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Meet the Artist: Lois Gardner Sabet

Lois Gardner Sabet is an abstract artist, working with watercolour paint on large-scale papers. She is interested in how the language of textile crafts and musical forms are used as metaphors, and how she can translate these metaphors into two-dimensional artworks. Originally from Pennsylvania in the USA, Lois lives and works in Nottingham.

Ascent, 2018, watercolour & gouache on Japanese paper

Where are you based?

I am based in Nottingham, and have been holding a studio at Backlit Gallery for the last three years.

Describe your practice for us

I primarily work with watercolour and gouache on handmade Japanese papers. I utilise the highly absorbent property of these materials in the application of many layers of paint, over a long period of time, to create a sense of depth. The central focus of this work is on the complex interaction between colour, form and movement. I have recently started to use handmade Indian Khadi papers, which holds the paint differently and inspires a new approach.

In contrast to the colour-based work, I have also developed a practice of producing black-and-white drawings. I produce large-scale, intricate pencil-and-eraser drawings with multiple layers built up over time – somewhat analogous to my process of painting – which relate to my abiding interest in geological and biological processes. I also work with India ink on watercolour paper, in which I apply the ink with Japanese brushes as well as surgical scrub brushes – a legacy of my time working in a hospital. These ink drawings are performed with rapid strokes in quick succession, and done in large sets. I deconstruct these larger groupings into pairs or triples where I discover unexpected relationships between them. They have a spontaneous energy. Making these ink drawings has now become central to my practice and I’m planning a series of paintings that will bring the colour work and what I’ve learned from these ink drawings closer together.

Letters From the Garden II, 2018, Watercolour & Gouache on Japanese Paper
Prayer Rug, 2013, Watercolour & Gouache on Japanese paper

How long have you been practicing and by what route did you come to your practice?

I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1975. Around that time I lived in Boston, where I renovated a disused industrial space, which became my studio, in a large building full of creative practitioners and makers. Here I continued my studies and developed my practice. I worked with galleries in Boston and Houston. I moved to Nottingham over 30 years ago and have continued the practice that had been started then in Boston.

Your work explores a number of themes or lines of enquiry: musical expression, craft practices, organic forms, and you work in watercolour and in pencil. Does the subject matter inform the choice of medium or vice versa, or is it a less conscious process that that?

Music is a theme that is deeply connected to my practice, as it was after attending my first Miles Davis concert that I decided the direction of my painting would have to be abstract. I have been surrounded by intimate live music making from my time in Boston up until now. Without a doubt, this has influenced my work. For instance, a sense of rhythm can be seen in repetitive patterns, and a sense of time (as duration) is embedded in the layers of paint. Once I started using watercolour on Japanese papers, I never left it, as I felt that the medium allowed me to say what I wanted to say.

A Hundred Thousand Hopes, 2013, pencil on Fabriano paper
Heart, 2017, watercolour & Gouache on Khadi paper

Paper is obviously key to your practice but it’s been written of your work that many of your painted artworks suggest a woven quality. Could you paint on fabric?

Our language is rich with words of textile processes, and we use such words as warp, weft, knit, weave, braid, entwine, string, etc. as metaphors. I use paint to allude to not only textiles but also the meanings in the metaphors. And so, painting on fabric has not yet interested me as my process is not about imitating textiles, but rather, reflecting on these metaphors and how we can use them to speak of the nature of reality.

Layering is a dominant feature in your work, how do you decide when a work is finished?

There are many layers in the paintings done on the un-sized absorbent Japanese papers. These papers are fragile but also very robust, and I push the papers as far as they can go, to hold as much paint as possible, but must be very careful to not exceed its limits or to muddy the colours. For a painting to be considered finished, it must hold meaning, have a balance between all of its elements, and possess a quality of being pulled in.

My Blue Moon, 2018, Watercolour & Gouache on Khadi paper
Ink Drawing Triptych, 2018, Ink on watercolour paper

What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen or been to recently, and why?

There are many excellent painters in the region. I’ve recently been to Mandy Payne’s wonderful exhibition at Lakeside Arts and admired her craftsmanship, unique painting methods, and the way in which she approached her subject. As for the near future, I’m planning a day to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see the new Sean Scully exhibition of paintings and sculptures – a place, and an artist, that always inspires me.

Which other artists work do you admire and why?

To narrow it down to just a few: the above-mentioned Sean Scully for the incredible presence of his paintings; Howard Hodgkin for his mastery of colour; Agnes Martin for a sort of purity we attribute to her beautiful and subtle work; and Mark Tobey, for the delicacy and humility of his paintings. Also, I have had a long interest in the arts, crafts, and calligraphy of the Islamic world, and the early 20th century Amish quilts of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Like a Sound, 2012, Watercolour & Gouache on Shoji paper

Where can we see your work? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

I’m showing a painting in Backlit’s new exhibition, “The Same as it Never Was,” opening on the 17th of October to mark the tenth anniversary of Backlit. I’ve been commissioned to paint a watercolour intervention on the walls and have chosen a braid pattern. The pattern has shed its usual association with textiles and now appears more animated and serpentine as it loops around the walls. There will be an Open Studio along with the launching of this exhibition and I’ll have paintings and drawings displayed in my studio. Also, I am an artist advisor and curator for the Lady Bay Arts Festival’s public spaces, and will exhibit a range of work there on the third weekend of May 2019.

I am also on Instagram and Twitter and my work is featured on Saatchi Art.

Fugitive, installation Backlit


Lois was interviewed in October 2018.

All images are taken by and courtesy of the artist.