By Sarah Skinner
With her exhibition Hidden Strengths opening at Banks Mill Studios at the end of August, Sarah Skinner of ARt ChaiRs talks chairs, art and creative support in Derby.
Hidden Strengths is my first exhibition. I’m really interested in the idea of chairs as sculptural objects as much as things to sit on so it is going to be really interesting to display them in a white-walled exhibition space. There will be chairs you can sit on but reupholstered in my statement style: I contrast brightly-coloured wool fabric with utilitarian upholstery webbing,using it as a decorative feature. There will also be a couple of more exploratory, conceptual works, where I investigate the memories a chair might hold, it’s something I’m fascinated by.
If I think back, one of the key starting points was attending a couple of different taster courses at the Derbyshire Eco Centre and then seeing a reupholstery course advertised that took place over a couple of weekends. I signed up for it and loved all the different aspects: the stripping back, cleaning and nourishing the wood, then reupholstering: making a piece of furniture useful again,making it stylish, beautiful again.
Going way back, I remember being intrigued when my mum started to go to junk shops and antique places rather than city centre shops for furniture. She wanted something different and absolutely loved a bargain! That idea of the pleasure of the ‘hunt’, never really knowing what gem you might stumble upon, is still a really enjoyable aspect of what I do in my own searches for the ‘perfect’ chair.
I do have an ethic: I won’t upholster a chair just because I don’t like the fabric, I’ll only upholster something if it needs upholstering. And I also have developed an aesthetic: I find myself looking out for chairs that to me seem ‘sculptural’ or ‘skeletal’. Because I use high quality materials and fillings andbecause traditional upholstery methods are quite slow, the chair has to be worth it!
I studied Art History and I used to be a Fine Art Curator so it seems that I’ve not been able to help bringing that experience and that outlook into my work as artist and creative upholsterer!! The support of the Contemporary Art Society was crucial for me as a curator and when I worked at Nottingham Castle I had the freedom to mix historic, modern and contemporary art work in the huge Long Gallery space.I love how something very modern contrasts with yet reflects something in a painting created 100 or 200 years earlier. I guess I’m drawing on that in my upholstery work, that actually, a really contemporary fabric approach can enhance and make new an old chair.
Creative Support in Derby
A crucial step for me in taking seriously my creative approach to upholstery was, as Virginia Woolf said, getting ‘A Room of One’s Own’. I discovered the gorgeous spaces in the historic Banks Mill Studios building on one of their Open weekends. It took me a while to pluck up courage to apply and I remember bringing a footstool in a carrier bag to the interview! Having a studio space has made me take my work seriously and has given me space to work and develop my ideas. I definitely had ‘imposter syndrome’ and it has taken a long time to become confident in what I am doing now and the ideas I want to develop in the future.
Business support at Banks Mill is great and the creative coaching of Filomena Rodriguez, via The Big House has been incredibly important to the path I’m carving out. It has been great to discover and ‘Zoom’ along to the CreativeMornings Derby network and find that creative industries support system. I’ve definitely felt I needed something different to a standard business network and feel I’m now on the road to finding that balance between making a living and creating the kind of work I really want to.
Hidden Strengths runs from 23 August -17 September 2021
For more information: www.artchairs.net/hiddenstrengths