Q + A | SLOE POESIS - SARAH FRANCIS

How did you get into your practice?



By accident. Through some strange, fate-filled algorithm I came across a ceramicist - Karin Engelien - who was selling off all her clays, glazes, bits and bobs, as she was moving her life back home to Norway during the Melbourne lockdowns. I knew absolutely nothing about ceramics but was keen to play and teach myself. My intention with trying ceramics was initially for self-care reasons, really, something private which I then felt compelled to share with others.

What’s your design background?



I’m your classic art school dropout - I say that with a rebellious smirk, but it’s a bit of a sad story. Straight out of high school, I went into an Interior Design/Architecture undergrad. When that didn’t stick, I tried Graphic Design, and when that didn’t stick I tried Visual Art. Art, writing and design have always been a big part of my inner fabric. Later on, I got more involved with permaculture design, social design, and have been doing a Masters in Gestalt therapy, which also has some history in design theory. I’ve definitely bridged everything I’ve learnt across each of these disciplines into my own eclectic way of contacting the world.


How and when did the practice come into being, and how has it evolved over time (if at all)?



Clay was a medium I had never really tried before, so it felt completely new, but somehow very familiar. There was no emotional baggage with clay like there was with painting or writing for me. It just felt right. Everything I’ve made so far has been purely experimental and instinctual. It’s liberating - I used to take myself so seriously as an art/design student, like I had to get to some end goal or prove myself...constantly comparing myself! It’s an awful place to be, but that’s academia sometimes. I’m really just enjoying being an endless beginner, working with an attitude of self-acceptance, intuition and non-attachment to the outcome.


Is your practice informed by any specific set of values or principles?




Poetry is the most obvious principle. Poetry invites me to make contact with my soul and with the soul of another - I have to consciously meet the work, it’s not obvious or linear. You’re not being fed data with poetry. That’s what I hope to get better at communicating. I want people to feel invited and curious. My Gestalt background also informs me a lot. Gestalt methodology is very much about dialogue, phenomenology, patterns, perception, being sensitive to the parts and the whole.

How does your studio or workspace function in the day-to-day?



I’m very lucky to have a workspace at home. It’s a works-pace, come work-from-home-space. I work part-time from home, and also have been starting up my business as an intuitive consultant, so it’s a bit of a trifecta situation in there. Clay stuff, job stuff, entrepreneur stuff. It’s a lot but it works somehow...I can feel that right now I am in some sort of vocational alchemical process and just need to ride it out. My home-studio reflects and contains my complexity, although it’s also incredibly tidy. I need my environment to be clean if I want to think and work clearly. I am usually at my ceramics desk in the late afternoons when the energy of the day starts to settle down, or on rainy days where things are internal. I’m incredibly sensitive to noise pollution. Just cars driving by every 10 seconds is enough to throw me.


Style and influences.


How would you define your work?



I feel too early to define my work… being previously embedded in the world of poetry, I feel that my writing has morphed into 3D forms, at least for now. I use words like ‘vernacular’ to describe my work because it refers to language but also to architectural structures built by everyday people. I’m an everyday person making stuff that feels sincere and hopefully translates well with others.

Do you see your work as belonging to any particular style or tradition?



I think my personal sensibility, and I guess consequently the sensibility of my work, exists at some intersection between animism, futurism and classicism. That might seem contradictory, but I think the conjoining thread may be timelessness? I love and take inspiration from the art deco era - that intention for ubiquitous art. To think that was 100 years ago, and they were sort of designing into this concept of the future with good faith around technology and social evolution. Sometimes I like to imagine I’m responding to their call from the other side of 100 years, like “hey, here’s what happened”. Like my work ‘flotsam spells’ - reminds me of if some alien mechanic object from the future was found washed up on the shoreline. The object itself could be seen out of context, yet the story is so relevant on an environmental level, but as a functional vase on a table it still looks like a fairly accessible form.

What matters most to you in considering and developing a project?



How I’m feeling, what my intentionality and phenomenology is... I try not to think or prepare much! Working with clay feels like one of the few times I get to stop thinking whilst still awake. The consideration piece maybe shows in how long it takes me to develop a piece of work. Clay is very revealing for me; every thought, feeling or energetic signature becomes actualised in this form. I want my work to reflect my sincerity and integrity because people can feel that. I certainly can with others’ work.

Who/what are your greatest influences? (Anyone or anything that feeds your work, directly or indirectly.)



Music is a constant source of therapy and creative fuel in my life. Mavis Ngallametta’s work moves me to tears every time. Helen Frankenthaler’s work had a profound impact on me when I was an art student and continues to resonate. From a process perspective, John Wolesely always inspires me with his direct experiential translations of nature. I’m very much fed by silence and contemplating nature.


Sustainability.

Talk me through the ways that sustainability features in your work.



I’m pretty low-tech at the moment. I recycle every bit of clay that ends up in my bucket and dump any leftover water in my little yard. I dump out all my glaze waste and wash my brushes in a seperate water bucket, let that evaporate and keep the hardened glaze at the bottom for “mystery” pots.


I’m still working with my initial stock of clay (thanks Karin), and whilst there is that ethic there of using second-hand materials, I would also love to try my hand with local wild clay, dug with the permission of traditional owners, and to get a more intimate understanding of the life cycle of clay. It feels a bit strange to be working with clay and not fully know its origins. I’d like to bridge as many ruptures in the process as I continue to hone my craft, and I feel that will deeply influence what I end up making.


Your process.

How do you come up with a project?



It’s a constellation of things: inspiration I absorb from others’ work or art in general, something that I might be processing internally, a cool song. I'm a strong dreamer and have pretty intense hypnogogia and hypnopompia, so I sometimes get this wild kaleidoscope of shapes and forms and feeling in my mind’s eye, which distils to an idea or two eventually.

How do you approach it?



I go in with a really strong vision of what I want, but ultimately end up letting go of that idea for the most part as I work, as the process becomes more relational with every single element involved. Earth air fire water. I let it be a space to slow down and recalibrate my inner and outer world. I’m honing this sense of when to work, when to stop, and when to not go anywhere near my desk at all. I’m a hand-builder, and part of that process for me so far has been embracing imperfection and precarity. Nothing I make is perfectly centred, everything is slightly off and I’ve embraced that. The Earth’s tilt is slightly off, why shouldn’t I be?

What inspires you most?



Music, mystery, the wonder of nature and the cosmos. Other people’s work. New ideas and energy and cross-pollinating with other inspired people. Seeing people talk about and do what they deeply love.


Where do you do your best designing/creating? (Any literal situations that stimulate your desire to design, ie. when you are travelling, when you are having a great conversation…)


There’s a few things. One is, again, silence and sleep. Second would be liminal spaces, like a long train ride, where I don’t belong to anything and lots of new data emerges from my brain that I couldn’t access in a fixed point. Thirdly would be in the experience of contrast. I learn a lot through what I don’t like, know, or what is pushing up against me. It’s like a process of refinement that can’t happen in a vacuum/my own little world.




The future.

Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon that you can discuss?



I want to design ritual wares and kits, that’s my next project. I want to bring more of my spirituality into my work, and I want to design experiences that are symbolically powerful for people. I feel that we deeply lack meaningful rites of passage in this day and age, and that really manifests in our psychology. Ritual kits just combine so many things I love - art, design, facilitation, spirituality, transformation, communion. I also want to continue evolving my voice in making sculptural vessels.

 

Where do you see the practice in five years? Ten years? Twenty!



It would be amazing to get into an artist’s residency, especially working more closely with nature. I want to continue working from home, but move out of the city for good - it's been a back-and-forth situation these last 5 years. My ultimate dream would be to get to a point where I’m making art for causes that I care about and where I am able to give back in bigger ways through my art. I would love to make art that collaborates with nature, especially with bees and with the ocean. No matter what the future brings, I want my practice to remain rooted in my intention for self-care, and extend from that place.