Sarah Arnett tells us about her first sight of sea, snow and the Royal Pavilion… and hosts a Sunday Fever Club in her garden!
Image credit: Francine Kay (all other images: Syl Ojalla)
Hi Sarah, You home is like amazing and exotic installation, reflecting yourself and your work. Can you tell how you came to be doing an Open House this year?
I have always admired artists who open their homes, and honestly never thought I had what it took to be so organised! Last year when I moved studio to The Phoenix Gallery we had our open studio weekend and I was so overwhelmed with how many people came to visit the studios, and how inspiring it was to meet people and talk about my work, the AOH festival… just to be out again and back in that face to face conversation, I think everyone who visited really wanted to buy art and support the festival and artists. It got me thinking and then I thought this is such a wonderful opportunity to be part of something that Brighton is so good at. My partner Matthew and I had also used lockdown as an opportunity to completely make over our flat, and it’s always been a dream to be able to completely create a new space…I also feel that when people see our home it puts all my artwork, textiles etc into context.
There is a dreamlike, paradisal feeling to your work. Can you tell us a little about your background and your major influences?
I trained as a weaver, I’m very nerdy about process and the understanding of how something is made, how colour is mixed, composition and then the drawing. I draw each element in detail and don’t really think about the composition till after I have a series of elements to use. Then I feel like I have the characters to play with. To invent a story, a stage set so to speak…I’m inspired by poetry, film and theatre. Each piece then just starts to appear, I play with elements until they just seem to be in the right place. I grew up in Zimbabwe and then came to Brighton as a child, I remember so many “first times” seeing snow, seeing the sea, meeting all my English family, I remember the first time I went to The Royal Pavilion, my cousin Julian Rogers was head of restoration there for many years, so of course we had a fantastic behind the scenes insight… so I just thought that that was his Palace and somehow was mine too! It was the stuff of fairytales for me!
You have been commissioned by some prestigious companies and organisations – would you like to tell us a bit about them?
I have been very fortunate to have been asked to create work for some very exciting projects over my career; some highlights have been, for example, when Dior Perfumes asked me to create a piece for their exhibition at Somerset House, exploring Dior’s working relationship with illustrator René Gruau and his love of flowers. Another favourite was a wall mural for the new science museum medicine gallery, I was asked to illustrate the story of Quinine and how it changed the world. I have worked with Liberty and amazing stores around the world when I had my fashion label. One of the most personal commissions was when the Royal British Legion commissioned me to create a piece of work to mark the Armistice Centenary, which was launched outside the Tate Modern in London. The artwork installation then went on tour around the UK. I was invited to use their archives of imagery and was also able to include and research my own great grandfather’s war story and include it as part of the installation, as well as the story of the Royal Pavilion and how it was transformed into a hospital during the war.
You work in a large variety of media; as a wallpaper designer, photographer, and illustrator. Can you tell us about the different disciplines and what you enjoy doing most?
I think coming from a craft back ground I always have that intent to put my ideas on to something, or make something. Process is inspiring and if I can use another surface to add to my world of “things” then I love it. I would love to create bigger installations; I was recently invited to be part of the Old Market’s TOM TECH project, part funded by Arts Council. I was invited to play with their exciting new immersive projection system, and was able to bring my artwork to life for our club night that Matthew and I put on at different venues around Brighton. This has opened up another world of exploration, bridging the gap between performance, new technology and art… and for me it’s been so inspiring.
What are you most hoping for and expecting in doing an Open House?
I have recently spent a lot of time and effort making our living space an extension of my art and I was really excited to invite people to come and view our beautiful flat as much as coming to view individual pieces of art. I also wanted to extend an invite to other makers and artists that I admire and have bought stuff from, so invited Vivian Ridley, Holly M Atelier, Godson Edit and Raw Solace to be part of the house. Finally I wanted to have really engaging events each weekend, as I feel this is in the spirit of Artists Open House; we have had and in conversation with Simon Martin, Director of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, and author Bethan Roberts and my choir sang in the garden, which was magical! I wanted to do the AOH organisation proud.
The reality of it has been so overwhelmingly wonderful! I have loved every minute… I can’t believe its nearly over! It’s been so much more than just selling work. I have met old customers and new, loads of neighbours that I had never met! Such inspiring conversations with other creative people, I feel like there will be a ripple of new things coming out of this month. Us artists and makers are always quite anxious about what we do, and properly exposing your home, your work, new ideas has been scary but so inspiring. Post pandemic, its seems even more special.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Huge thank you I think, to the generosity of the visitors, the people who have helped and taken part. I had wonderful practical “first time’ mentoring from my Seven Dials trail gang. I’m sooooooo looking forward to our last weekend, but will be sad when its over!
Come and visit!
Our Last Weekend Diary:
Niall Hollaert will be reading some of his poems on Saturday, and on Sunday there will be a pop up Gin Bar and food from my friends at Slate Spirits and Sussex Gourmand.
Matthew will be spinning some tunes… we are having an afternoon Sunday Fever club in the garden… I’m sure there will be dancing to celebrate the end of our open house! Even if you have already visited us, you are very welcome to join us!