New found freedom and the truth about that Michael Smiley Comment.
I catch up with Edinburgh based artist Sarah Wilson at her studio in Leith, she is cursing the Scottish weather as she cannot finish her outdoor sculpture due to impromptu rain and apologising for her taste in music (The Selector blares in the background).
Sarah has painted and photographed for as long as she can remember but its only recently she has put her past to bed and really focussed on her latest project – The AXO Gallery due to open at the end of this year.
Sarah laughed “Do you think the 3 degrees would have been so successful if they had called themselves the 3 HND’s?”
“Not getting into Edinburgh School of Art for the 4th time made me realise that only I can make this happen”
Sarah has just completed her 3rd book, a series of retrospectives of all her old work dating back to school and college and some of her poetry from her stint as a performance poet. “I felt it was time to move on, at 42 I really should stop being a perpetual student and put myself out there as a professional artist. I have an HND in acting, graphic design and contemporary art practise – and I am pulling it all together for my latest project”
Sarah has always been ambitious, she crawled from a typing pool at Scottish Widows and worked in their marketing department for 7 years, unfortunately her asthma, which she has suffered from since childhood caused her to take early retirement at 23. “I nearly died on a Scottish Widows fun trip to Paris” she laughed “that’s what made me decide that there was more to life than office work”.
She went to drama school (the year below Euan McGregor) and blagged herself an equity card, got an agent and did bits and pieces for ages, never quite getting the big break. “Acting is hellish! I sat for hours in a bath of my own blood with my throat slit for the film Jack of Diamonds – it bombed and I got cramp”
Sarah then worked for Radio Forth in Edinburgh “I got the job because I had jumped out of a cake dressed as Marilyn Monro years ago for Big Al’s 40th birthday and they remembered me.”
“Radio Forth was great fun, I met a lot of interesting people and was sorry when the format changed and I was no longer needed. I remember my mother being mortified when her favourite tabloid printed an article about the Edinburgh Festival – I was named and shamed as the woman who showed Irish comedian Michael Smiley her breasts for a fiver – hey I was drunk and I needed a taxi fare! Rob Newman offered me £3.50 cos he didnt have enough – I offered to lend him the rest!”
She also worked as a stand-up comedienne appearing regularly at the Stand comedy club in Edinburgh and comparing at her own club The Rabbit Warren. “Then my mum died and nothing seemed funny anymore”.
Sarah’s latest venture came about when her partner bought a house with a huge warehouse attached. “This was the chance of a lifetime and I am very lucky, the garden is full of skips and workmen. I am having a concrete floor fitted and walls lined, there will be disabled access and a wee office for my kettle!”
AXO gallery is a sister gallery to Axolotl Gallery, a large space in Dundas Street that her partner plans to open as a shop and gallery for contemporary painting, prints and photography.
“Rather than have an opening showcasing my work I plan to showcase the space. I want people to come along and see its potential with a view to exhibiting there in the future.”
And by using her marketing skills she plans to have an opening like no other.
“I have always been fascinated by the circus, probably because I have never got to see one, when I was little the circus would come to Murrayfield every year and I would go along, unfortunately my allergy to all animals and straw and sawdust meant I would be removed wheezing and eyes streaming before the show started!”
I want to have my own circus and I have been researching like crazy – as early as 275 bc Romans witnessed performances by elephants. It is Barnum and Bailey and the Ringling Brothers that really interests me- pre 1919, a time when ‘giant posters in lush colours foretold the wonders that would appear in town, usually for one day only’. The circus has always been a larger than life creature, showing up out of nowhere and then, as quickly and unexpectedly as it came, disappearing once again.
The memories of these colourful days are all black and white photography and I hope to capture that feeling”
For those lucky enough to go to the opening may not be aware that they are part of the artwork, as the actual piece will be created on the night and for those that visit the gallery after, the circus will have left town.
“‘It’s not just my work that will be on show, I am collaborating with four other artists; Sarah Green, Elaine Boyd, Jill Farquhar and Jill Skulina and Estrella the Elephant”