculptural work, paintings and drawings; they inform and inspire each other, with recurring shapes, patterns and colours appearing and transforming in a multitude of ways.

Can you share any examples of people telling you about a connection or response they’ve experienced to your work? What connections are you seeking?

My work often has an optical element to it which requires some physical engagement to get the most from it; moving around the work, getting up close, seeing it from different viewpoints, experiencing the constantly changing composition. I’m not really interested in making work which required a static, passive viewing. I enjoy making sculptural work because viewers can interact with it in a more active, and immersive way – this is the sort of connection I want to create.

Life in Britain at the moment is being subjected to Brexit, austerity, inequality, and increasing political and social extremism. Is this affecting your work as an artist on a practical level, in terms of being able to make work and exhibit, and do you have any advice or examples to help or inspire other aspiring or working artists?

I am an artist because making art is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I have an intrinsic need to create. I have had periods of time when I haven’t made work for various reasons… and it made me miserable! It would take something catastrophic for me to stop entirely. It can be tough financially though. I work part-time in an art gallery to help support myself. I don’t have a studio at the moment because I’m priced out of most of them in Manchester. This makes it very difficult to create ambitious work, and the sculptural side of my practice has diminished lately purely because I don’t have the space to create it.

I see the effects of government funding cuts to the arts and it definitely worries me. I think it’s changing the way many public galleries operate, and often not in a good way. When generating corporate revenue becomes so necessary, the ethos shifts, and quality of the exhibitions and visitor experience can suffer as a result. I also worry about the cutting back of Arts education in secondary schools. The total lack of care and understanding of the importance and value of the arts is just one example of the narrow thinking, contempt and total indifference which exists within our current government.

If you could nominate any other currently working artists you know or like for a prize, who would they be?

I was fortunate to study alongside some talented artists on my MA last year. Bethany Costerd, Zac Bradley and Daniel Newsham in particular. Also, I really enjoy the painterly work of Manchester based artist Jonathan Traynor, and Leeds artists Alexander Gilmour and Rosie Vohra. The work they make is very different to mine, and I think that’s partly why it interests me.