SARAH BLOOD: SHE BENDSSydney Cummings
“Neon has taught me so much about patience, failure, and perseverance. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever learned how to do—but is also the most rewarding when you get it right. I feel like there’s no standing still with neon, you’re either learning, or backsliding, and that’s an exciting place to be.”- Sarah Blood
Born and raised in the UK but now a resident of New York, Sarah Blood has been creating neon ever since she bought her first ribbon burner from Abitech in 2007.
“The thing that initially drew me to neon wasn’t just the quality of light, but it was the way it made me feel, being in the presence of neon is such a visceral experience,” Sarah said. “It’s still my favorite thing about working with neon, in fact I think having a deeper relationship to the medium and the making only enhances this.”
Sarah’s first neon class was at the Glass Furnace, in Istanbul Turkey in 2004 with Michael Caine. Her second was in 2005 at Pilchuck Glass School with David Svenson.
After taking the neon workshops, Sarah struggled to find other neon makers and signwriters who were prepared to work with artists in the UK—until she met Julia Bickerstaff in Wakefield.
“Julia has always been a generous mentor and an infinite source of knowledge,” Sarah said. “Her support and friendship made it possible to even consider a practice centered around neon.”
When asking about her favorite piece of neon she made an analogy about asking that is like asking which is her favorite child. After contemplation she landed on two pieces- “Echo” and “When I’m Shining” shown in the gallery below.
“Echo is made from convex surveillance mirrors, neon and VHS tapes that creates a volume in space which disappears from certain angles and moves with the lightest breeze. It explores the idea of data as a mechanism of power. Information and resources are abundant, yet access is strictly reserved for the privileged few who have the tools and means to gain access.”
“When I’m Shining consists of LEDs and reflector caps (carnival lights) mounted on the exterior of a cardboard box. The interior shows the working mechanisms; DMX box and microcomputer which have been programed to animate the LEDs. Acting as a counter point to Echo, When I’m Shining is literally a shimmering beacon of light. It speaks of hope, acceptance and to the radical pursuit of pleasure, knowledge and claiming one’s own power.”
Sarah said she has been a long-term fan of clear 10mm tubing, she enjoys seeing the individual gasses in their natural state. She’s recently been experimenting with phosphor coated tubes.
“I’m really into in all the different whites that are available at Abitech, I know this doesn’t sound exciting, but there’s so much richness that can be found between the coolest and warmest tones.”
Sarah said that her work always starts with a single thought—even if it’s just an inkling. Form and materials follow for her.
“Working in this way often means that the appropriate material for the work isn’t neon, but light is always a central theme. When I talk about light, I’m also talking about its absence. Light gives us colour, warmth, and life, but we cannot perceive form, texture, and depth without the shadows.
“While I love neon, I also enjoy stripping away its’ inherent ‘neonness’ by disrupting, obscuring or extinguishing its light completely when needed. My current research covers themes of invisibility, structures of power and inequitable systems. I’m exploring light, sound and movement using contemporary and obsolete technologies with traditional and non-traditional art-making materials.”
Sarah is on sabbatical from teaching neon and sculpture at Alfred University this fall and is looking forward to having uninterrupted time in her studio, experimenting with new ideas.
“The neon industry has historically been dominated by white males and not always an accessible or safe space for femme-bodies or people of colour. She Bends has played an important role in shining a light on this. Until the first group exhibition at MONA in Los Angeles (2017) I had no idea that my struggles within the neon industry were not unique. Meeting a network of female identifying artists who shared the same stories has been incredibly empowering.
Not everyone likes it, and they don’t have to, it’s provided a space for people who have previously been denied a place at the table, which is a good thing for the whole industry. Community is everything; none of us can thrive in isolation. We have a long way to go, but it’s a start.”
HER HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Sarah is a firm believer in being honest and open with knowledge and resources, building a “more accessible and equitable community.”
“To approach neon with a criticality; all material carries meaning, so when you choose neon what are you trying to say? Neon is gorgeous without doing anything to it, so what else are you bringing to the table?”
Her goal as an educator is to equip her students with all the tools they need to be competitive in the world in the ways they want to participate.
“When I see my former students out there, making their work and doing well, it makes my heart sing.”
SKATING INTO THE PRESENT
When she isn’t teaching or creating her own work, Sarah enjoys roller skating at the roller rink, dance skating and also at the skate park.
“While teaching and my artistic practice challenge me mentally and creatively, I love how skating keeps me firmly present in my body and the music,” Sarah said. “My cat Lenny should probably get an honourable mention too. I’ve taught him how to high five and jump through a hoop, but he hasn’t taken to tube bending, the ribbon burner’s too loud for him.”
HOW TO SUPPORT
Follow Sarah on Instagram at @sarah_blood
Also, attend the upcoming show “Through a Glass, Darkly” at the Delaware Contemporary opening September 2022 to see some of Sarah’s work there along with other artists. Learn more here.
Also in September, catch some of her work at “Small Neon” at the Ken Saunders Gallery in Chicago.