Sarah has had a great deal of experience working with children, her background in teaching art to special needs children along with degrees in psychology and dance scenography has given her a unique view of how we communicate, especially through body language. She has a particular interest in vulnerability and this body-language communication. For Sarah, what is vulnerable is not weak, but she sees a strength and dignity when people allow vulnerability to remain visible. She sees faces and hands as the most expressive parts of the body with our faces becoming a roadmap to our lives as we age. Gender plays an important role in this ‘roadmap’ for Sarah because she recognizes the difference males and females have in response to experiences. She also believes skin has a unique ability to communicate the power of touch and is important in defining self-image.
Jane Boyer: Your work has revolved around skin. What is it you are exploring through skin and what does skin represent for you?
Sarah Hervey: Skin represents to me, the boundary between the necessary social world and the internal struggles that people have. I’m exploring boundaries really and surfaces, I’m exploring the ideas around what we see on the surface which protects what’s underneath, but also exposes something about a person. It started with my interest in ageing skin and how it can be like a map of a person’s emotions because the creases and all the experiences start to stay there as evidence of what somebody has felt underneath their skin.
JB: Body language is also important in your work. Do you believe body language expresses the psychology of a person in ways not communicated verbally?
SH: Yes, it does. I became interested in this because I worked with children who had language difficulties and children in difficult situations, like when a child is ill in hospital and they’re surrounded by very scary procedures and people they don’t know. Their body language is very important; the body language of those people dealing with them is also quite critical. I went on to teach children with emotional difficulties who had experienced confusing body language. So that was of general interest for me and it was enhanced when I did my MA in design for dance because dancers utilize the body to express language in physical theatre, which I love. It exists without any voice, it’s pure body language. It’s absolutely extraordinary how much you can understand without anybody ever speaking.
JB: Your painting Purple Nude conveys a sense of this non-verbal communication in the relationship of the figure’s feet and a very distinct line on the floor. This relationship, in essence, is the painting. How do you view this relationship and does it feel like a visual expression of non-verbal communication to you?
SH: Yes, I think it completely does. When I did that painting I felt very vulnerable and I was pretty consumed with my own vulnerability for quite a long time into doing the picture itself, then I began to notice how vulnerable the model was. I think it was just by chance he chose to put his feet behind that line, but because he has his feet behind the line he’s keeping to some boundary.
I wasn’t expecting that particular model that night and it was a bit of a surprise because I think he must have been the oldest person I’ve ever drawn or painted. I had been thinking a lot about vulnerability and ageing anyway, I felt this was a huge opportunity to paint something I was interested in, but because I wasn’t expecting it and this was a real person and not something I’d organised, I had to really pull myself together and get on with it. I think that’s probably why there is so much that came out in the painting. I had to do it quickly as well, it was just one evening.
JB: Much of the vulnerability you are interested in and you explore is based in gender issues and ageing. Can you tell us what it is particularly about vulnerability, experienced through gender and age, which interests you?
SH: I think there has been a lot of research into why women live longer on the whole and have a resilience somehow, yet the way we are supposed to attract men is to be vulnerable, the weaker sex, so there’s all that dynamic which is interesting. Because I have this idea about skin and how your history shows on your face, so if you’ve had a life where you’ve felt vulnerable it will begin to show. As your body gets older you just appear more vulnerable because your skin gets thinner, your bones aren’t as strong, you find it more difficult to hold your head up straight and keep your back straight and so your body starts to cow. The different way men and women deal with that interests me; how we feel about that is the internal part of skin, then the way society looks at you is the external part. I mean, the essence of being female or male is different and I feel it is important to struggle to understand more precisely the positions of men and women within these boundaries. My point of view is as a woman. I can’t understand my own vulnerability and the vulnerability of women without understanding the vulnerability of men.
In an effort to raise funds for This ‘Me’ of Mine, I’ve asked the artists to share a list of books they find informative for their practice. Follow the links here or visit the BOOKSHOP to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests.
Now is a great time to purchase through the This ‘Me’ of Mine bookshop because The Book Depository is offering great discounts on purchases, for example most of Sarah’s reading list is on sale!
If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to participate in our This ‘Me’ of Mine Companion Book head-count, see the footer section at the bottom of the page for the sign-up form and more information.
Sarah’s Reading List:
Alice Neel by Ann Temkin (follow the link to Abe Books)