Artist Interview: Sarah Crane

You’ve lived in five countries, including Singapore. Has living in multiple countries and cities impacted your practice and the way you view art?

To-ing and fro-ing between the West and the East has influenced my work but more subliminally than consciously. You cannot help but absorb cultures and climates around you and – I’m reflecting as I write this – France has been a huge factor in my development.  The people really embrace and encourage the arts, they have really embraced and encouraged me over the years. My time in China, although not a very productive period, still had a large influence on my work.

Could you tell us more about how you entered the world of printmaking?

I started while a student on my BA course and experimented mainly with screen-printing, way back in the 1980s. Then again in France in the 1990s whilst living in Boulogne-Billancourt in the suburbs of Paris. There I explored etching, drypoint, and woodcut.  

In the last few years, I have returned to printing, having found a studio in Le Chesney, France, in which to work. This rekindled my love of etching and the whole process of hand-making prints. I would very much like to find somewhere here in Singapore to carry on this work, please contact me if you have such a facility I could use once or twice a week.

Why have you spent the last decade working mainly in monochrome?

I think the change to a more black-and-white palette occurred during and after my time in China. Being exposed to Chinese art, the beauty of Chinese calligraphy, and watching the city’s architecture change before my eyes had a huge impact on my sense of aesthetics. Being surrounded by modern, emerging forms that were full of strength, simplicity, and durability; while also being captivated by street artists at work, observing the way they used giant brushes with water on dry concrete pavements to create images that faded as quickly as they were drawn. These experiences all affected and re-awakened my natural love of greys.

The monochrome colours of the two principal seasons in Beijing also played a part.  The winter seemed interminable, constantly grey and dusty. Devoid of colour.  As was the summer, where it was so hot that it seemed as though the light was bleaching all colour out of nature. If the sun couldn’t penetrate — as was often the case — through the grey-brown film of pollution, the sky would lay heavy over the city, draining it of colour.

Why depict the human figure and nature and what do they mean to you?

I have always been drawn to the human figure and nature. Firstly, by the aesthetic beauty of the form, I seek the positive and negative shapes the body creates. Next, I look for the quality of line, then I will search for tonal values for the strength of composition.

The second thing that draws me to the human figure and nature is the challenge of capturing something so transient. I nearly always work from real life, the only time I may work from a 2D image is when I transpose my own drawings into another medium, e.g. prints.  I am a bit of a purist in this respect, which is, perhaps, not a good thing, but I feel working from photographs leaves the results lacking.

Could you expand more on your choice to include decorative borders in your compositions?

It’s about defining the 2D space and not being dictated by the size or shape of the paper. When I work directly from a model or nature, I will usually start by drawing a frame. This creates a device for the subject to break free from (if necessary) or be completely restrained.

Working with an etching plate, there is less room to negotiate space so I will usually ensure I create a border after the central image is in place. It is usually towards the end of the process that I turn my attention to the border and often choose to fill the areas outside of them. This stems from my love of different layers and patterns. I find creating frames, windows, and borders that visually and decoratively enhance the images as well as impart more information very appealing.