Last year Sarah Gail was in an accident. Biking down New High Street in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, she made a left onto Cesar Chavez Avenue at which point a car hit her, drove over her bike, and sped off. Over the past year she’s endured insurmountable pain, dealt with depression, and has been left without her two front teeth. Yet this tumultuous time has also been a period of personal reawakening, where Sarah Gail has discovered a greater stronghold on who she, what is important to her, and who of those in her life support and understand her.
Sarah’s background and artistic drive are impressive. After long focusing on education — she was pre-med in college, studied Neuroscience at Michigan State University, and was offered a spot in Michigan State’s graduate school of Neuroscience — she voluntarily left her academic life behind in order to pursue an art-centered life in Los Angeles. She bounced from couch to couch until she single-handedly built a foundation for herself and became increasingly surrounded by other artists who empowered her creativity. Whether it’s painting, writing, assembling zines, or staging a performance, creating art is a very spiritual and emotional experience for Sarah Gail. We had a chance to catch up with Sarah before the opening of her solo show at Human Resources to talk all things creative, working with Mutant Salon for their performances at the Broad and the Hammer Museum, and the new video she recently made with director Karim Meg and producer Mary Moutry (CA$HOUT) about her accident.
Give me a little background about yourself; where are you from? How did you originally make your entrance into art and writing?
I was born in Fontana, CA and grew up in Pomona and Claremont. I was very much into stage acting as a child and that passion continued throughout my youth. It was was on the stage, performing, that I felt free and empowered for the first time. I was able to affect people in a very intimate way. Though theatre was my passion, the majority of my efforts were focused on education and soccer. I was pre-med in college in Cleveland, OH, and studied Neuroscience at Michigan State University. After receiving an offer to Michigan State’s graduate school in Neuroscience, I left that life behind and began my life as an artist in Los Angeles. I left suburbia because of the classism, racism, and overall lack of culture.
When I came to Los Angeles I was homeless, sleeping on friends couches. I felt that this was necessary for me to find myself and build a foundation based on my own merit. Los Angeles became my home because of the immense opportunities available to artists and the Queer POC community that has welcomed me with open arms and aided in my growth. In 2014 I joined a poetry group called the WOMEN group that inspired me to write down my thoughts and share my poetry more consistently. My first performance art piece in Los Angeles was with my friend Fenex Lopez and was called Hooker Island where I created a fictional island where sex work is legal. It took place on September 27th, 2014 at Echo Chamber in Echo Park. Ever since then, my art practice has changed based on what I want to communicate with my audience and how I want to affect my community.
You work across a range of mediums – everything from paint, illustration, zines, writing and performance – how does your process differ when working in each media or is it more that your work is what is because everything is integral?
I am drawn to the relationship an artist has with their audience, and the way the audience responds to and interacts with the work. I enjoy imagining the lasting effects my art has and in what ways my ideals can seep into the hearts and minds of others. Creating art is a very spiritual and emotional experience for me. Ideas often ruminate in my mind for quite some time before I figure out what I’m going to do with them. Most of the time is spent evaluating in what way my emotions are tied to the work, and what events in my past have led me to this point. The healing aspect of completing art comes from knowing that I have fully acknowledged my emotions and have successfully expressed myself.
Writing would have to be my go to medium because I can look back on the entries and remind myself of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I usually paint what I see in my dreams, which can be very enlightening because the time I spend with the painting forces me to address why I made up the image in my mind in the first place.
What came first for you creatively: your visual work or your writing?
My visual work has always been a part of my creativity. The first piece of art I can remember making was a mask I made in Kindergarten. This was also the year I enjoyed making mud cities during lunch until my Mother told me I had to stop because I was coming home dirty everyday. I also sewed clothes for my Barbies as a little girl. I have always enjoyed making things with my hands and whatever tools I had available to me.
Tell me a little about your writing process.
I write whatever I am thinking about at the time. It often happens when I am overcome by emotions; writing a poem is my way of forcing myself to deal with these emotions. It ranges from self-affirmations, to love letters, to rants, to fantasies. I also write poems and entries that I know I am going to share with an audience; for this I often like to make the audience feel uncomfortable by forcing them to address what it is that I’m saying.
What are some reoccurring themes in your poetry and writing?
Blackness, love, spirituality, dreams, sexuality, and community. I like to observe how the world behaves and how we as people exist upon this Earth. I feel that exploring and expressing all parts of myself is important.
Do you feel like, as an artist, you have a certain obligation to take on socio-political issues and subjects – that others like to dance around and stray away from talking about – in your work?
I feel that any artist who does not use their art to help their community and the world as a whole is shit. The career of an artist is special one, where your art directly affects the way people view the world, and themselves. An artist who fails to take that into account is egotistical and shallow. I feel the need to tell my story because there are so many out there who do not believe that what they have to say is important. I want these people to know that their self-expression and very existence is not only important, but necessary. I also tell my story because there are so many out there who would like to silence me and continue to ignore the way the world really is.
Tell me a little about your work with Mutant Salon. How did you get involved?
I have worked with Mutant Salon for their performances at the Broad and the Hammer Museum. Both times, I was approached by Yung Joon Kwak to participate in the event and collaborated with everyone based on the theme and vision of the show. I was compelled to work with Mutant Salon because the overall theme encompasses freedom of sexual expression and artistic expression. When I walk into one of the shows I feel that I am transported to another world; a better world. A world where a person doesn’t have to feel ashamed of who they are.
How does your day to day in Los Angeles inform your creativity? What’s currently inspiring you?
I am inspired by living life and watching others do the same. Being in nature, chilling with friends, riding bikes, little Black children, and educating myself inspire me.