Besides from being two of the most important contemporary tattoo artists in the world, Sarah Carter and Tamara Santibanez are also visual artists in their own right. Championing and progressing not only what is means to be a woman in the tattoo world but also the limitations and expectations of what a tattoo can accomplish, the pair have teamed up to create an exhibition of new artworks at Three Kings in Brooklyn which opens this evening. We asked Sarah and Tamara to have a discussion about this exhibition named The New Icon and to find out more about the inspirations behind this new selection of work.
Tamara Santibanez: I was offered the space at Three Kings Studio to do a show and I felt very overwhelmed at the size of the space. I thought it would be better to do some sort of group show. I immediately thought of your work because I’ve liked it for so long, I like the quality of the craft and the details.
I thought it would make a really good pairing, which is why I asked you to show with me.
Sarah Carter: I thought the same when you spoke to me about that, just the fact that our work would work very well together. Although it’s quite different, it just seems to have something in common and it meets somewhere aesthetically. Did you have this work in mind before you were offered the exhibition?
TSB: Not really. I knew that I wanted to make a new body of work just for the show. And having seen your work, I knew that you always use a lot of religious imagery in your work.
I’m definitely interesting in exploring icons and symbols. I’ve done a few paintings in the past, I had the idea that I would make different logos and symbols out of different materials, with different objects, to see how it changes their meaning.
I did a smiley face first. I did a handful of those, but then I moved on because I got a little bored of that symbol. I thought it was a little kitschy after a certain point.
I had the idea of revisiting the crosses. Because the cross is a universal symbol. It’s so recognisable and the shape is so simple. So I thought I could do a lot of these.
SC:I love that we have have that in common in our work, and I love that our approaches are quite different. I think the direction has changed a lot for me, the approach to the work has changed. The process. Probably since I had the baby to be honest. I just didn’t feel that I could do all those very detailed drawings that I was doing before, it just didn’t seem relevant to my life.
TSB: Well maybe the process was in conflict with the time that you had.
SC: I had a real problem at the beginning with starting to make work. I spoke to a friend of mine who is an artist and she told me about a sculptor, an English sculptor, who just had a baby and had to figure out a way of making sculptures which she could make in the dark while she was feeding the baby. She did these really beautiful pieces of kneaded material that she would quietly knead in her hand.
At first, I did not want to use that and come at the work like “you know I had a baby, etc.”
TSB: Well, you are still your own person and you are not just a mother.
SC:However, as soon as I accepted that there was a huge change, not just that but a couple of key things that happened. I just started to work without being too aware, too conscious of that.
I think the scale of the pieces definitely just came about through that, they are a lot looser.
TSB: I love seeing the different precesses that you’ve used: rubbing the charcoal and pouring it. It seems much more physical than the work you’ve done in the past.
SC:I had fun with that. I’ve tried very hard to not make anything too dirty with my hands, using my hands to manipulate the materials, like pouring the charcoal.
Regarding of your pieces, do you think the process itself is it’s quite important to the overall pieces?
TSB: There is definitely an obvious amount of meticulousness to how I work. But there is also a lot of steps I go into before rendering. For me I think that the most important part is arranging the objects themselves, playing in that sense, laying out a big piece of paper, arranging all the objects that I have and then just combining them in different ways. I take photos, come back to them, disassemble them. See what works the best. There are so many steps: I take photos, print the photos, trace the photos, project them, trace them on the paper and then paint them. A lot of steps I go through before getting to the final image.
SC: It is really interesting to hear those things, a ritualistic kind of feel to it. It has always interested me in other people’s work there is thing of rituals in the creative process of the work.
TSB: Maybe there is something about documenting it as well. Because there are not sculptures, they are combinations that I create, then I take photos and dismantle them. So there is a record of it: a photo and then a painting. That part has definitely been enlightening in the aesthetics. When I started to put them together in the shapes I wanted, I was really interested in how from a distance it would trick you into thinking it was some sort of folk object, and when you get a little closer you start to see the objects themselves for what they are. I was looking at them less as individual objects that I wanted to include and looked towards the overall effect, and the perception that you have. And started to see things more for their material instead of the objects.
SC: Do you find, because obviously they’re based on photographs; do you find that it’s quite an important leap from say, just for example, showing the photographs to creating a painting from it ? Do you see…
TSB: I think so, I think the era we’re in, for young people making art is so based on digital media. Well, that’s what’s expected of younger people and I think that there is something important to me about the technical skills in the rendering, but I think also the time and the care with that maybe shows the care for the objects themselves.
SC : I see. But that brings us back to the whole, almost ritual of it which I find interesting . Because you don’t get that from the photo.
TSB : Right, and with this subject matter of religion, you know, it relates back to Renaissance, when the Church was the only institution that could really commission art works and so religious object were where artists could make a living. But I also talked about it with somebody recently because I was sort of doing a side on-going project where I paint people’s belongings as a form of portraiture, so for those especially I think it’s important to render them to give the objects a certain weight. And also, yeah, to relate it to the history of portraiture.
SC : Yeah, absolutely. That’s really interesting.
TSB : What about you ? A lot of figures that you use are, I would say, there is a lot of grotesque side of religious imagery.
SC : yeah, I guess I’ve always been drawn to kind of macabre, u know, St John the Baptist head and the Saint, I forgot who he is, I should really know that, he’s got his intestines eked out, and I’ve essentially kept him. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m interested in startings, endings, I guess you could look at it kind of simply as a life cycle kind of thing, death being part of it obviously , a lot of my work touches upon that, especially recently. I’ve always been interested into that tipping point, you know? The decline, you know? The peak of health and its inevitable decline.
TSB: Right, right. Or you know, in that process of aging, youth starting to dwindle.
SC : Which I think in some parts that’s why these pieces are also long, you know, there’s a journey in them. I don’t think you could get in you to make them standard-size, you have to literally go roooor, and look up, and down.
TSB : And having that scale in relation to you own body too, I think. It feels more one-to-one. It’s larger obviously.
SB : Yeah, that’s going back to the whole idea of the process. That was so important with those pieces to me. I had to physically move them about and it was quite difficult. Not just because of the size, but because of how delicate the paper was. It’s so easy to fold, or break, and any of those little imperfections, or kinks or rips just becomes part of it and I don’t want it to be a really perfect thing, which I’ve done before. It’s quite liberating. (TSB : yeah, it sounds like it, that’s something I would love to work with) It’s been really fun.
TSB: I was about to say that I know you’ve worked with religious imagery for a long time, but I was almost hesitant to delve into it because it’s so loaded, it’s almost like a conceptual art trope. I was thinking a lot about what I would say had been asked for my commentary on it.It just had a lot of ideas about objects of worship, sites of worship, forms of worships and transcendence that are obviously not condoned by mainstream religion. But you know there is a sort of a history of BDSM compared to transcendence or to a spiritual experience. I have done a tons of readings about it, on leather folk and urban aboriginals. I keep coming back to this first wave of leather. There was a huge movement of gay leather spiritualism. I was thinking about that and the friction between things that are considered hedonistic or satanic, immoral, against the dogma of the Church. And also the idea of penance and self flagellation.
SC: It is interesting hearing all these kinds of layers because until you speak with the artist you don’t know the whole background and the past to it, how it all links in.
The New Iron will run from the 12th of August until the 2nd of September at The Three Kings Studio, 754 Manhattan Avenue Brooklyn 11222, Thursday-Sunday 12-7pm