Sara BerkS I fiber Artist I MINNA
"Being an artist doesn't always make sense and that's okay."
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in East Lyme, Connecticut.
Describe that place and its people…
East Lyme is a small town on the coast of Southeastern CT. It's a quiet town, there's not too much to do there, but it's incredibly beautiful. I don't think I appreciated quite how beautiful it was when I was growing up. I was bored and felt like everyone was exactly the same.
What were you like as a child? What did you want to do when you grew up?
I was an incredibly shy kid. I still am! But even more so as a child. I hated speaking in class and calling any kind of attention to myself, but I did do very well in school. I was always very focused and a bit too hard on myself. I had friends, but I think I was also pretty lonely. I was happiest with a coloring book or paints. I think I wanted to be an art teacher, as a kid. My fourth grade teacher told me he thought I'd be the first female president - I have no idea where he got that idea.
When did you first leave home? Where did you go?
I left for college when I was 18 "just like everyone else." I ended up going to Northeastern University in Boston. To be honest, I'm not totally sure how I ended up there. My senior year of high school I decided to study graphic design instead of genetics. Even though I wanted to study design, my parents did not want me to go to art school. My dad thought that if I went to a larger university, I'd change my mind when I was exposed to other types of classes and become a doctor.
When did you come to NYC? Was there a particular reason you wanted to come here?
I moved to New York in 2006. I transferred from Northeastern to the School of Visual Arts. My freshman year of college made me realize that I really wanted to be at an exclusively all arts school. I also did a summer study abroad at very small art school in Ireland called the Burren College of Arts. There I spent a summer in a studio with complete freedom. I worked on a series of map-like paintings inspired by the landscape I was in. That was the final push to get me to leave Northeastern for art school. I always wanted to go to New York and SVA seemed like the perfect choice. I was beyond thrilled when I was accepted.
Is there something about NYC that is especially inspiring to you?
New York has always been my dream place to live since I was a kid. I hated growing up in a small town and gave my parents a hard time about raising us there. They were from Queens and I never understood why they would want to bring us up in a place where everyone was exactly the same. I went to an arts camp called Bucks Rock when I was 13, 14 and 15. That place changed my life. I met kids from New York City and kids who were more like me — weird, spazzy, artsy kids. After that, I knew I had to move to New York at some point in my life. New York was like the end-all place for me. The art, the culture, the people, the noise, everything. Now that I've been here 8 years I think my views have changed a bit. I want the quiet of nature and to live outside of the city. Funny how things shift.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience in the design world?
Well, I went to art school to study graphic design. I worked incredibly hard in school. I interned and worked full time at 2 different design agencies. I thought I wanted to be an editorial or print designer. I ultimately ended up focusing on interactive design after school. It seemed like a natural progression. I really enjoy thinking through how people interact with information. Web design kind of merged my logical brain with my creative brain. It worked out, until it didn't.
I was working at design agencies for about 5 years before I started weaving. I worked as an interactive web designer and art director. Basically, I'd design user-centric websites and applications for clients ranging from TOMS, Google, Jay-Z to A&E. I enjoyed what I was doing but I found it incredibly disheartening. I was so burnt out and uninspired. By the end of each work day, I had little to no creative energy to focus on my own work. The design world is very male dominated and that's something I greatly struggled with. My creative directors were always men and the office environment had this very masculine mentality I just couldn't get behind. As a woman, a queer person and a feminist, I felt like everything I believed in was thrown out the window the second I walked into the office. I never felt like my voice was heard. I didn't feel supported and I knew that I couldn't continue working in that environment much longer.
So how did you get into weaving?
I left my full-time agency job without much of a concrete plan beyond freelancing, making art and focusing on myself. I wanted to find a new way to support myself and be happy. I began weaving as an experiment. I think I was searching for something I could create on my own from start to finish. Perhaps that comes from my desire to want to be in control! (Laughs) Weaving made sense to me. It's a repetitive, meditative process. My previous artwork was always very repetitive, almost to an obsessive degree. In school I did this series of incredibly intricate computer drawings based on my obsessive habits. Honestly, it wasn't until yesterday that I really understood how weaving has been a natural progression for me. I went to see the show Thread Lines at the Drawing Center and it clicked. The show has a mix of hand drawn work that looks like fabric and actual woven works. I felt like i was looking at timeline of my own work.
Did you have an formal weaving training?
Not much! I taught myself to weave on frame looms by watching YouTube videos and improvising. I took a class on a floor loom at the Textile Arts Center, as well. As a kid, at the camp I mentioned, I also experimented with other forms of textiles, too, such as batik, printing, and sewing.
How would you describe your designs?
I'm still figuring out how to describe my work. I've never been one for words! I guess I would say my work is incredibly driven by color, texture and pattern. Weaving is inherently a patterned process due to the structure of the fabric being produced. I like using this tiny pattern to build even larger ones. Stylistically though, my work ranges. Sometimes it's much more organic, sometimes it's very geometric.
Do you sketch out your designs before you begin, or do they come to you as you work?
It depends on the piece. Some of my wall hangings are very planned, and some are very spontaneous. I always begin a piece with some sort of intention, whether it be a pattern, a color theme, a thought, and then let the rest happen. Some of my more geometric work requires a lot of planning. I can sit for hours sketching and measuring and planning every angle, counting every warp thread. I think that's my designer brain at work. Whether or not the piece is organic or geometric, color is always very planned. I tend to create color palettes before I start anything else.
What inspires your work?
Everything! I've always been inspired by the Bauhaus period, both for textiles and graphic design. I draw inspiration from vintage textiles, photographs, landscapes, colors, clothing, architecture, words, stories, etc.
Do you feel your work and designs are influenced by where you are from?
I wouldn't say so, necessarily. But, I'm influenced by everything — memories, places, words, thoughts, that I'm sure to some degree, growing up in a small town, on the coast, as a lonely kid influences the work I create.
Favorite makers or artists right now?
I'm forever influenced by artists such as Sheila Hicks, Sol Lewitt, Claude Cahun and Francesca Woodman.
What’s your favorite part about being an artist?
I think it's just the need to be making things. The need to be producing something always. I think, also, the ability to draw inspiration and connections from things that don't necessarily connect logically. Being an artist doesn't always make sense and that's okay.
What are your biggest challenges? Do you have an achilles heel?
I'd say my achilles heel is my own judgement. I'm my own worst critic, sometimes to a crippling degree. For instance, right now I'm looking to expand MINNA into other types of textiles. I keep telling myself that I don't know enough to do it, though. I keep having to remind myself that before I started weaving, I didn't know how to do that either. Actually, to be honest, my partner made that point! I need to start paying attention to things I've done instead of the things I don't know how to do or haven't done yet.
What lessons have you learned?
Well, I'm a very impatient person. I think the nature of weaving has taught me to become more patient because of how time consuming the work is. Starting MINNA has taught me to not give up and be persistent. I feel really lucky that I've had the opportunity to do any of this. I had no idea when I ripped apart an old canvas and started weaving with my leftover knitting yarn that people would begin to pay attention to what I'm making. I think that's kind of proven to me that if I quiet the negativity inside of me, I can actually produce something awesome.
What does a typical day look like for you? What is your work process?
Every day is different. It depends on what I'm working on at that moment. I spend time on-site at agencies, sometimes for months at a time. Those days aren't too exciting! Then there are days when I'm balancing multiple smaller web projects from home and MINNA. The days when I'm only focusing on MINNA projects are the best. I think the variety is important to me. I'm get bored easily and I'm impatient, I guess I'm also a little ADD so having a lot going on feels good.
Do you have any rituals to prepare you for the day? Or anything you do to help you with creative block?
I don't and I probably should. I try to run or take my dog for a walk if I'm feeling particularly stressed.
Do you have any advice for someone anyone who wants to live a more creative life?
Just start making things. Even if it's just for an hour at night, in front of the TV, make something. Accomplish things for yourself.
If you could have dinner with any woman dead or alive, who would it be and why?
There are so many: Anne Frank, Sheila Hicks, Claude Cahun. Anne Frank — My 13-year-old self was completely enamored with her. Maybe I'm just like every other Jewish girl, but knowing about her was so important to me as a kid. Sheila Hicks — Her work is monumental and I think just being in her presence for a moment would be incredibly inspiring. Claude Cahun — One of those most important queer, feminist artists, ever. She is seriously so badass I wouldn't even know where to start.
What does the word authentic mean to you? How does your work allow you to live authentically?
I think I know more what in-authentic means rather than authentic! I think my life before I left the agency world felt in-authentic to me and forced. I feel like doing what I'm doing now — the balancing of a LOT of things feels authentic. It's natural and organic and it's a process. Maybe that's what authentic means to me, actually: a process that feels good. Things aren't totally figured out, I don't really know what my ultimate goal is, but I'm working toward something bigger.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Feminist. Driven. Anxious. Creative. Nostalgic.