(Blogpost) Artist in Focus: A Conversation with Sarah Purvey

Sarah Purvey, ‘Untitled’, 2014

Sarah Purvey is a Wiltshire-based artist known for her monumental ceramic vessels, which utilise the physicality of hand building and energetic mark making to create a stunningly powerful presence.  

Sarah received an MA in Ceramics from the Bath School of Art and Design in 2009, and has since exhibited work regionally and internationally. These include (among many others) exhibitions in London, New York and Amsterdam, and a solo exhibition at Chippenham Museum last year. Following her involvement with the unforgettable exhibition ‘From Where I’m Standing’ at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in 2016, Swindon was fortunate to acquire two of Sarah’s artworks for the collection.

Swindon Museum and Art Gallery was looking forward to welcoming Sarah back for an exhibition this summer. Since the current situation has meant postponing the show until 2021, we thought we’d chat to her about exciting opportunities of the past, present and future.   

Art on Tour: Hi Sarah. Can we start by talking about your relationship with Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. How did it all start?

Sarah Purvey: In 2014 I visited Swindon Museum & Art Gallery for the first time and was blown away by the quality of the artwork belonging to the museum’s collection. I made contact with Sophie Cummings, the museum’s curator at the time, and we began an ongoing conversation about clay. This conversation sparked an idea which then became the ‘From Where I’m Standing’ exhibition held at the museum in 2016.

AoT: Can you tell us a bit about ‘From Where I’m Standing’, and what it said about the way artists are transforming the use of clay as a medium?

SP: Sophie and I worked together researching artists who worked predominantly with clay in the surrounding Wiltshire and Bath areas and looked towards a group of artists who explored diverse approaches within their clay practice. We invited ten artists to select a piece from the Swindon Collection as their starting point for the creation of a new artwork to be exhibited in the museum alongside the collection piece.

The exhibition was a fantastic reflection of contemporary clay practice and resulted in diverse beautifully thoughtful, responsive work made by all the artists involved. The exhibition, like much contemporary ceramic practice, didn’t simply define itself by the material but instead allowed the artists to explore and interpret the medium through the brief. It was a huge success with all ten artists pushing the boundaries of their practice. 

AoT: Which piece from the collection did you chose to be inspired by, and why?

SP: I selected the incredible painting ‘Witness’ by Basil Beattie to work from. I loved its strong energised gestured marks and sheer commanding scale, even standing in front of the painting somehow feels physical, you meet its presence and that of the artist. The painting was also one of the works I had first seen when visiting the museum.

After the exhibition I was absolutely delighted when the Friends of Swindon Museum acquired ‘Witnessed’ one of the three pieces I exhibited for the Museum’s permanent collection.

‘Witnessed’ by Sarah Purvey

AoT: Since then Swindon has also acquired your fantastic drawing, ‘Untitled’ from 2014. I’m intrigued by the conversations between the mark making on your vessels and in drawings like this. Can you tell us a bit more how these two elements of your practice are linked?

SP: I was so pleased a work on paper joined the collection alongside the ceramic piece ‘Witnessed’. As to whether working in 2D or 3D, the connection with my process remains very much the same; the narrative, the physicality, the responsive mark, the emotional trace, all elements are intrinsically linked. I’m not even sure if I would consider the ceramic pieces and the works on paper as two different elements to my practice but rather an exploration of drawing in two and three dimensional form.

AoT: It’s great to hear that you’ll be exhibiting at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery once again, this time with Anna Gillespie with a show called ‘Trace’. What can we expect from this exhibition?

SP: Anna is a figurative sculptor based in Bath, we have been friends for many years sharing connections and understandings within our practice. We both explore work that reflects the self and carries with it a trace and emotional connection with time and place.

This understanding through many conversations over the years led us towards the idea of exhibiting together and to each creating a body of work that would allow us to interpret the personal concept of ‘Trace’. 

Sadly, as we all know too well, 2020 has been a challenging year. Anna Gillespie RWA and I had planned to exhibit together at Swindon Museum in the July but the exhibition programme had to be postponed. We are both grateful this experience has not been lost with our exhibition now having been rescheduled for 2021.

AoT: We’ll look forward to it next year! In the meantime, is there anything else you’re working on that you’d like to shout about?

SP: For the last year I have been incredibly lucky to have worked on a very exciting project with the team at Chippenham Museum. After having a solo exhibition in the museums wonderful ACE (Arts Council England) supported galleries in 2019, I began working with the museum to help facilitate a new art collection for the museum which would help to support and reflect the area’s rich art history and the contemporary artists living and working in the North Wiltshire area today.

It has been a brilliantly supported project with the first wave of the Modern and Contemporary Art Collection now on exhibition and ready to open to the public in August 2020. The new collection is a wonderful celebration of painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, photography, illustration, and sculpture and well worth a visit.

Looking ahead to the Autumn, I’m incredibly proud to say I will be starting my residency at Bath Spa University’s Corsham Court Campus in September. I’ve been invited to take on the role of Artist in Residence following on from my friend and mentor Professor Michael Pennie who was the first AIR on the site, giant shoes to try and fill as anyone who knew Michael would agree.

In August I will be exhibiting work in Cardiff with the Albany Gallery and in Shropshire in September with the Twenty-Twenty Gallery, all details can be found on my website or by following my social media pages.

AoT: Finally, if you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?

SP: Perhaps, impassioned — physical — drawing

AoT: Thank you Sarah!

Sarah Purvey’s work in ‘From Where I’m Standing’ at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, 2016

Find out even more about Sarah’s work by listening to our recent Episode of Art Snaps which looks at her drawing practice in reference to ‘Untitled’ 2014.

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