Sara Renaud  I  Artist

Sometimes when you work as an artist, you want to represent. You have to hold some kind of reputation like, “Yeah, I’m a woman. I’m strong and tough and I’m serious, I’m professional…” But fuck that, ya know?


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Paris. I’m a very, very, very authentic Parisian. Basically all of my family is in Paris and a lot of my friends are in Paris, and I’ve never really lived in another place long-term.

Did you always want to pursue art?

I wanted to be a doctor for kittens! A veterinarian.  I also loved linguistics. Being able to link different languages with their roots and the way that it sounds. If you have time to see my prints on my site, they’re a lot about words. And dance. I used to dance a lot, and I had this thought of becoming  dancer or a fine artist. I chose to keep dance for pleasure and to bother with sculpture. Just heavy shit...and nothing goes just like you want.

So how did you get into art?

I would say I was very bored when I was 13 or 14 because Paris is not such a good city for teenagers. I guess there is no place that is a good place for teenagers. I was bored, but I was lucky enough to be interested in art. So what I would do to fight that boredom, was to just enjoy the city, go to the museums, to exhibitions, to shows. I would just bike and rollerblade around and look at things. And that’s how I discovered my first artist squat. I was supposed to go to the Picasso Museum and just in front of it, there was the squat and the line was bigger for that than the Picasso stuff.

At the time, I was 14, and I just discovered this crazy place made by artists. And my family has a very classic, catholic background. It’s a Parisian, French, white, basic, standard family. And I had no idea that as an artist, or just as a human being, you are able to have such an impact on public space, on urban space. It was a big discovery for me. So after I finished high school a few years later, I heard about another place (artist squat) that had opened. It was in 2001, and I came into that, and I never left. And then I passed my exam to go to decorative art school in Paris, and it kept me there.

Why did you decide to leave the city?

Long story short, I’ve been working and living in Paris since I was 17 and last year, I turned 30…you know the big move of 30? I turned 30 and just decided that I had to give myself the tools for my own ambitions…the ways.

Being in these alternative places (artist squats) was very cool because I was always with a lot of different people. I met hundreds, thousands of different people from all over the world. And I was able to work with them and just enjoy many different influences. At the same time, when you’re living in that kind of place, you never know if you’ll be able to stay the next two months. And when it comes to metal work, it makes you insane because you can’t settle down. You can’t have any long-term project because you’re not even sure you’ll have the space to work on it. I have a very cool mom and some savings, and I said, “Fuck it, let’s get a barn!” And now we can work. I live in a barn that is 100 kilometers from Paris – about 2hrs drive. It’s no big deal.

It was a big deal leaving the squat, at some point when you are living in this artistic stuff…if you are not inspired anymore, you can't give anymore. It just happened to me two years ago, so I was in that process of feeling that I needed something else because for my metal work, I couldn’t keep on that way. It was also this feeling of, "I enjoy this thing, but I have nothing to give to it anymore. I have no inspiration for it so I have to nourish myself in some other way." It’s something you can feel in the day by day shit. When you have nothing to give to other people, the collective pressure becomes so shitty, and you can feel it all the time. But then in the day by day it’s not very different, because when you live in that kind of place, you always have something to fix by yourself. It's is the exact same shit in my barn. It doesn’t feel that much different.

How were you introduced to sculpture?

I fell in love with a sculptor. I was 18 or 19. So that guy showed me how to work with metal, how to weld. That was the kick-starter. I loved it very much and being in these crazy places (artist squats) allowed me to learn metal work very quickly. Because you need space, and you need a place where you can work and be very noisy and dirty and smoky and stinky so I was very lucky to be in these metal shops that were not mine...just friends' places. I was able to work there. 


Did you always work on such a large-scale?

I started with large-scale, and I'm getting smaller and smaller. The very first thing I did with metal while I was in a squat was the front of  the squat building. It covered almost the entire building. It was a giant face, and that was my very first thing. I made a few big sculptures and a few big gates.  At first I was very into, “Hey, look at me. I can do very big things, and I have very big muscles!” But then I just would end up with a huge metal sheet, and I didn’t know what I would do with that. But now I make chairs, furniture. With the furniture, your body has a connection - It’s your body and you’re going to put your ass on it. There’s interaction and you’re going to touch it…or it’s going to touch you (laughs).

What inspires your designs?

Aesthetically? It’s very organic. The human body, nature, plants. I’ve been very very into antique Greek sculptures…these crazy hybrids between humans and animals. I also love when the human body is in the structure of a building. Like when you have a building, and the column that carries the structure of the building is shaped like a body. When human bodies are put into a structural architectural space, that’s very intense...when you mix the organic with the structural. That’s why I love antiquity because you have so much of that. Ya know, in Rome, there are giant human body sculptures everywhere. That’s the kind of inspiration I love. Also, Metamorphoses by Ovid. Ovid is a very ancient, greek writer, and he wrote about things like why a plant has its shape… just storytelling about how things came to be. So I really like to story-tell with what I create.

Your work has to do with changing space. Can you talk more about this? 

It has to do with being interactive and transforming or changing the way people circulate into space. When I was in decorative art school, my specialty was set design, which is all about shaping the space, but for theatre or cinema, specifically. That ended up being very boring for me because it’s disconnected from reality, and it also represented a big waste of materials. That thing you’ve been working on for weeks ends up in the garbage. I couldn’t take it, ecologically.

But in public space, you get to change the path people walk into everyday. And cities, modern cities, are shaped for you not to stop. This is a big issue, and I think as an artist, we have a role to play. It’s like you’re giving them a reason to stay, a reason to sit down. And when you sit down, it gives someone an opportunity to sit next to you. For me, public space is a very intense place where you’re able to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. I consider my work complete when someone is sitting in it or next to it because it’s the very basic function of the furniture.

Why the interest in public art?

Getting into furniture and public art was more about sharing.  It’s more about connection. Public furniture is a very long process because you have to get authorization and talk with different entities that are concerned, especially for public participatory projects. For now, I have very few projects. A lot of projects I made, I wasn’t paid for. It was just community art, and it’s only been this year and last year. It’s very recent. The thing is really about human contact because actually the few project that were realized could be realized because I have some contacts with cultural associations. I’ve been in Paris for a long time, so now I have people calling me little, by little.

Do you choose the space or the design first?

It’s both. I’ve made some furniture with no particular space for it. But some other spaces are very inspiring for me, I still have them in mind. I like to make my furniture site-specific.

What are your biggest challenges as an artist?

Making my art functional, useful, and meaningful for other people. I feel like I’m not very self confident and I NEED people to like what I do. I think I’m struggling with the concept of this artistic career...of being an artist in society. At some point it’s like, “What’s the use of being an artist? Am I able to change anything or have any influence? Or be any kind of good influence for people around me?” Not the entire world, but in my local environment. So I left sculpture to go to furniture, which didn’t change the way I work or what I do because if you look at my sculptures, it’s always metal, organic shapes, structural shapes. But If I say this is furniture, people will look at it differently and will see the functional aspect of it because some sculptures you can actually sit on!  And it’s a chair. It’s the way you describe something and the way you present yourself as a furniture or metal artist. I always go back to the public space because it’s really the big connection with the collective stuff between what you can do with that space, how you can use it, and how you can share it with other people. When you think about all of that it’s just a way to think, “How can we live together? And at the same time how can I satisfy my very own ego-centric need to do art?”

What do you love so much about the process of making art?

My big masturbative artistic practice is to weld something because the metal fusing is something that is just amazing. I’m just all alone with my welding machine, and I can see the amazing process thanks to electricity, thanks to nuclear power, thanks to generations of guys thinking, “How can I do that?” And I can see these two metal parts fusing together, and it’s so solid. And I love this process combined with blasting loud music in my shop. Like shitty loud dancing music. I’m still not over that. I dance a lot. Dancing and working with sculpture, it’s the same. It’s moving your body. It’s very physical. I would never be able to work in an office. I slept a lot at school (giggle).

Any big lessons?

I think it's this French context that gave me this huge fear that as an artist, every artwork I do should be the essence, the universal expression of something important that’s going to save the world. And that way you are stuck in every moment in your brain because you feel you’re not able to do something perfect - and it’s such a lie. I think this is very french. And it gets students into a struggling mood all the time and we have to do something crazy and huge, but we’re fucking 20! You can’t do something perfect when you’re 20. I think when you’re young and you want to find your way, those kind of considerations can be very heavy for you. You want to do something very, very perfect the first time, but nobody does that…just liars.

I had a very hard time with that and then I met so many different artists that never went to school…they just do it and don't ask themselves very many questions. Concerning school, there’s a lot of pressure, especially art studies, because what you do is fundamentally useless. You know when you study law or medicine, those are big jobs. But when you go down the art path, you have to justify yourself. And that’s why I do furniture because it’s a way for me to justify my position and to give something to people. 

Who are some artists or designers you really love?

I would say Noguchi. This guy is very much like a designer, but he had incredibly beautiful collaborations with dancers. He made furniture for a stage for dancers. Beautiful. I don’t know if I will ever do such a  thing, but it was very inspiring for me. The thing is, I’m very into craft. I want to do everything by myself.  A lot of furniture designers draw their furniture, do a prototype, but then when it’s ready, they send it to some other people to make it. And I’m not ready to do that, but I know even in community art, or even if you have cool furniture that needs to be multiplied, at some point, I have to accept and assume that process of giving my things to some other people. And Noguchi had this amazing process of creation. He had many people in his shop, and he was about getting everyone involved and on the same level and learning from each other.

I also love the street artist, Swoon. And for sculpture I would say, antique greek sculpture and sculpture from the Babylonian empire.

Did you have any mentors along the way?

When I started to work, I worked in metal construction for cinema and movie theatres. I thought I knew how to weld, and it soon become clear I didn’t know how to weld by the men telling me “That’s not how you weld.” That was 10 years ago. I was very thankful for these guys because they were teachers but they didn’t know they were teaching me. I was just working with them so they needed me to work well, otherwise I was just wasting their fucking time. So that’s the way I learned.

As for other mentors, they’re sociology writers that wrote very clever things about what it is to be an artist, what it is to do public art, and what it is to be able to share your creative process with other people. So it becomes something collective and not just your own masturbative pleasure, and how to combine the two because if there is no pleasure for yourself, you don’t give anything to other people. 

What does authenticity mean to you?

I feel like I’m authentic if what I do gives me some pleasure and gives some pleasure to other people. The big times I had in my life were when I was able to say fuck it. I wanted to do something very big, I wasn’t sure I would succeed, I wasn’t sure I would make it, but I told myself that I will make it because it gives me pleasure.

I always go back to this collective stuff. I learned a lot about human relationships because this way of life is all about community. If you do things just because you have to do them, but you don’t have any inspiration to do them, it’s pointless. You don’t have to beat yourself, you just have to assume that what you’re looking for is just the pleasure of creating. Go straight to where your pleasure is. That big barn that I got is so frightening because I have to do everything myself. I have no money. I’m broke because I bought it, but I want to be here. And the countryside is beautiful and there is a horse just next to my door. And when I wake up, I can see him. And this is so cool!

Sometimes when you work as an artist, you want to represent. You have to hold some kind of reputation like, “Yeah, I’m a woman. I’m strong and tough and I’m serious, I’m professional…” But fuck that, ya know?

Any morning rituals?

On an ideal day, I don’t have much ritual because I know where I go. I could even weld in pajamas. But the rituals are more when I need support for myself, when I need to kickstart. When I’m scared of everything because everything is scary….I have to build some things, weld this... have to fix the thing...I have to call that guy that is supposed to give me this big commission, and it’s scary to have big people on the phone. So what I do first, is I drink my tea, and I think about the thing that scares me the least, and I will do that. And then the second and the third…And while I’m doing the scary things, I realize these things are not that scary. That’s the ritual.

You can find Sara's bench in Brooklyn at 38 Marcy Ave.

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