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Interview - Sarah Rebekah Byrd Mizer

Installation of Sarah Rebekah Byrd Mizer show, my pleasure, started today and it looks excellent. Her show opens October 18th. Sarah took some time to answer a few questions for us. 


Could you please tell us a little about your background and how you think that influences you as an artist. Is there anything about your personality that makes you gravitate towards the mediums you choose to work with?

"Glass Wallpaper, pattern no.2: Blue Ridge Wallpaper," 2012, glass, 12 x 9'

I wish I had an elevator pitch for this. There has been much thought as to why I work with mediums and I just simply find them malleable or intriguing and so I play. As an athlete from childhood through college, I understand play and training to be synonymous. Play can be misinterpreted as superficial or frivolous but it has been the foundation for in-depth research and work. I say I am playing around, and I am; I am having fun, experimenting and failing a large percent of the time. That is no different from sports, baseball or softball players understand the .300 batting average as a success and I relate that law of thinking to the studio.

In one of your artist statements you wrote about your grandmother and the poetic lists she used to make. I think that family always has a profound effect on the work we do as artists. Can you tell us a little about how she has influenced your life and work?

It can feel a bit awkward talking about family but they are a part of what I am doing, no doubt. Each member has held a pretty significant role for the most random reasons, including my Mom’s mom. My grandmother wrote a grocery list, I bought the groceries, brought it back to her and the list had done its job. Thought nothing of it until I re-discovered the list a few years later. When it reappeared, I saw it differently: it wasn’t anymore utilitarian so I was able to see it formally and conceptually as though it were a poem. Her handwriting was careful and graceful despite shaky touch. It was beautiful. I had it professionally framed and it hangs in my kitchen.

It goes on and on, it isn’t necessarily the individual relationships with family members that inspire me, rather it is a strange way of speaking or nuances that you only notice when contexts change.

"Rainbow Rocks" 2013, Ink, watercolor and vinyl on paper, 16 x 24"You have a very eclectic way of working. You’ve worked with everything from glass to time based media and have done site specific installation as well as shown work in traditional gallery settings. Can you talk about some of the conceptual commonalities behind your impressive body of work?

The eclectic nature of the work has to be credited to academia. I am so impressed by my student’s ability to turn on a dime. They soak up information so quickly and regurgitate it into these two-week monuments. I try to keep an open mind though I would say that I progress in a much slower fashion. When I was first asked to do a billboard piece I said yes without flinching, and then panic set in. I had no clue where to begin or how to approach it. The process I ended up using to create the highly layered drawings might be one of my favorites because the images are so versatile. Now I am always looking for billboard space. If you know of any in Milwaukee, let me know!

Conceptually, the pieces all have very deliberate editing. That reductive quality is one that has been pretty consistent both formally and conceptually. The relationships between space and ornament remind me of vacant homes waiting for life to happen in them. Of course, in this comparison, the vacant home is a white field and the life is an eruption of ornament, line, color or text.

The use of text in some of your work is very beautiful and striking, but obviously serves a conceptual purpose as well. Can you talk about your motivations in using text?

This goes back to the comment about my Grandmother’s shopping list. Text has the ability to be at once entirely utilitarian and intimate and terribly abstract or vague.

I think of words not only for what they are communicating but also for their visual value. You’ll notice in this exhibition there are elements of borrowed vernacular; there are baroque medallions and pseudo Edwardian patterns, even some mid-century-esque imagery. These elements are employed similarly to how I utilize text. They are familiar, though with a reformatted (and highly edited) context they become individual letters that create a different language entirely.

"Capital." 2013, mixed media on paper, 13 x 20"What artists have had an impact on your professional development and why? Are there others, such as writers, philosophers or even pop culture icons that you look to?

When I was at the New Museum for the ‘93 show early this year I was talking to a friend of mine who said how pivotal that exact moment in time was for his practice and how nostalgic the show was for him. I am jealous of that ability to pinpoint a time and place as being a breeding ground for a lifetime of work. I just don’t work that way. There are hundreds of instances I could tell you were inspirational but they are so disparate from one another. It is exciting to see good work, always.

Tell us about something thrilling that has happened to you recently.

Professionally there have been many exciting developments. In addition to this show here at Greymatter I am in esteemed company in an exhibition at the Taubman Museum, Ambiguity and Interface, runs through January, 2014. The wallpaper piece shown as part of this show was part of a contemporary glass survey that included Tara Donovan and Maya Lin among others. On October 12, I just closed a show examining language or other methods of "Missed Connections", among the artists next to me were John Baldessari, Louise Bourgeois, and one of my mentors here at VCU, Sonya Clark.

Also, I have been awarded three artist residencies and have the opportunity to pursue two of them. I hope that every artist or designer has the opportunity to visit Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. In June, I was among about 40 other artists to participate in their first Open Residency Program. The flat work in this exhibition was a result of that residency. This coming summer I will be an artist in residence at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. I am really looking forward to Houston, I have never been and there are such rich resources.

On the home-front, my husband recently finished renovating our kitchen. That was truly thrilling. I am not kidding, he tore it down and built a new one out of the rubble, our kitchen is a phoenix! Things you touch and interact with everyday have to be an exact kind of perfect. He made our kitchen perfectly, it is so nice to be in a well-designed space and it is a bonus that it is ours!