Aug 9th, 2021
In today's episode, I welcome Sally Brown! Sally is a feminist, artist, curator, and writer, who strives to always elevate and amplify women artists and their work. She shares about her journey from art reviewer and museum curator to embracing her own unique body print artwork, and what that has taught her about being a mother, and about women in general. (Fun fact: the cover image for this episode is a photo of Sally!)
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Episode 64 - Sally Brown
Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome to Artfully Told, where we share true stories about meaningful encounters with art.
[00:00:06] Krista: I think artists help people have different perspectives on every aspect of life.
[00:00:12]Roman: All I can do is put my part in to the world.
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[00:02:11] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of our Artfully Told. I'm your host Lindsey, and I am so excited to have as my guest today, Sally Brown. She is a feminist, artist, curator and writer, and I'm so excited to dive into all the different things that she does and has dabbled in and is proficient in. And I just can't wait to have a conversation about art with you, Sally. So thank you so much for being here today. I really appreciate it.
[00:02:40] Sally Brown: Well, thanks for having me. It's an honor. I'm excited.
[00:02:43] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, of course. Well, I would love if you would share maybe a little bit about your background, what got you into all the different, cool things that you're doing and maybe what you're up to these days.
[00:02:55] Sally Brown: Yeah. Thank you. Well, it's like, how far back do I go? I was a fashion design major in undergrad before I took a drawing class and fell in love with it and just decided to be an art major. And when I graduated from undergrad though, I thought, "Oh, there's too many artists. I, I don't need to put my, my art out there." So I went into working for the galleries and museums doing fundraising and administration. And I kind of got burnt out. Then I had my babies and I kinda missed, you know, missed making art, missed being in the arts. So I started writing arts reviews for the local paper, and I also started modeling for art classes. Kind of an interesting way to get back into the arts, but that kind of led me to get more confidence to use my voice in an artistic way. And you know, if people don't buy it or see it, it doesn't matter, but I still, I had to create, so I got back into drawing and painting that way around, I dunno, 30.
[00:03:53] And I also kind of noticed I felt bad as a mom. Like I felt selfish for taking time to make art and, and in that weird art and I mean, self portraits, you know, some, some nude work and some body prints. And I was feeling like I had to have a reason for that. So I started interviewing women artists about their work and their background. And I found several local in Omaha. This is in Omaha where I'm mostly from, who are making this like unabashedly amazing figurative feminist work. And they were moms or they weren't moms, but they were doing it and they weren't afraid. And that is how I started my blog Les Femmes Folles, which means wild women in French, and I also started curating a series of exhibitions featuring women artists around the body, and in Omaha, and they're very popular. They're still popular. People could hardly get to the door. It was so exciting. So it really kind of boosted my confidence, not only to make my own work and share my voice and, and be okay with that as a mom and as a, as a woman.
[00:04:59] And also just looking to other artists, supporting other women artists, and seeing, respecting their voice in all the different ways via curating and my blog and revealing. I ended up having a a local weekly column in the paper about the arts which I greatly enjoyed. And so yeah, I started doing these body prints. I saw Yves Klein's body prints. He's modernist, mid 20th century, who did performances with women. He wore a full black suit and he directed nude women to paint on their bodies and do these body prints. And I knew of his work, but when I saw his work in DC a couple of years ago, maybe like 10 years ago, I was like, "Oh my gosh, I love this, but I have to do it." I have to be the director of the model of the artists. And I want to do it in all colors. Yves Klein did blue. I wanted to do all the colors. So that's when I started my series of body prints, and I integrated my interviews with women artists. And then my body prints.
[00:05:58] So I took like excerpts about being a woman artist or being mother artists, and I scripted them on my body prints. And so I did a series of-- my first series was "A Voice" and that was from my first series of interviews. My second series, after my first show, I noticed a lot of people asked me about being a mother and doing it, nude work. And I thought it was interesting because nobody was asking me about the work. They're asking me what my kids think, what, what are their friends think? And they see me nude and all these questions about being a mom, rather than like asking me about the work and my interviews. So my next series was about that. It was called "What Will Her Kids Think?" and I did a lot of research on mother artists and pulled quotes from both mother artists and artists about their moms, and I integrated them into my body prints.
[00:06:48] And I also started a collaborative series of drawings with my kids. When they were 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, they would make hundreds of drawings and paintings every week. And I would give some to relatives and I would keep some for keepsakes and I would recycle some. And then I thought, "Well, why don't I just play with it?" So I started doing a series of some portraits on their childhood paintings and drawings, abstract, which I continue today. I still, I use some of their homework and my body prints today are a series inspired by my master's study. My second master's degree is in art history and I focused on feminist artists. So part of the reason that I feature, I attribute feminist artists is so that I can learn about, I'm forcing myself to learn about them 'cause you don't really learn about them in main art history courses. So I've been doing my own research. I'm learning about them and then also put their names in the titles.
[00:07:45] So if somebody sees my work and they're like, "Oh, tribute to Hannah Hawkes. Who's that?" they might go look and find out about her. So right now I'm continuing my feminist tribute body prints. I'm also doing some feminist tribute drawings where I have a self portrait and a mini reproduction of a feminist artwork in the background. And I'm also, I just curated a show, Feminist Connect, with 42 international artists work co-curated with Leslie Sotomayer and all of the artwork is inspired by another feminist artist. So that's really kind of a grounding theme throughout all of my writing and curating and artwork. Yeah. So that was a long answer to your question.
[00:08:24] Lindsey Dinneen: No, I love it. No, it's great. It's really helpful to, to get some background and, and explore a little bit more about, you know yeah, what led you to what you're doing right now. So I really appreciate that. And I'm, I'm curious because, you know, feminists can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. So I'm wondering how you like to interpret that in terms of yourself being an artist and in terms of the women that you are highlighting and trying to to honor through your work. What, what do you, what does feminist mean to you in that context?
[00:08:59] Sally Brown: It means supporting other women. I mean equality, you know, someday at the very base. But to me, feminist artwork is supporting other women and youth and exploring our experiences as women, because we have been marginalized and obliterated from history and art history and our perspectives just haven't been known. So it's so important for women's stories and perspectives to be told. So even like I'll feature artists on my website and in my exhibitions that, you know, consider themselves not a feminist or like, you know, Louise Bourgeois said she never wanted to be looked at as you know a feminist artist. That's okay. I still love Louise Bourgeois. I still-- artists that consider themselves not a feminist 'cause that's, you know, that's their perspective. That's-- but mine is very broad.
[00:09:45]When I was in graduate school, I, from my art history degree, I also got a degree in feminist studies and it was so interesting. The high element of what feminism can mean? It can mean some very extreme things, but I look at it very broadly. I see them, the word "woman" very broadly. People will ask me, you know, for my blog, "Well, I'm nonbinary, can I be on your blog?" And I'm like, oh, I consider women to be very broad. I like to use the word woman, not a lot of people do in feminist theory, but I think that it's an important word because I don't want us to go back to anonymous. And so yeah, I see it very broadly. I see it as lifting women's perspectives up and positively. I'm not a deconstructionist. I'm not a critic. Those, that's great, those feminists who do that. That's, I'm appreciative of that, but that's not, that's not what I do.
[00:10:42] Lindsey Dinneen: Sure!
[00:10:42] Sally Brown: If that makes sense.
[00:10:44] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Well, thank you. I appreciate that. It's, it's helpful to just-- because it's such a broad term, like you were saying, it's, it's nice to have a little bit of context for the work that you're trying to do. And I think that's really cool what you're trying to do in, in elevating women's work, whether or not they consider themselves to be a feminist. I think that's a really admirable thing. It's not, it's not that you're ignoring what they're saying or anything like that. It's just saying that they have a place at the table too. And that's important too. Yeah. Which I really like. So I'm curious because I, I'm not a hundred percent particularly familiar with the work of sort of body prints, I think is what you were referring to. So do you mind explaining a little bit more of sort of the process of that and how that kind of comes together?
[00:11:30] Sally Brown: Sure. Yeah, it's, it's a very personal intimate process, but I do document it. I do record it and take pictures. Yeah, so it's as simple as that. I put down a big sheet in my living room and I pick out my paper and I pick out what kind of mood I'm in for the colors. The other day I did pinks and purples and yellows and reds. I was feeling very springy. And I will just paint either with a paint brush or with my hands, paint brush usually, just onto my torso. Most of mine are my torso or my side. And then I'll do just like a pushup, like on the canvas. And it's just more about the abstract image and the, the moment, you know rather than the composition. The, one of the points is that, you know, women's bodies are so scrutinized and like we're supposed to be a certain way and like all these things and, you know, in society and media. And so one of the ways that I kind of work through that is by abstracting my body. So this is what it looks like, but then you put it, use it as a brush. You put it on paper and it's just this kind of beautiful abstract image. So it's, it's kind of objectifying the body in like a-- I don't know-- an expressive and backwards objectifying way, if that makes any sense.
[00:12:51] Lindsey Dinneen: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, really cool. Okay. And so, you know, you talked a lot about it, the sort of aspect of motherhood, and it was really intriguing to me and I really think it speaks to our culture. But you know, you, you mentioned that a lot of people were asking you about being a mother and not about the work itself. And I think, again, that that's very indicative of the way our culture sort of is in general towards women. So I'm, I'm curious, you had mentioned, you know, you were, you did a lot of research on, on mothers who were also artists, and I'm wondering what the common themes that emerged were. I mean, what, how did they, how did they interpret it and how did you end up interpreting it? I don't mean it to say it in in terms of reconciling, so to speak, but, but because culture has sort of asked you to reconcile it, I'm curious how you've sort of developed that for yourself.
[00:13:49]Sally Brown: Yeah, you kind of just do it. There was a poem that I came across and ah, I think her name was Amy Shanto? It was "mothers cannot become artists because they already are." And that just like totally hit home. Like, that's what it felt like people were saying. That's what I felt like before I was even making art. I'm like, I can't make art, like the kids are my art. And then that's how people responded. So, I mean, Sally Mann, same thing, Alice Neel, like it's just the same story throughout the times. People just did not want mothers to be artists. And I remember in an undergrad, my, my, one of my professors, my favorite professor in fact said, "You cannot be a mother who'd be an artist." This was 1999. So, I mean, it's just all over. You just have to do it. My mentor, Wanda Ewing, was just, she was not a mother, but she was very familiar with people putting her work down or thinking that, you know, you don't have to do art.
[00:14:48] I mean, mother artists, yes. But also women artists and women, artists of color in general, like our perspectives are just not out there and it's sometimes surprising and shocking to see them because of the history of our perspectives not being out there. So she just said, "You got to just do it, even if it sits in your basement, even if nobody sees it, you just got to do it." And so that's kind of what I do. I'll get bad comments. Some people don't like it, some don't approve and even in my family and, but it's just like, if I don't do it and then I feel like something's missing. And I think expressing myself is an important thing. I think that everybody needs to express themselves. And I think what I'm, what I'm doing is actually a beautiful. I think the woman's body is, is beautiful. I don't think that's part of my statement and people shouldn't be afraid of it. So I think that what I'm doing, even if it's really small and nobody sees it is important.
[00:15:45] I think my kids will see that someday. And what I love is that they're not afraid of it. They have seen my art like forever. They don't question it. I remember one of my kids' friends was over once and they were like, "Why do you, why is there like a painting of a nude woman on your wall?" And like my kid's just like, "I don't know, it's just normal, you know?" So, so yeah, I think it's a good thing and throughout all my research, I pretty much found that it was just the same story. So we just got to keep doing it and people will appreciate it or not just like any other art. But I do think that the, the motherhood perspective is, is so important. And so yeah.
[00:16:25] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes. And I, and I think that that's just such a, I'm glad that you address it because I think that that is important. And I really do like what you were saying of, you know, it's, it's important to create and even if it just sits in your basement, it's, you've, you've still gotten to participate in that art creation process, which is healing and it's beneficial and it's inspiring. So yeah, kudos to you for, for doing that and, and including your kids too. And, and speaking of that, you had sort of mentioned, you know, including your kids in various artwork projects. And so I'm curious what that has kind of looked like for you and for them and sort of, how has their work influenced your own, maybe?
[00:17:07]Sally Brown: Oh yeah. Well, you know, when you're 2, 3, 4, 5, you don't think about what, you know, like, "Oh, it doesn't look like a vase, or it doesn't look like a tree." It's just, you just create, you know? And so that's part of what I love about my body, but it's just about creating, it's just about the process. So that, and then that way it definitely has inspired me not to think so much about, you know, when I make my drawings, "Oh, this doesn't look like whatever," what it really looks, whatever, supposedly it, you know, it looks like. It's just, I'm making it. And that's, that's the important part about it is the expressive point about it. And then also as they've grown, my son loves to draw and he just draws line drawings. They're just like so intricate of these game, these gaming characters, but they're just line drawings and I just love his freedom and his cute little like awkward lines.
[00:18:08] And so it just inspires me to just draw the way I draw and not-- again, not think about whether it, the depiction looks like the photograph or whatever, like it's supposed to quote, quote, supposed to And so yeah, they've inspired me in that way. And they've also helped me with my process. Like they've painted some backgrounds, they've done some like leaf prints with me. You know, they do some hand and feet prints, you know, inspired by my body prints and they'll tell me what they think they look like, which is interesting. So they'll see my body prints and they'll see something completely like, they'll see Mickey Mouse or something, and I'm like, that's so cool. Like, that's just the point. Like, I, I, I want you to see whatever you see. And so, yeah, they've, they've gotten really excited, yeah, about art. But sadly now they've almost gotten, art museum-ed out. Now it's like, "Oh, another art museum." That's okay. That's how I was too.
[00:19:06] Lindsey Dinneen: They'll come back around. It's all right. Yeah, I was the same way as a kid too. I mean, you could only take in so much, but then as an adult, it's fun to come back and see those things again and go, "Oh, okay." Yeah. I have a lot more-- I can, I can stand still for longer periods of time. We'll put it that way back. Oh, well, I love that. I love that, you know, it's freedom of expression. It's freedom of interpretation that you're gleaning from your kiddos and how that's, you know, helped you to maybe be a little bit freer in your own expression and interpretation. That's cool. That's really cool. And so, you know, I know that you also have, like, you mentioned having a column for a while, and so I'm curious, what all were you, were you critiquing, were you just talking about different art around the city or whatever? Or what, what was that column for you?
[00:19:58]Sally Brown: Yeah, it was all of that. I had mixed media, which was just kind of like, I don't know --the gossip art column, which was really fun. So I would say like, who's doing what or whatever. And then I also did critical reviews, which I continue to do. But yeah, I, The Reader was the name of the, the newspaper and that really launched me into interest, deeper interests which got me into my graduate studies and art history. And now I continue to do reviews, just freelance or independently, mostly of women, artists, or feminists art exhibits, or books of art by women. And so I really enjoy that. I enjoy the newspaper. The newspaper is my favorite because it's more loose and like kitschy and, you know, it's fast, so you gotta be fast. But when I do my academic critical reviews, it's a lot slower and more serious, but it's important. So important. So I do both.
[00:20:54] Then I do a little bit for my blog too. I started this series of, I turned 40 this year-- last year now-- but so I've been looking at feminist artists and what they did during their 40th year. So I've done a few blog posts on that. That's kind of fun. But yeah, I love, I love all aspects of art, like curating, writing and, and making. So my day job is, it's curating for the university here. So it's, it's a lot, but yet I love, I love it all. Like it all keeps me balanced. I can do one thing for a few minutes or whatever, and then switch to the other mode.
[00:21:32]Lindsey Dinneen: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And I love it too, because I think that speaks to a lot of artists' lives of sort of having their, their hands in a lot of different areas and sort of yeah, being immersed in art in many different ways and kind of switching from mode to mode to mode, but it's, it's all great because you're doing what you love, which is exciting. So, yeah. Excellent. Well, I'm curious if there are any stories in particular that kind of stand out to you as either somebody witnessing artwork that you created, or you witnessing somebody else's art, and you just had this moment that was inspirational or, or defining or something. It was just like a moment to remember.
[00:22:16]Sally Brown: Yeah, for sure. I feel like a lot of people would say this, but so one of the focuses of my master's thesis was Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party." And it actually wasn't going to be. My focus was just going to be on feminist artists in general. But my one of my professors was like, "Well, you're going to New York to see "The Dinner Party," you know, this monumental feminist art. And I'm like, "Oh, but everybody knows 'The Dinner Party.'" Like whatever. When I went to see it the first time though, it was, it was amazing. When you go through art museums and history museums your whole life and much, my parents drove me to, and I've always gotten to do, and you see art by men, and then you see history of wars and political figures who are men. It's just so amazing to walk into an exhibit that is fully dedicated to women throughout Western history.
[00:23:13] And so it's this big dinner table triangle. I don't know if you're familiar with it. It's in the Brooklyn museum now. It was made '76 to '79 by 400 volunteers. Judy Chicago led it and there's 39 place settings each dedicated to a woman in Western history and they're themed. There's ceramic plates and then there's a runner underneath each one. And then along with them, there is the floor, which has 999 more names of women in Western history. And then outside of there-- I could go on about this-- but basically there's the history of these women on panels and this history I did not know. Like it was amazing. I was, I was whatever, 30-- I'm 40 now-- and first time seeing this, I was like, "How do I not know this history?" And it was just mind blowing and it was beautiful and it was, it's all darkly lit. She hasn't darkly lit and the, the background of the table is mirrors. So you can see yourself to infinity and it's just, it's really inspiring. And of course there's critical feminist issues with it, but, but I, what I take away is the impact of women and how we need to recognize it and how it hasn't been recognized. So that was a huge part of inspiration moment of my artistic life.
[00:24:37] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, how cool. And yeah, that is something that I definitely would love to see in person, because I'm sure that the pictures do not do it justice as to the impact, you know, like most artwork, I suppose, but something like that-- that, and just the magnitude and, yeah, so much that we don't know that we're not taught that it's important. So. Very, very cool. Well, this has been awesome. And I'm sure that there are listeners who would love to connect with you, maybe view some of your own artwork, follow your journey, read your blog. Is there a way for them to do that?
[00:25:15]Sally Brown: Yeah, I would say the easiest is my Instagram, which is @sallery_art. So it's S A L L E R Y underscore art. So that's the best way. And then it has my link tree with all of my different, you know, websites and whatnot. So thank you so much. This has been really fun.
[00:25:34] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, of course! Good. Yes. And I do encourage everyone to check out her artwork. It's, it's exciting. It's unique. And it's also really inspiring and, and elevating, and I liked that, so, yes, absolutely. And I do like to ask my guests the same three questions if you're up for that.
[00:25:53] Sally Brown: Sure.
[00:25:53] Lindsey Dinneen: Okay, perfect. Well, first of all how do you personally define art or what is art to you?
[00:25:59]Sally Brown: My kids would be so annoyed. Art is everything. Art is the way to see. I mean, if I was going to get particular, I would say it's something that is, it's expressed. But if you look at things in different ways, anything can be art. I don't know.
[00:26:14]Lindsey Dinneen: No, no, of course. Okay. And then, what do you think is the most important role of an artist?
[00:26:21]Sally Brown: I think to express themselves and make their voices heard because we're, we're documenting life in a creative way for history. So just continuing to do it and using their voice in different ways is just, is the most important role for them. So, yeah, just doing it.
[00:26:41] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. It kind of ties into your earlier theme of creating even just for your own sake. Okay. And then my final question, and I'll define my terms a little bit, but do you think that art should be inclusive or exclusive? And by inclusive, I'm referring to an artist who puts their work out into the world and includes some context behind it, whether that's a title or show notes, or the inspiration, just something to give the audience a little bit of that context. Versus exclusive referring to an artist who puts their work out there and doesn't provide the context. So it's left entirely up to the viewer to determine what they will.
[00:27:20]Sally Brown: Oh, I'm totally all about inclusive, because that's what brings people who aren't knowledgeable. That's what makes them scared is if they go into this white cube gallery and there's no context, they're like, "I don't get this. I don't, what is this? Like this isn't for me." But if you include like your title, like a little context, a little story, and that's what's very important about women artists as well, and documenting their, their story and their life to go along with their art. So I'm all about inclusive art, very much so. Accessibility to the max.
[00:27:52] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Well, and I appreciate that, you know, because I, I agree too, because I think sometimes it can be super intimidating, especially if you haven't had the chance to experience a lot of art or you hadn't grown up around art. So I, I appreciate that you're wanting to include people who might not otherwise know how to appreciate it, or even try, you know? Well, again, thank you so very much, Sally, for being here today and for sharing your own journey and what you're up to these days and the way that you're empowering women and, and your own kiddos and, and all these different avenues that you express yourself through your art. I know you're making the world a better place, and I appreciate that. Thank you.
[00:28:39] Sally Brown: Aw, you are! Thank you for your wonderful work. Thank you, Lindsey.
[00:28:43] Lindsey Dinneen: Oh, of course. No, this is, this is my happy place. I love chatting art with people, so. Well, and thank you so much to everyone who has listened to this episode. And if you're feeling as inspired as I am, I would love if you would share this with a friend or two, definitely check out Sally's work, and we will catch you next time.
[00:29:05] If you have a story to share with us, we would love that so much. And I hope your day has been Artfully Told.
[00:29:14]Hi friends. I wanted to share with you another podcast that I think you're going to fall in love with just as I have. It's called Harlem with a View, and it is hosted by Harlem Lennox, who was a previous guest of mine on Artfully Told and a dear friend. Just because it looks easy doesn't mean it is. There is so much that goes into the work of your creative. She wants to know how the artists got into their line of work, what inspires them, but most importantly, what keeps them going? She'd asked them about how they make it through the blood, sweat, and tears. She wants to know what it's like to live this creative life: the good, the bad, the ugly, and even the magical. So she goes behind the scenes with creatives, from different genres and she explores their history, their take on life and talks about the business of art and the dedication of making art. She has a brilliant, brilliant platform. I think you will fall in love. I highly recommend that you search for Harlem with a View. Thanks!