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.
F-D: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?
SS: Not always. I mean a lot of my works have my writing incorporated into them and that is always a more vulnerable expression of emotion. The writing sneaks into the representational work. So I don’t know-- it’s a hard question.
F-D: I mean, maybe it’s not that there is an inherent narrative, but maybe your work intertwines writing and visual cues that the mind wants a story to be there. It’s similar to abstraction in that viewers tend to want to find a representational image there when there isn’t. Your explaining something, but you aren’t telling a story.
SS: Yea, perhaps.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?
SS: Definitely, 100% yes. When I was younger I went in and out of making work that was about me. I think that the more I focus on my own shit and the things that are happening in my life and use that in my work, the more I make things that I know and can speak to strongly. Which I presume makes my work stronger. I’m not pulling directly from an abstract idea, I’m pulling from what I perceive every day.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
SS: I follow fashion a lot. I was apart of the Radical Visibility Show at Thunder-Sky Inc earlier this year and I met skycubacub, who makes a line called Rebirth Garments, out of Chicago. They design clothing that is all size, gender, and disability inclusive. So they make clothing for everybody. Everything is made custom for everyone. But everything they make is very poppy and bright. They’re fashion shows aren't on a typical runway, they are always a dance party. Lora Mathis is another important one, Lauren Crow is a photographer out of Portland. She is also heavy set, has a lot of honest, real, and quirky stuff. Also talks about mental illness a lot. I’ve also followed Tess Holiday-- I’m not so much into her aesthetic as I am in her politics. When I think of when I was 12 and wearing a size 14, there were no clothing for people my age and size. It was all geared towards people in their 40’s and 50’s. For her to be producing lines and representing those who are fat is awesome. She isn’t just passable fat, meaning that you are pear shaped with a thinner face, arms and neck. But she is just big everywhere-- she’s amazing. I love her a lot. That for me would’ve been great to see when I was little. So I’m excited that young kids are able to have that. Because it means that those kids are already so much further in getting rid of all of that awful shit in their head about their appearance. They are enough as they are.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
SS: It means that I can make messes and leave them and then I can come back to them and they look the same. I can attach these things that I am working through with a space. Instead of just working in an arbitrary space within the home. It’s great to have a space in which the only thing that is projected onto it are the things that I am working on inside of it. It’s good for me. It’s easier to stay focused and there is a weird transformative mental space that I enter when I come in here.
F-D: Do you prefer to have a studio in your home? Do you think in an ideal world you would have a separate space, or do you think the oneness of having your studio and home in the same space is important to you?
SS: I think it is important to me. I’m also very utilitarian and I like using my time and space as efficiently as I can. I also don’t have a car, and so having to pack up Gaia and ride my bike or work the bus system is just very time consuming. And so having everything here is the best for me, my time, and mental space.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
SS: I’m working on getting a website up as well as getting some zines out. I feel like they’re a very accessible way to get your work out. Because those larger pieces have to be price pointed much higher because I have poured so much work into them. It’s easy to make a zine and run it through the photocopier 50 times and then sell them for $3-$5 a pop. It’s a little way for someone to have some of your work without the financial investment. There is that annoying thing of wanting to live off of what you make, but I don’t want my work to only be accessible to those who can afford the expensive things. I want people who can relate to me to be able to have these things in their home. I don’t want them to feel like it isn’t for them.
F-D: Do you think of the zines as more of a cultural object, as a lot of zines are, or do you think of them more as an art object?
SS: Well, since the critique of culture is present in my work, I still think of them as an art object.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
SS: There are a bunch of people making work about unconventional bodies and queerness that is relatable to what I am making right now. Frances Cannon, out of the UK, makes a lot of work with little drawings with these chubby little figures that have these charming little affirming quotes. There is also ambivalentlyyours who has a lot of watercolors that are usually pink and touch on the same topics. There is also a zine artist based out of Chicago who goes by sbtl cling (pronounced: subtle ceiling) who touches on mental illness and depression.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
SS: I’ve already touched on a few, but two of my favorites include one by Sandra Cisneros:
“I do want to create art beyond rage. Rage is a place to begin, but not to end. I’m not as wise as my work, but I know if I take the writing deep enough, something larger and greater than myself will flash forth and illuminate me, heal me. I do want to tdevour my demons-- despair, grief, shame, fear, -- and use them to nourish my art. Otherwise they’ll devour me.”
I think that it’s interesting to think of your difficult things as something that fuels your work. The other is a quote by Anne Carson:
“If you are not the free person you want tot be you must find a place to tell the truth about that. To tell how things go for you. Candor is like a skein being produced inside the belly day after day it has to get itself woven out somewhere. You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer. You could inscribe a curse on a ribbon of lead and bury it in the ground to lie unread for thousands of years. The point is not to find a reader, the point is the telling itself.”
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
SS: It’s always such an awkward question. I always try to say I’m an artist first. Sometimes artist and writer. I’ve been trying less and less of an explanation.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
SS: I work way less than I probably should. I work in between 30 and 35 hours a week and I just live very frugal. So my finances have been the biggest sacrifice.
F-D: Do you think there have been emotional / social risks in being as open about your politics and identity as you have been?
SS: I think that it feels that way pretty often, but I think a lot of that is more internal than actual.
F-D: Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?
SS: So, [Gina Rodriguez], the actress who plays Jane Villanueva on Jane the Virgin recently won her first Golden Globe and in her speech she shared this quote that her father told her everyday: “Today is great day. I can and I will”. Sometimes you just need to barrel through it and you can. And you will.
You can and you will. :)