Sally Sheinman is a prolific painter with an interest in contemporary technology and its potential uses in art production. She is a conscientious artist with a deep concern for communities (past, present and mythical), people, science and the role of the individual as a contextual starting point for creating accessible but thought provoking work. She is an American and grew up on a dairy farm close to the Canadian border. She has lived in Britain for the last 30 years and is currently based in Northampton. Sally received a BA degree from the State University of New York at Albany and undertook postgraduate studies at Hunter College, New York City where her tutors included Tony Smith and Robert Morris. She was previously Chair of Artists Interaction and Representation (AIR) an organisation which represents over 16,000 artists within the UK. She has also previously worked on Wall Street.
Where are you based?
Northamptonshire. I have had a studio in the centre of Northampton for 25 years but am not using it at the moment.
Describe your practice for us
I have been involving people in my work over many years by asking simple but BIG QUESTIONS with such projects as THE NAMING ROOM to name a painting; THE WISHING CEREMONY to tell me their wish; ARTNAOS to tell me what they worry about; LET’S CELEBRATE to express what they want to celebrate; and BEING HUMAN to explore what makes them human.
All of these projects were installations and involved working with large institutions and organisations such as The National Trust and the NHS. I had incredible responses to all these projects but there was always something missing – I never really connected to the individual. Meeting that need finally happened in my latest project: WHAT MAKES YOU/YOU? and this has made all the difference to me. It is as if all my previous work was leading to my current project WHAT MAKES YOU/YOU? The answers to this question act as an inspiration for me to do a unique iPad image for one single individual.
How long have you been practising and by what route did you come to your practice?
I have been working for over 35 years. I studied studio art and art history as an undergraduate at State University of New York at Albany and then went on to do postgraduate studies at Hunter College in New York City. By the time I finished studying I was a young mother and needed to pay the rent and went on to work on Wall Street. I came to London to reorganise the London office and while working in London I met my husband. It was also at this time that I began to return to my art. I began to draw and paint every spare bit of time I had and I have never looked back.
You’re a painter but a lot of your work doesn’t immediately seem to be painting. What does pushing the boundaries of the discipline, including using contemporary technology, allow you to do?
I always say I am a painter because painting is about colour and all my work involves colour. The new digital technology and the ability of social media to connect with an individual has been an amazing opportunity for me. Creating each individual image on my iPad takes me days. You might imagine that the iPad is fast, but actually it takes many hours to draw in fine detail. I often work pixel by pixel. The iPad is a new medium for artists. What makes using digital technology so exciting for me is that I literally have my canvas with me. No more studio and no more stuff! It is liberating to no longer be concerned with materials but to simply concentrate on an image. It has given me freedom in a way I never thought possible. I can work anywhere in the world and anyone can connect with me from across the world. I can work on a plane, train, a bus, while waiting for an appointment or watching television.
People and participation are vital to your practice. Does the idea for a piece of work help you identify who you wish to work with, or working with a particular constituency conceptualise the work?
It is the individual that matters to me. Not the exhibition but the single image I try to communicate to one individual. Lots of people talk about the problems of the digital age but I believe it is an opportunity to communicate to one person at a time. At some point in my time as an artist I realised what was important to me was not the grand installation, which can be beautiful and wonderful, but the quiet impact of the one to one of a single image which connects to one person.
You’ve said of your practice that you have a deep concern for communities (past, present and mythical), can you say more about that.
All my work involves people. For me the connection to an individual through my art is the most important aspect of my practice. Having completed over 550 images in my current project I need to have a constant stream of inspiration and I always return to archaeology and anthropology for that special spark an individual has left behind for future generations.
What is important to you in maintaining and motivating your practice?
People are the most important. What is visual art without the viewer?
What have been your biggest achievements since establishing your practice?
I think my current project WHAT MAKES YOU/YOU? is my most important. It is as if all my work was heading towards this never-ending project connecting me to people around the world. In 2014, I was awarded the Lumen Founders Prize for this project. This quote from Carla Rapoport, Founder of the Lumen Prize about WHAT MAKES YOU/YOU? says it better than I can: “I am particularly taken with the open and engaging way that you are connecting with the subjects of your art, the nature of the work itself and your interest as an artist in exploring and visualizing such personal themes. Your goals also reflect my goals when launching the prize – that is, to promote the engaging and enabling aspects of digital art as well as the art itself.”
What have been the biggest challenges to your practice?
The biggest problem is believing in yourself and the work you do and continuing to work daily.
What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen or been to recently, and why?
The British Museum is always my inspiration. I hardly ever go to London without visiting the museum. I like just finding one wonderful piece and spending sometime absorbing its beauty and taking that home with me in my mind.
Which other artists’ work do you admire, and why?
The list is too long but The Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi at the Frick Museum is just a perfect painting and I try when I am in New York City to always visit the painting and spend a little time just enjoying its eternal modern colours – knowing that Rothko too must have been inspired by its luminous beauty.
Where do you see your work in the next 5 years?
WHAT MAKES YOU/YOU? I hope is still going and changing and challenging me as an artist.
Who would you most like to have visit your studio?
I would love to have some or all of the people who have answered the question WHAT MAKES YOU/YOU? come visit me in my studio and have a big party!
Where can we see your work? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions, events or projects?
My current project is WHAT MAKES YOU/YOU? is an on-line exhibition and can be viewed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This year I am working with The National Justice Museum and Nottingham Prison where the answers and images reflect the people living and working at the prison. This commission is an amazing opportunity to create new images with individuals who may never have had the opportunity to be part of an art project. My work can also be seen on my website.
Sally was interviewed in June 2019.
All images are courtesy of the artist.