Interview: Sophia Loeb
Image: Sophia Loeb in her current quarantine Studio in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
1) Can you introduce yourself? Where are you from, where did you attend school, and what are your areas of interest and focus as an artist?
I was born in São Paulo, Brazil where I have lived all my life until I was 18. At the age of 18, so 5 years ago, I moved to London. I always knew I wanted to live abroad as soon as I finished school, it was one of the biggest dreams of my life. In my first year in London I did a Foundation year at Camberwell college of Arts and then in my second year I got into Goldsmiths University and started my BA in Fine Arts and History of Arts. I chose to do the joint Honours because I knew it was very important for me to study History of Art, which was something that I had never done before in school, I only knew about Art History from going to museums and galleries and researching for myself. In the Fine Arts side of things, my practice is mainly focused on Painting and Sculpture, and a bit of collage. Luckily, the workshops and facilities at Goldsmiths were absolutely fascinating so I managed to experiment with other medias such as, screen-printing, stitching, casting, Metal welding, photography, ect. These other media helped me to work on my collages and installations. I have recently started to work a lot with dyeing different fabrics and mixing them with painting.
2) I see four stages of development marked by four breakthrough works. First is the work dated February 2nd, 2018, on Instagram, which you posted without a title. It’s like a representation of space and objects without a particular sense of orientation, similar to how you experience the world in outer space. The various objects are floating and existing together in this space, without a sense of up or down, or right or left. Could you tell us more about this work?
My practice shifted a lot throughout my years at Goldsmiths, it initially started by a big interest in domestic objects. I started to observe lamps, computers, TVs, objects around the house… I would ask myself; how can I make something so ordinary become interesting?... And I began to create distorted and nonrepresentational sketches of these objects; they serve as catalysts for my creations, it is a representation of my distorted perspective of reality, or the feeling of reality in a physical form. I then got into a series of paintings and sculptures made by the readaptation of domestic objects. I made 15 clay sculptures and casted them in different colours and materials, such as, plaster, wax, jesmonite and resin. Subsequently, I created a metal cage where all of these colourful casted sculptures were placed inside floating by strings. From direct observation of my sculptures, I created paintings and by photographing these sculptures in different angles I created a series of collages where cut and reassembled these pictures to create one single distorted form. I think that there was a very strong connection between these different media, they depend upon each other to co-exist in my practice. The paintings are not a replica but an assemblage of the sculptures, they are intertwined and interlaced together. Everything that I make influences my next creation. I think that my practice as a whole is connected and each piece nurtures the next. I was fascinated by the subject of objects floating through space until the half of my second year at Goldsmiths, after that my practice shifted completely.
3a) Second is the work dated July 11th, 2019, on Instagram, which was in fact your first work at the SVA Summer Residency program, where we met. It seems to have the curvilinear and rhythmic quality drawing inspiration from Lee Krasner and Georgia O’Keefe, but the color choices appear psychological as if the plant-like form was alive and a metaphorical representation of a mental state. Could you tell us more about this work?
I think that my practice shifted into a new path after my trip to Asia. I spent one month there investigating different plant species, landscape and trying to emerge myself into their culture. I took my iPad to the trip and I would create sketches every day. With these sketches my work started to change a lot from what I was used to do, and I began to embrace this change, allow things to happen and look for different pathways that were out of my comfort zone. I have always been fascinated by nature and its unique forms. Since I moved to London I felt very nostalgic of my contact to nature in Brazil, in London I did not feel immersed in nature as I did in Brazil, so I would have very current flashbacks and memories of being in nature and how important it was for my mental health and wellbeing. So, after my trip to Asia I began to focus my practice on my feelings and nostalgia of being in nature and so I began to enter into a path more aligned with myself and what I really wanted to do at that moment in time. My research then shifted into an observation of natural and organic forms rather than man-made objects. As soon as I left Asia, I went straight to my residency at SVA. I took all of the research and materials that I produced in Asia to the Residency at SVA. My use of colour and form are intuitive choices that accompany me on my journey through life, they are the product of the language of my soul, of the warmth and surprising joy I feel when being surrounded by and immersed in nature.
Image: The dragon’s den (Oil on canvas, 40.5 x 30.4 cm, 2021)
3b) So it seems like you engage in a similar method between the two bodies of work, but it’s a deviation from the artificial to the natural world.
Actually no, my practice has completely changed. I am grateful by what I learnt from my series of objects floating through space, however I do not wish to work on it anymore. Those are very earlier works that are now part of my past. I have transformed myself and so my practice has accompanied me into a different path more aligned with my being. I will use everything that I learnt from the object’s series in terms of process of making and apply it to my new concept of work which I have been working since 2019, which is completely focused upon nature and its healing powers.
Image: When in panic, she grew (Mix media, 236 x 210 cm, 2019) at the final exhibition at the SVA
4a) Third is the work dated September 5th, 2019, on Instagram, which you titled, “When in panic, she grew.” In this work, you seem to be letting go of the fixed notion of the painting by venturing into an assemblage with unconventional painting materials and techniques, such as fabrics and cutting and collaging snippets of various paintings. The imagery, which depicts plants on a literal level, appears to form a living ecosystem or creature that is a metaphor for the wonders of life and existence, on a deeper level. When you repeat the image of the plants, again and again, your work is no longer concerned with the plants but the metaphor of beauty and wonders of this world. Could you tell us more about this work?
“When in panic, she grew” was the last work I made on the residency, however it was the first work, because I started it in the airplane. I began sketching it on my iPad whilst I was very anxious as I arrived in New York. I was going through a very rough time and my emotional self was feeling very vulnerable. I created two sketches one of them being for my work “Empathy for the jungle” which took part in our group show last year hahah. These works carry a very strong and personal meaning to me. These works speak to each other and they are responses to one another. They talk about my own personal evolvement, how I changed and transformed myself, how my perspective of life shifted. I believe that when there is great pain there is a light waiting for us in the end of the tunnel and these works were my source of light, especially “When in panic, she grew” which I worked and re-worked it throughout the entire residency. This piece of work was responsible for my healing throughout my time in NYC and it was the result of my new self. In this work I saw what I was capable of doing, I pushed myself to a limit that at the beginning I would not have imagined to be possible. The work started as a simple sketch on the airplane and it turned out to be a painting with multiple layers and under paintings, where I cut and reworked on forms over and over again. The painting would change daily, I would work on it a little bit every day. I painted and re-painted it more than 10 times. Once I arrived at a point where I could not paint the painting any longer, I decided to cut it.Once I did, I began to find it interesting for the first time. I thought to myself “wow, now I have something here”. I worked separately on the cut pieces. And eventually I assembled them in different ways until I reached a point of satisfaction, from there I combined new paintings and fabrics to enrich the composition. This painting taught me the importance of persistence. I now I take this eternally in my art practice, when I insist on something I hate and transform it, it is always my best work. Respecting the timing of things is so important and allowing the work to speak for itself is essential for me. When I look at “When in panic, she grew”, I see its history, of how I felt throughout its entire process, I see so many emotions of rage, anger, resentment, sadness and at the same time, strength, joy, courage, happiness. All of these emotion onto one painting. The painting began to change with my emotions, the better I felt, the more I began to resolve my personal conflicts, the more I began to resolve the painting. I hated it most of the time and destroyed it continuously, only to suddenly create something that I eventually began to admire and love. I began to love it for its imperfections and how it served as a source of healing for myself. I saw how the painting was a mirror of my own self.
4b) ) It doesn’t have any rectangular format. It’s not conventional. And it reminds me of Elizabeth Murray's work.
Yes. I love her work. Because I was feeling that this painting wanted so much more than what I was initially doing… so I didn’t want to make it conventional. I wanted to break boundaries and leave my comfort zone completely. Cutting the painting and re-painting it was such a relief for me. And leaving the conventional squared painting feels so natural and free to me.
Image: Selva do Una (Oil on canvas, 50 x 70 cm, 2020)
4c) So do you think this is like a peak that you went up and you came down from, or do you think you will go farther and farther up?
I think that at the time, that was the biggest step I took in painting; I hope to continue experimenting in this way because I’m sure that from that work something new was born, I awakened a part of me that I was not aware of, and now I’m ready to work with it in order to further develop it. I like to work with an imaginative plan in my head and as I physically touch and work with the materiality, I allow it to speak for itself and change its course. I wouldn’t like to limit myself. As I work the work reveals new pathways and I take them. By looking at my practice as a whole I would like to work on different series of works. Each set of series influences and pushes the next. I think that experimentation is the key for the growth and evolvement of my work.
5) The fourth of your breakthroughs is dated May 22nd, 2020 on Instagram. In this work, I see a rhythmic arrangement of forms depicting plants and other objects of the natural world, almost like gestural marks of the Abstract Expressionists. Do you see similarities between your work and Lee Krasner’s? Would you describe your art as Neo-Abstract Expressionist?
I went to the exhibition of Lee Krasner’s retrospective at the Barbican Center in London. This was the place where I most felt connected to Lee Krasner as an artist and with her works. I felt that we have a similar way of working and thinking. The spontaneity of her work and her organic way of working really reflects my own. She does not feel attached observing any representational forms, she has freed herself to produce work from within and works quickly and intuitively as I do.
Image: Empathy for the Jungle (oil on canvas, 180 x 200 cm, 2019) at the group show Abstract and Abstracted in NJ.
6) Is your work related to feminism in any way, and is there a feminine energy that is imbued in your work in terms of color choices and the caring consideration of forms? What makes a work quintessentially feminine rather than masculine? Or is there no such thing that embodies a feminine or masculine energy or style?
My work talks about our connection to nature and how we transform with it. It suggests our co-existence as one in this planet, and this is why we impact each other eternally through cycles. This is where the organic and biomorphic aspect of my work steps in, my feelings of connection and nostalgia to nature inspire my colours, forms and the cyclical motion in my compositions. I think that nature and the universe cannot be characterized as promptly female or male, it is rather both at the same time. Even though one might think that my work carries a feminine touch, I do not see it that way. I would not characterize it as feminine. It incorporates both female and male energies, nature carries delicateness, power and strength and both sexes carry these mutual energies. Everyone has both sides. All men carry female energy and women carry male energy, it’s just a matter of balancing both. Sometimes one person can have more of one energy than the other, however it is very important to have both of these energies inside us living in harmony. Like the concept of Yin and Yang?Too much of one energy can damage our evolution. I hope that when one looks at my work, they feel balance, harmony and peace, which in turn would bring them a sense of healing.
Image: Sculpture Eva (wax, 26 x 13 x 13 cm, 2018) at the exhibition Change of Matter at LAMB Arts gallery.
7) Is there anything you would like for the audience to know about your work?
Other than the concept of my practice, I would like them to know that since my residency at the SVA I have been working extensively in writing pieces that would accompany my sculptures and paintings. They serve as a way for me to create an intimate dialogue with my work. The writing is very abstract and ambiguous in relation to the work and it opens a field of extensive interpretations of the works. It challenges the viewers mind to further reflect on the works. The writings do not need to be connected specifically to the works; they can be seen as a separate piece of work.
Image: Untitled (Oil on canvas, 40.5 x 30.4 cm, 2021)
8) How do you see your focus and interests change in your journey and growth as an artist? What do you think should be your next territory of exploration?
I have recently been working in a variety of different medias, medias I have never worked with before, like sewing, woodcut, macrame. The more I experiment with different medias the more I expand my ideas. These different processes have all been feeding my imagination and I have been planning to combine these techniques into one single work. I am no longer interested on working only with painting, I am having a strong urge of leaving the canvas and working with 3-dimensionality, this will allow me to push my painting further, I am very interested in the sculptural side of painting. I am more interested in exploring the unconventional side of painting.
Image: Carnivaorta (Ceramics, 48 x 46 x 20 cm, 2020) at the WIP Show at the Royal College of Arts
9) Who are the artists that inspire you? Who are and were your mentors who led you a way forward in your life and career as an artist?
I have always wanted to be an artist since I can remember. When I was little I would always be drawing and painting. Art was always my favourite subject at school, I would always dedicate a lot of my energy in the art classes. When I was 15, I officially decided to pursue a career as an artist. Thank god my parents were supportive of my decision; I am very grateful for that. I kind of learnt to love art by myself, no one really introduced me to it or pushed me to do art. When I travelled with my parents we would go to museums, and I would be fascinated. I began to deeply study modern and contemporary art when I moved to London. I would say, the artistic movements that most inspires me are abstract expressionism and symbolism. I few of my favourite artists are: Paul Gaugin, Helen Frankenthaler, Cecily Brown and Maria Nepomuceno.
10) What are your dreams and plans for the future? How do you react to the COVID-19 crisis?
The pandemic was a huge shock, I suddenly had to pack all of my things and leave London before the boarders were closed. By march of 2020 I had already started to work on my installation for the degree show however I had to leave everything behind in my studio at Goldsmiths and unfortunately I did not have my degree show as planned. Even though this situation was terrible, I tried to look through the positive side of things. How can I grow from this situation? How can I develop my work? So, I began to see the Covid-19 crisis as something important for humanity. It had to happen on Earth, in order to save her. We will never understand the reasons for this pandemic other then we must trust God’s plan for us. The whole world began to feel collective energies and how we are utterly all connected, this point of view has made us humbler and more humane, we have reflected on life and transformed our beings all at once. It is a very powerful thing that is happening to us. It is like a world war with nature, and we saw how powerful it is, how insignificant we are in relation to natures powers. Earth is healing and we must respect her timing for we have made her suffer for such a long time, her processes is longer than ours because she is so much bigger than we are, we had to stay home in order to give her space to transform herself. We are just small fragments of her body, and sometimes we are the virus attacking earth and she is fighting back to gain her immunity. We must respect this moment in time and do our best to transform and come out of it as better people. I hope this ends soon and as for my plans for the future, I would say… graduate from the RCA in 2022 and have my degree show successfully and embark into a career of a lot of joy and creativity, this is what life is about.