PRACTICE/PROCESS: Artist Interview with Sarah Neubert

Can you briefly describe what your studio practice looks like? Walk us through what goes into making a single piece.

I’m a pretty self-reflective, meditative person, so most of my ideas come from that place. I do a lot of my thinking in nature, so natural textures and self reflection become all bound up together; the work that results is usually an attempt to describe my inner world by paying homage to the outer one. As I weave I am sort of building a monument to a moment in time – that thing I saw in nature that spoke to me as I was pondering this or that emotion, question, relationship or situation.

Once I have an idea in my head, I select materials that will lend the right mood to the piece. One of the most enjoyable parts of my process is learning how to work with my materials. It’s a process of discovery and collaboration. Raw hemp behaves differently than raw linen, silk behaves differently than wool, and of course, whenever I introduce a non-fiber element such as wood or metal, I end up with unexpected challenges – but it’s a wonderfully tactile, spontaneous way to work. I try to be an open channel, truly working with my materials rather than bending them to my will. It’s part of the spontaneity and surprise. Of course, sometimes I will try a new material and be unsuccessful the first few tries. But that makes it all the more satisfying when I finally discover the right technique or combination of materials.

I generally focus on the feel of different fibers rather than the specific shapes or forms. My pieces tend to be heavily textural, organic and meditative, rather than colorful and busy. Most of the time I select my fibers first, and then I weave either spontaneously or I will create a loose representation of a mental image. Even when I am creating client work based on a pre-determined design, there is always an element of surprise. I never quite know how my pieces will turn out, which is, I think, one of the best parts of my process.

I am very interested in exploring the human connection to the natural world, especially in a culture that has largely lost sight of that connection. A major element of my work is a search for my own place in the rhythms and cycles of the earth. Weaving itself is one of the oldest crafts in the archaeological record, and has always been a collaboration with nature – taking things that grow on the earth and using them to weave coverings for the body, vessels for holding food, and ceremonial items used in rituals to deepen our understanding of our relationship to nature. It’s a rhythmic, meditative craft that serves as a beautiful metaphor for the way we are all connected to one another and to the fragile planet that sustains us. I hope my work gives audiences a sense of grounding. I hope they are reminded that we are small parts of a huge, interconnected whole.

Can you tell us about a piece that didn’t go according to plan and how you handled it?

Since my pieces are usually created around a loose concept or mood, it’s not unusual to get unexpected results. Most of the time I’m pleasantly surprised, but there are times when I’m deep in a project and realize I hate what I’m making. This happened recently when I was working with jute rope and trying an experimental technique on a larger piece. I was about 20 hours into the weaving when I decided to scrap the whole thing. It might seem tragic to spend so much time on something and then trash it, but honestly, I love giving myself permission to do whatever I want with my own art. It was really liberating to cut that hideous beast off t