Discussing ‘Between Formlessness and Form’ with Sarah Rychtarova
Sarah Rychtarova’s solo exhibition ‘Between Formlessness and Form’ presents metaphysical glimpses into possible worlds under our feet and above our heads. Currently on display in our gallery, Sarah’s work pairs the beauty of natural forms and materials with thought-provoking messages.
We had the pleasure of discussing Sarah’s journey and the artistic processes behind the exhibition, as well as the importance of showing this body of work – with its roots in matriarchal cultures – in Verdant Works.
Q. Thank you for having a chat with us today, Sarah! Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself as an artist.
“I’m Sarah Rychtarova and I’m a multi-disciplinary visual artist. I work predominantly in ceramics, but I also do painting, print-making, sculpture, photography and work with sound and a bit of performance through video. I like to intertwine it all with ceramics or clay as the main medium.
“In describing my art practice, the simplest thing to say is that I work around the cycles of life, death and rebirth and the many themes that those principles encompass.
“As well as my spacescapes such as the two ‘Inner Sanctum’ series, I paint abstract cave-like paintings, which is what ‘Emerging/Receding’ is; you’re in this space, or chamber. When I was painting it, I didn’t know if I was going into the light or receding into the dark, hence the title. Whatever it was, I wasn’t bothered, because I was just so happy to be in that comforting, womb-like space.”
Q. How do you bring these themes into Between Formlessness and Form?
“For me, it’s the most natural thing in the world.
“The work in the exhibition is very otherworldly, But these worlds aren’t far away from us. We are just specks of dust in the whole of the universe – not even that – nano particles! We’re very much a part of it all, the universe is inside ourselves. It flows through us! Hence the title of the series ‘The Universe Within’.
“‘Between Formlessness and Form’ is all about the cycle of creativity and destruction. It’s about something being created from an idea or energy with raw materials and then it going back or breaking down into its natural elements again. The human body and clay are good examples of this.
“The space in between, the process of making something is most important for me; not the end product.
“Anything we create comes from universal energy, and space has to be made for it on Earth accordingly.”
Q. Thinking about that cycle of creativity and destruction… are the pieces we see on display the originals?
“The framed paintings that are on show at Verdant Works have been reimagined from older paintings. Five paintings have been broken down and reimagined into fourteen new paintings.
“The ceramic moontrees are an ongoing development that I started at art college in 2012. I’ve been making them with clay using different methods. In a way they’ve been forming and transforming themselves. Instead of making them in two pieces previously – the moon head and the trunk stem – I’ve been making them in one piece now on the wheel. It gives me a challenge and lets my skills grow as well.
“I’ve spent hours (and years) on perfecting techniques with lots of trial and error on these moontrees.
“Anything we create comes from universal energy, and space has to be made for it on Earth accordingly“Sarah Rychtarova
“The large willow moontree in the exhibition is interesting, as I’ve always wanted to make giant moontrees as well as the small ceramic ones. I took myself off to a workshop with a local willow weaver and basket maker. She helped me figure out a way to make the sculpture. We made a smaller maquette first of all to practice on and then I made a larger sculpture in my garden in lockdown. I had the perfect weather for it. The sculpture is over six foot high.
“I really enjoyed doing it because it was a totally new technique for me. I would love to make a forest of giant willow moontrees for people to walk around!”
Q. Your ceramic moontrees are displayed on jute cloth in our gallery – how does seeing your work with this material and in Verdant Works relate to the themes behind the art?
“I was thinking about how to put this all together and present it to other people. It’s all fallen into place.
“There’s a lot of meaning for me in Verdant Works. It made me reflect back on my work and see where that’s all coming from.
“My work is based on matriarchal cultures, whereas Verdant Works as a jute mill in the 19th Century was a product or result of, a very patriarchal, industrial society where women were exploited because their bosses could pay them less wages than men. In matriarchal cultures, there is a reverence for women; all life in fact, including the Earth itself.
“What was particularly interesting about going round Verdant Works was listening to the stories of women having to hide their pregnancies at work until as late as possible so as not to lose too much in wages. I learned directly of another story when I was installing my work, of single mothers who were forced to go back to work very soon after giving birth because there was no financial support.
“Times have changed now in this regard, but all of these little threads were coming together that could be used to weave a connection for Verdant Works having a sense of place with regard to my work.”
Q. There are lots of layers to the connections between the exhibition and Verdant Works!
“You’ve got matriarchal cultures in my work coming together with a contrasting, patriarchal setting. Spinning and weaving were women’s skills traditionally; spiritual and ritualistic, performed as childbirthing rites within matriarchy, turned industrial by patriarchy totally taking away from women and at the same exploiting the skills and the women.
“These matriarchal themes and meanings are all embedded in my work. It’s not a visual representation, but it is all there.”
Q. What processes go into creating your work?
“I love to share the processes behind my work, because so often, people don’t know what goes on behind it.
“‘Emerging/Receding’, was created in my porch, which has the biggest wall space for me to access and paint on. I wanted to scale up my paintings so this is the first one done on a large scale.
“I combined local clay with paint. I collect small amounts of this local clay as the fields around me in Angus are ploughed up. The furrows turn up a layer of dark orange clay under the deep brown earth layer, and I dig out these bits with a trowel and put them in a plastic bag to store away until I’m ready to process the clay to make it workable – I do this by placing it in a bucket of water, let it dissolve into mud, then sift it to separate the stones and grit. The water from the mud is left to evaporate so I’m left with a clay ready for building with or rubbing into paintings. It is a low firing clay – earthenware, very orange once fired and is textured naturally with a lot of sand. Lovely to work with.
“I love being outdoors and collecting clay. Everything to do with clay takes time, and so it is lovely to be able to be in the moment and make art.
“Reciprocity and gratitude comes into this as well. Take just a little bit and give your thanks for that by making something beautiful, or however you want to express your gratitude.”
Q. This almost ties into the ritualistic, cyclical themes of your practice?
“Yes, it’s linked to the seasons with the ploughing of the land and therefore linked to the life, death and rebirth cycles. You become very aware of how it all ties into your own life – living in the heavily agricultural countryside, observing the seasons and your own body’s cycles.”
Q. With such a strong connection to the Earth and nature in your work, what is your approach to being sustainable as an artist and maker?
“The wheel-thrown moontrees were actually thrown on a wheel that doesn’t use electricity; it’s a foot-powered wheel. I thought it was going to be tricky to use, but it’s absolutely great. You’ve just got to make sure that you change legs to give one a rest and tone them equally!
“It’s like doing a little dance.
“It’s great knowing that I don’t use any electricity for that. The kiln uses electricity, but not actually as much as you would think because it’s on a duty cycle, on and off through its programme – it’s not powered up fully all the time.
“The kiln I use is actually a very old kiln, taken off a local farm. My stepdad and I re-wired it and got it working.
“Getting it working and figuring out the types and gauge of wires I needed was a learning process, but now I understand how it works and know how to fix it. I’ve stripped out the elements and done all sorts of things to it, so I know exactly what parts I need and where to get them. Saving that kiln was a great bit of sustainability.
“My paintings in ‘Between Formlessness and Form’ were made with years-old prepared boards that I had never painted on, with old paints that I had leftover myself and that I got from people. I didn’t use anything new. It’s all about using old materials and also painting with local clay – I love that!
“Recycled paintings, recycled paints, recycled boards, old lining paper, pedal wheel.”
Q. The machinery we have at Verdant Works also shows that old machinery still plays an important part in modern practices.
“Absolutely. It was so good to see the Boulton and Watt steam engine at Verdant Works. I never actually linked my machines and the Verdant machines before – but it’s right. Mechanical processes have a real beauty to them.
“I love that I have been able to bring Verdant Works into my work in terms of meaning and contrasts. I want to proceed that way with my work; exhibitions that tie into places. You get so much more out of it as an artist – it made me really excited when I saw these threads of connection coming in that I could enmesh together with my work.”
- ‘Between Formlessness and Form’ by Sarah Rychtarova is on display in our gallery until Sunday 9th April and is free to view (does not include museum entry).
- To learn more about Verdant Works and plan your visit, click here or follow us on social media.
- To view more of Sarah’s work, you can visit her website or read more on her blog.
- ‘Between Formlessness and Form’ project was supported by National Lottery through Creative Scotland.
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