Studio Visit: Sarabeth Dunton

Sarabeth Dunton is an artist living and working in Kansas City.  Her work can be seen in PLEAT's May 2017 exhibition and sarabethdunton.com. 

Please describe your work.
I like to think my work is the product of a process of candid introspection that is consistently assaulted by the myriad inputs and outputs of daily life and the consistent pestering beep beep bloops of handheld digital interfaces....also aliens.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like we live in a simulation plagued by glitches, designed by some mysterious misanthropic overlords.  So, in order to be more optimistic, I’ve been working on plans for the aliens to come and save us all.  The blueprints are in my work.  In a way. Metaphorically speaking.  The work keeps me hopeful.  In a disillusioned sort of way.

What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices?
The world is a mess right now.  Or perhaps it has always been a terrible mess, but we weren’t so continually connected to all the events of the world.  Our circles used to be so much more immediate.  Externally, the anxiety of the world is a big influence.  It causes me to turn inward.  Art can be a brief respite.  You can design a world that makes sense.  My process is very slow, very methodical.  It requires me to be slow and move with accuracy, and in turn urges the viewer to slow down and stay in this place for a while.

Escapism is one of the major roots of my work.  As a kid I was always hiding in the corner reading, or obsessively watching the same classic musicals day after day.  I’ve always wanted to visit another world, another reality.  Through making I can do that. Currently I’m fascinated by manufactured escapism, such as cruise ships, casinos, and video games.  A lot of aesthetic influence from those things makes its way into my work.

Who are your artistic influences and what have you learned from them?
I’ve always really dug Matthew Ritchie and Paul Laffoley.  They both have this neurotic desire to explain everything, to make sense of it all.  I think my approach is much more abstracted than either of theirs, but the roots of desire are similar.  How do we approximate an understanding a universe, which is irrational and chaotic, when we ourselves desire order, even though we are paradoxically so irrational ourselves?

Architecture is a big influence as well, especially the idealistic utopian stuff of the 60s and 70s.  Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti in Arizona on one hand, Buckminster Fuller’s domes on another, and then way out in left field Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain.  The thing that really unites these works and inspires me is their motivation.  They were searching for a key that would unlock the inherent good that can exist in humanity.  At the same time there were looking for deliverance, some sort of earthly escape.  Recently I discovered Pedro Friedeberg and have been really affected by his work.  I also find myself continually turning to classical, medieval, and Renaissance work.  The root of any contemporary understanding of visual narrative starts there for me and I revisit classics regularly.

How has digital technology affected your artistic practice?
It is a great way to see the work of peers across the globe.  I think its very useful for exposure and connection.  Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll start to make work that looks better on Instagram than in IRL.  I try to step back from it whenever I can.  I want to make sure my influences are honest, intuitive, and personal, and not just trendy.  I think that the easy access to others work is good, but can also be sort of dangerous for creativity.  It’s a double edged sword.