The mature artist: Sarah Taylor talks about her path to formal study and her residency at Number Nine Southernhay West (2021)

When an office space at Nine Exe in central Southernhay became vacant, Deborah Clark offered it as a residency to artist Sarah Taylor. Here Deborah talks to Sarah about the creative journey and how, after a 40-year break to raise a family of four, Sarah has found her path. 

DC: You’re (almost) my age, how does it feel to switch horses so radically and with such full-on implications at 56?

ST: I’ve been on a slow burn over the past ten years, attending evening classes and workshops in life drawing and portraiture which are the back bone to my practice. I think taking myself seriously as an artist and doing a fine art degree at Glasgow is a natural part of my process to date. It feels really positive and in the moment; this part of my life has been on hold for a long time and now my voice is finally beginning to be heard.

DC: Were you always sure that visual creation was your end goal?

ST: In the early days it was a hobby. It wasn’t until I visited the University Expo at West point in Exeter with one of my children – for their career choices – that I realised that there were so many opportunities available to me as well. It was Goldsmiths who suggested that I do an access course in art and design.

DC: And how did you get to today: what were the stepping stones?

ST: I applied to Exeter College in 2017 to do an Access course in Art and Design. I had planned to do an Art Foundation course when I left school but didn’t as we moved to Devon. So the Access course was returning to something I had wanted to do for 40 years. It was a huge learning curve but the most exhilarating challenge, not only in subject matter but to be part of an energetic environment – and it was fun! Following on, I did an Art Foundation over a two year period in Totnes. I then had to decide whether to take it further – so I applied to Glasgow School of Art just to see! I was accepted and have just completed my Year 2 of the 4 year degree course.

DC: You must have been working remotely with GSA for the past year. How has that been? Are there positives to it?

ST:  Yes, I do feel that I have missed out on that exchange of ideas and stimulus you get from working together in a studio and of course all lectures were online and doing a practical subject is tricky via zoom although not impossible! Positives? Absolutely; my fellow students have been fantastic at supporting each other. I have also learnt how to present my work online which will be useful. Worldwide covid has meant that there are more creative events online and so there’s connection with a wonderfully diverse network of artists.

DC: What exactly does a residency mean? What do you hope to get out of it?

ST: A residency allows an artist to work in a different and often unconventional space – which allows them to explore different ideas and experiment with new materials. I wanted to challenge myself as I had never had this sort of opportunity before and I was intrigued to see what would happen. I didn’t really have a plan as I like the serendipity of how my work develops with constraints. 

DC: Did our building work for you? It’s not a garret or a clean white cube…

ST: Definitely. I have a small studio at home and Nine Exe itself lent itself to that feeling of openness and allowed spatial reflection. I also liked the fact that although I had a large space to work in, I couldn’t hang things on the walls so there were restrictions and constraints which also sparked my work to move off in different directions.

DC: What are your next steps on this journey? 

ST: I have a joint exhibition at the beginning of June in the PZ Gallery in Penzance and during my new academic year at GSA I have been accepted on a 12 week exchange programme to MassArts in Boston, USA which hopefully will start in January next year.