Five-Dots is a Cincinnati-based online publication that hopes to open a conversation between artists/craftsman and the public about their work, process, ideas, concerns about their community and workspace.
Made in Cincinnati vendor and fine artist Megan Bickel helms this project with partner and photographer Cassandra Zetta. They release a new interview with a local creative, artist or maker regularly on their site including — this interview with artist Sea Sprang.
Sea Sprang is a non-binary trans artist, writer, and DIY enthusiast working out of the Brighton neighborhood in Cincinnati. They have a strong desire to keep their hand visible in their work. They moved from a country town in northeastern Ohio to Cincinnati in 2008 to acquire their BFA from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. They decided to stay after they earned their degree in 2012.
Sea is engaged with a variety of mediums, often bouncing from one to another to problem solve in the studio. They are focused primarily on topics around autonomy, bodies, gender, and societally conceived notions of what is 'non-normative,' as well as tapping into themes of emotional vulnerability. They currently communicate mainly through painting/drawing and writing, though are finding themself experimenting in embroidery, beading, button making, paper cutting, zine-making, and collage as well. The nature of their practice can, at times, seem a little erratic, but it makes complete sense to 'Sea. The more 'tools' they have, the better.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Sea Sprang: I have been here since February. I moved here in February as a resident. Actually, something that’s kind of fun about this space: the woman that lived here before me was also an artist-- she was a sculptor. This room was also her studio.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
SS: The only thing I was really sure about was that I wanted to designate this room as my studio. It definitely shifted as I moved in here because I came from an apartment where all of my belongings were in the same room. I had to share the space with another individual. So it was really hard to maintain a studio practice. I briefly had a studio with Ellina [Chetverikova] at Engine 22 that was over on Central and 15th. When I first moved in I was kind of unsure of what I was doing in the space and so I was kind of just moving things around a lot. I was trying to get acclimated to having this space to myself. I’d say in the past three months I’ve been finally getting back into working every day. I do really like the light and so I tend to move around that.
F-D: Do you think of this space as seasonal?
SS: Yes, definitely. I have noticed myself moving with the light changing as fall is approaching.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
SS: I always had a hard time with studios that weren’t at home because I have days where it becomes hard to physically get here after a long day at work [Sea works at the Contemporary Art Center], especially if I have to take care of the dog, and get all of my stuff and just be a person: make sure I don't smell bad and whatnot. I would rather just be here. I also don’t like to wear shoes in the studio, so the idea of having to put on shoes to go somewhere is like, “ugh, no”. I thought I would be a struggle when adjusting to having the in home space, but it’s been a really easy transition. I’m just able to go about my day. . . come in and do some work, grab some food when I need to. . . keep the music playing to entice myself to come back in to the studio. It just works.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?
SS: I try to get up early every day.
F-D: What is early for you?
SS: Early for me is like, 7ish. I want to be getting up earlier but it’s getting colder and it’s staying darker longer and I have seasonal depression and some mornings it’s just really hard to get up when the sun isn’t up yet. I feed the pup, have my coffee, eat, get my exercise, and then get in here as soon as I can. If I have to head into work than I only have like 30 minutes to an hour in here, but if I don’t than I have some flexibility around my day. I can get my home stuff done and then work in here for anywhere from 3 to 8 hours.
F-D: What is your usual form of transportation for getting to and from work?
SS: I usually just take my bike. It’s a pretty easy ride when the weather is ok. I’m going to make an effort to ride later into the winter than I have been before.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
SS: It bounces around a lot. I tend to work on several different things all at once. There is the embroidery stuff that I’m playing with, the painting, the drawing, paper cutting, writing, as well as some zines that I am playing around with.
F-D: Can you talk a little bit about the patches?
SS: I guess the patches take on a straight forward stance on topics around gender and sexuality, and the conventional versus the non conventional. I started doing them as a way to be more forward with myself as well as others about my own personal politics as well as my own identity as a non binary trans person. It gave me a way to talk to people about that experience. A lot of my work tends to be very therapeutic. It's funny, my Mom always did a lot of crafty things, I think that’s why, as a kid, I always had a weird aversion to crafty things. You know, because you feel like you need to get away from these kitschy things when your getting into fine art. I feel less strongly about that now.
F-D: Yea, I think that is an idea that they attempt to instill in you when you are in art school. Just to get you away from things that your familiar with.
SS: And it’s a weird elitism.
F-D: Oh, yea absolutely, it's just harkens back to a patriarchal approach to art making-- leave the crafts to the ladies back at home and what not.
SS: I just don’t really vibe with that anymore. Although, I do have a bit of a hard time trying to make the two work together.
F-D: Have you thought about doing these on a larger scale, or is having them small and intimate an important factor for you?
SS: I want to. But I initially started them to become more open about myself and my politics, it was a way for me to open up about things that I might otherwise be afraid or unwilling to even share with others-- especially things regarding my gender and whatnot. I never made them to sell or give to people, I was just making them to make them. But then others started to identify with them in the same way that I did. So I began to like that others could take them and alter their clothing and customize their own appearance a bit. I wanted my clothes to be less generic, so I wanted others to have access to that as well. But I do want to make larger things, I just haven’t strategized how to do that yet. I’m trying to figure out how to combine more of this work [points at larger drawings] with the embroidery. . . Like scrolls or something. I do think that these apply to the larger work-- but they are focused more on me. It’s a little bit more of the trope of focusing on yourself within your own work than I'm used to, but on the other end, I spent an awful lot of time making work not about myself and not focusing on what I looked like because I didn’t fit into that conventional body type and I wasn’t a very feminine person-- I didn’t really identify with that, and didn’t have a language for that up until the last couple of years. For me it’s somewhat defiant, not intentionally political, but people interpret it that way.
F-D: I think it invariably is political when you confront a body norm. . .
SS: Because people don’t really consider the body when you work from a thin model. But if you put someone who is obviously different into your work, who maybe isn’t often portrayed in the media, it does become something that is interpreted as a political gesture. I guess there is a little bit of defiance in that. But yes, for me it’s a way to find a visual language to identify my body. I’d also like to get in touch with other bigger models too. But they have been surprising hard to get in touch with. I know a few models that are a little bit bigger-- but, I’m a pretty big person and I haven’t met a lot of models that are my size. At least in Cincinnati.
F-D: What mediums do you work with or what are you experimenting with?
SS: Right now I am experimenting with a lot of wet media. Mostly ink and watercolor. I’m doing a little bit of paper cutting. Every time I get stuck I end up learning something new. Like, when I was at the Art Academy, I got stuck and then I found paper cutting, and then that ended up being my senior exhibition. It always becomes another tool that I can use to keep pushing through with my idea. The most recent thing I’ve been using a lot of is India Ink and watercolors, that way I can work on it and then let it dry and it won’t pick up or bleed. I always wanted to do more with watercolors and was intimidated. So I finally pushed myself to work more with them. I bounce around and so when I get bored I can go work on something completely different. I can hop around from the paintings to the embroidery, to the paper cutting to the zines.
F-D: Yes! What’s happening with the zines?
SS: I don’t know yet! I only have 1 and ½ completed. The first is Body Apologies-- it’s an intentionally awkward approach to honestly talking about body sensitivity. It’s just me like, “I want to talk about this and you don’t want to, so I’m just going to put this right here and you're gonna read it”. They’re also little notes to myself about how I treated myself when I was younger, when I had a lot more self-loathing in me, and kind of addressing those hard topics and being honest with the ways that I want and am working to be better to myself. I think that is a topic that most of us don’t want to discuss-- our insecurities and those things and events that build you up as you get older. But it is important to signify those things that make you who you are.
F-D: And there is this a weird biases within the art community against speaking to our insecurities, or even subjects that regard mental illness and sort of darker crevices of interpersonal being. There seems to be a perception that speaking to it isn’t valuable, or that it is self-obsessive. But a lot of people deal with this, it is a socio-political issue, we need to be discussing this.
SS: There is a poet that I follow: Lora Mathis, and they talk a lot about embracing vulnerability in your work and I love a quote of their's that says, “Use emotionality as a radical tactic in a society that teaches you that it is a sign of weakness”. There is that weird stigma that it is ‘typical’ or ‘generic’ to talk about depression.
F-D: Can you tell us more about this process and how it has evolved?
SS: I think that thematically everything is connected, but I also think that everything is connected in the meticulousness of them. The paper cutting was the first meticulous thing that I was working on and then I found that when I switched to embroidery, that it caused me to slow down and be patient with my work in the same way that the paper cutting did. I think it has benefitted me a lot-- I used to really rush through my work and I wasn’t allowing my hand to show or for the idea to really work itself out for me. And that is why the writing became so important-- I’d get an idea and write it down and then I’d have time to sit with it and percolate the idea for a couple of months and keep dissecting it. So there is no fast process for me. All of those things slow me down and force me to be more patient. It forces me to put myself in it.
Read the full interview with Sea Sprang here.
Five-Dots interviews are co-published by Made in Cincinnati in an effort to expand awareness of local artists and their craft. Interviews by Megan Bickel. Photos by Cassandra Zetta.