Today I woke up in odd mood and decided to release one image from my “Sham-Show” collection. None of these copies ever touched the internet. There are a total of six endorsements that are more humorous than the last and I’ll feature on STP every so often, with more context perhaps (even though its self explanatory). Each were a public announcement that I considered as a hoax but the undertaking was evident. Each bulletin was commercially exhibited near each gallery/institution and received no true consequence.
Sara reimagined Woolrich’s iconic sheep logo for this limited edition shirt. This collaboration between Woolrich and Serving the People marks the beginning of an exciting partnership between both organizations.
CRUSH : Do you like giving interviews?
SARA: No, actually. I don’t really go back and read them because I trip and overthink but I don’t think I’ve said anything horrible. I just don’t think about them.
CRUSH: That’s healthy. When people search you, they might be reading about a version of you that doesn’t exist anymore, but it comes with the territory. Coming to New York to pursue a life or career—while bringing some perspective of where you come from—is quintessentially New York. Build me a 72 hour itinerary for Ohio.
SARA: I’m from Cincinnati and I think it’s the best city in Ohio. I didn’t ever really kick it there because as soon as I graduated high school I left to come to New York. I’ve been here for like eleven, twelve years. But I can’t answer that question about Ohio because when I lived here I was just like, “Fuck this whole place.” When I visit now I don’t mind it as much because the nature is pretty, everyone is nice, and it’s definitely a slower pace.
CRUSH: The range you display within your portfolio is impressive. Rather than showing off all of the mediums you’re capable of working with, it reads more as the ability to capture expression in a variety of impactful ways. You’ve been referred to as a masterful observer—do you feel that your work is more about your subjects or for yourself?
SARA: Myself for sure.
CRUSH: So the subjects are the vessels by which you say what you want to say?
SARA: Every single thing is me. It’s always me. And sometimes the little cartoons will actually look like me. Even if I’m drawing someone else, I’m drawing myself in them—which is narcissistic.
CRUSH: What compels you to start?
SARA: I’ll see something that I like or something that makes me laugh. I consider myself a glorified fan girl. There are some artists that I really, really like and I’m like, “Oh shit, I want to do that.” And I try to do it with my own fingerprint. Or sometimes I’ll think of something that’s really fucking funny and I just want to draw it. You can probably see that distinction in the work—which ones are supposed to be funny and which ones I focus on technique.
CRUSH: For sure. Who are some of those artists that you really fuck with?
SARA: Antonio Lopez, Shel Silverstein, and Satoshi Kon. I really like a lot of animation. I love Frank Frazetta and a lot of sci-fi art.
CRUSH: The past two years have absolutely flown by and deep quarantine felt like sci-fi IRL.
SARA: It was like a collective fever dream. What was that?
CRUSH: I don’t know if there was a defined ending either, it just gradually changed. When I look back at articles and interviews from that time period they all feel similarly coded. It’s interesting to recognize a pattern of people shifting entire thought processes all at once. In a more recent article from PRINT you said you’ve somewhat lost yourself because you haven’t been working on a whole lot of personal projects since 2019—mostly client work—and that timeline predates the pandemic. I’m curious what you think it takes to break the cycle and why it’s important.
SARA: I’m just not sad about it. It’s my own fault if I’m not working on personal projects. Maybe I’ve also reframed my thinking that every single job can still be personal. I used to spend a lot of time doing personal stuff because I wasn’t getting hired, and then I started getting hired and I missed it. Now I just don’t think about it and if I want to do more personal work, I’m just gonna have to carve out time for it because the jobs aren’t stopping.
CRUSH: It’s a survival mechanism to a degree.
SARA: Everything stops one day. If I can keep working and making money I need to do that now. One day the phone will stop ringing and then I can start doing all the stuff that I miss and I’ll be able to support myself from the commissioned jobs. If I’m sitting here saying I miss doing personal work that’s no one’s fault but mine. I should just make time for it. I put my heart into everything and it’s hard to do both at the same time—it’s exhausting—so I need to be stronger and then I’ll be able to do both.
CRUSH: I can relate to that. There’s a lot of stuff I used to beat myself up about, and then like one day I just stopped caring and it was really liberating. It wasn’t sad or anything, it was more of an admission of, “I’m in control.”
SARA: Yeah, it’s not giving up. It’s just acknowledging that this is what’s going on and I’m gonna ride it. If I think about it and I miss it and it’s sad, all I need to do is change my thinking. It doesn’t need to be a big deal.
CRUSH: There’s an illustration of a spider on your website with the phrase “HAPPY MATRIGARPHY” referring to the evolutionary survival mechanism. As humans we’re capable of perceiving meaning in something natural like this as a morally pure, altruistic gesture, but why are we so obsessed with assigning meaning to things? Especially with art, it seems like someone always requires an explanation.
SARA: I don’t relate to that type of artwork or that way of thinking. I try very hard to take things at face value. I like things that are pretty so I make things that are pretty. There’re a lot of people who like artwork that have conceptual, research, homage, or archival elements and that’s great but it’s not my first pick. I just feel sometimes that simple is better, less is more.
CRUSH: There’s seldom the acknowledgement that things can just be.
SARA: Yes, I like things that just are. I do like to be challenged. I have close friends that are on that end of the art spectrum and I think that’s great. I just like to go there, I don’t live there.
CRUSH: What scares you?
SARA: Revolving doors. I don’t like revolving doors. I don’t like people talking with toothpicks in their mouths. I’m afraid they’re gonna choke. There’s a deeper answer in there somewhere.
CRUSH: I like the shallow answers—they’re more interesting.
SARA: I used to be a fearful person and then things have happened to myself and all of us and I just try to live with less fear. Maybe that’s why those answers were the ones that came up first. But yeah, I don’t like snorkeling. I don’t have any of these big existential fears that I feel I can answer with right now.
CRUSH: Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
SARA: No. I used to be really superstitious on New Year’s and I had to be around certain people at a certain time. If I was around bad people at midnight I thought that it would affect my year and all those stupid things. Then I realized that it doesn’t fucking matter and your year can turn to shit anyways. I no longer have New Year’s resolutions.
CRUSH: Some of your illustrations are hyper-realistic—almost exaggerated—contrasted by a cartoonish surrounding. It’s interesting and harmonious. Are there any parallels in your personal life that may have prompted you to make work like this?
SARA: I’ve never even thought about that. I definitely like to balance the seriousness with the absolute carelessness and the mess. You need to have both. You can’t be serious all the time or else you’ll just die.
CRUSH: How many tabs do you have open on your computer right now?
SARA: Oh my gosh, I will not answer that question. I have more than one computer and it’s way more than one tab and way more than one window. Every time my computer crashes, I’m always like, “You’ve done so well. I’m so sorry.” And then I have to shut it down. There are a lot of tabs. My computer doesn’t even ask if I’d like to restore tabs. It’s like begging me, “Sara, please don’t do it. Don’t make me do it.”
CRUSH: A lot of people I know have a million tabs open at all times. Is this a pattern of high performance?
SARA: It’s the key to success. The more tabs the more success, I promise. Talk to me in six weeks.
CRUSH: I just try to keep it minimal.
SARA: Let it go. Just relax. See what happens. Sometimes I go back to a tab that I opened up weeks ago and I’m like, “Oh, shit.” Then I don’t go to bed and I go down that hole.
CRUSH: What’s the first tab open on your phone right now?
SARA: The online services for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles because I got vanity plates. I was thinking that this would be a really cool plate if people knew me, but if I say it and it goes on the internet the game’s over. There’s a chance that they might get rejected but I’ll find out later.
CRUSH: Would you rather be able to relive anything on demand or always be lucky?
SARA: I can already do both. I feel lucky all the time and I have a really good memory. Something that I do before I go to bed is watch my memories in my head—but in HD would be awesome, so I’ll pick that. HD is also kind of scary. You can see people’s blemishes and how old someone is and I’m like, “I’m trying to watch TV. I don’t need this to be real life.”
CRUSH: Are you scared of getting old?
SARA: No, I actually love it. I fucking hate my twenties. Every single day I like myself more and more and I feel better about who I am and I know that will keep going. But I’m a little bit vain, so I’m kind of bummed about cells that start dying and looking like shit. But the mental part I love. I also think that the older I get I’ll start to care less and less about maintaining how I look. So I don’t have to worry, I’ll just stop fucking caring and I think that’s also really hot.
CRUSH: You once said that there can be extreme value in not sharing your work and I agree but I’m not sure why.
SARA: I had a close friend who used this metaphor with me once and it’s about how you don’t have to share your gold with everyone all the time. It will lose its value or it’s very precious, so when you decide not to share something it can keep it sacred to you. Also, when something’s out there it’s kind of out there and it’s open for praise or criticism. But if you keep it to yourself it’s just your secret gold—and that’s awesome. It’s just between you and yourself.
CRUSH: In that same article you talked about all the positive things that can happen if you share it. If I was sitting on a pot of gold and I never shared it, is there some sort of benefit other than knowing I’m rich?
SARA: I think that it depends. Not everything has to be an open book all the time. Also, if everyone knew that I was sitting on a pot of gold, wouldn’t they just be dying to see what I did next?
CRUSH: Yeah, or rob you.
SARA: They can’t do that.
The art world has a tendency to forgo boundaries. Living, working, and scheming all in the same building in East Williamsburg, Ali Sahmel and Emily McElwreath are a prime example of how romance and professionalism can overlap and create a partnership built to last. McElwreath’s vast experience in high-end art advisory and Sahmel’s title as one of the few master chromists in New York City solidify the two as a power couple. This label is not lost on the two, who have recently teamed together to join the handful of art galleries popping up in East Williamsburg. In the midst of working with the couple to organize STP Group Show 3, STP Blog Editor in Chief Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke pops into their apartment across the hall from the gallery for a conversation about what it’s like to mix business with pleasure.
LA: How would you two describe the work that you do, and does it ever overlap?
Emily McElwreath: With Sidel McElwreath, it’s art advisory and curation. I’ve never been with someone as involved in the art community as I am. There is so much overlap. We are either working with the same artist, or there’s a person I’d always wanted to work with, and Ali introduced me, or vice versa. The overlap was super beneficial for both of our careers.
LA: Did you guys meet through art?
EM: We met on Tinder. Living in New York City in the queer community, it’s hard to meet people. Plus, we’re so busy. I wasn’t bar hopping, meeting people.
LA: And there are no lesbian bars anymore.
LA: What was your first date?
AS: It was an Irish pub type place in Clinton Hill. They have the best popcorn there. It was just a block away from my house. I was like, if we’re gonna meet, you’re coming to me.
EM: We started dating right away, as lesbians do. The synergy was there immediately. I had been in business for four years. I was at the Brant Foundation as director of communications and education for six years. Then, I went out on my own and started my art advisory. Your first five years of going out on your own, you’re an infant. Although I was still green, when Ali was like, I want to start my own silk-screen studio,I’d had the experience of starting a small business.
LA: You’re both workaholics.
EM: Ali’s far more organized than I am, but in terms of time in, we’re both constantly working.
AS: We work a lot. Making things, but also looking at shows, studio visits, researching, staying informed.
LA: When I think of the dynamic between me and my work husband, Ben, the reason it works is because we both have our own thing. It overlaps in that we support each other, and we get to collaborate, but we’re always equals. There’s never a weird power dynamic in our relationship.
EM: Being equal is the only way it works. We both have our own separate things that exist without the other person. Those two things are going to exist, even if we don’t as a couple.
AS: We offer different things which benefit the other. Emily’s more outgoing and assertive. I’m more hands-on and creative. It’s a good team.
EM: Launching the art space, Pegasus Gallery, was a no brainer. It used to be an office space for the previous owner of the studio. We came up here and we were like, why don’t we have some sort of experimental, invitation only, art space where we can bring in young curators and emerging artists.
AS: Not as much structure as a Chelsea Gallery.
EM: Downstairs (Pegasus Prints Shop) is the bread-and-butter business. The gallery gives us the freedom to play. That’s where the overlap is- we’re co-directors of the gallery.
LA: What are your goals with both of your projects?
AS: Stepping outside of the box, not creating your traditional print, experimenting with different mediums, paints, and ink. I want to get something new and fresh, so I’m experimenting with airbrush or with printing on different types of substrates.
EM: I’ve worked with everything from blue chip artists to total emerging artists. I deal with the blue chip pieces so I have the opportunity to take chances with emerging artists. I love being able to go to the collector that has a Julian Schnabel in their living room and say, check this artist out. They just graduated and I want you to invest in their talent.
LA: How has digital innovation affected printmaking and selling and purchasing artwork?
AS: Digital printing is easier and faster. It’s like reading the newspaper versus picking up your phone. With that said, it makes me appreciate it more. For me, printmaking is a completely different aesthetic that I’m naturally more drawn to than digital.With the silkscreen process, you see the hand; the tedious nature of creating something.
EM: In terms of digital takeover across the board, we’re 40 year old women. It doesn’t come organically to us. In college, I was still going to the library to use their desktop to write my essays, and actually printing them with a printer to hand it in. It’s a constant learning curve.
LA: There’s a new appreciation for printmaking. People crave that physical process.
AS: Yes. To see the trace of your hand, the manual creation of something, versus hitting buttons all day and just spitting something out.
EM: There’s always going to be room for the authentic, classic, beauty of tangible art. It’s like a little black dress. It doesn’t ever go out of style. There’s an element of the fine art world, especially silk screen, that doesn’t change. Luckily we are dealing with fine art, which for the most part remains tangible and separate from digital takeover.
LA: What did you guys learn about each other through the process of teaching Emily about printmaking?
AS: Emily’s very impatient. She has a difficult time multitasking. We have a different eye.
EM: However, we work well together. We have to. To be able to sustain two small businesses, we both had to help each other out and move into parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable. I’m not that detail oriented. Allie is so organized, patient and all those things that go into being a printmaker. I don’t have those. I’m scrappy, I’m fast, I’m impatient. I want results right away. We’re very different, but I’m still in the shop, racking the prints and helping her, because we have to. It’s free help. When you’re lovers and you work together, it’s like, I need you for five hours downstairs because I’m not paying someone to come in today.
AS: When we meet with artists, too, we just bring forth different concepts and respond to artists differently. It works due to the differences.
EM: I’ve had to learn to take second place to Allie when we’re [in the print shop]. It’s Allie’s studio, and I’m in it. That does not come naturally for me. I’m bossy. I like to be in charge. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t try to do that in the studio anymore, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. That’s a big learning curve.
LA: When you love someone so much and you’re working together, there’s never any ugh, I can’t believe they’re making me do this. You want to be there.
EM: Yeah. Everything bleeds into one. There’s no we’re doing each other a favor by doing this.
AS: Emily comes down and works with me in the print shop, but also, when she’s doing studio visits, I come and add my insight or criticism in some way. Emily spills into my world and I spill into her world.
EM: I’ve gotten 10 times cooler dating Ali. She’s like, why don’t you come with me to meet this young artist? Then when we’re there she’s like, I’m a chromist. They’re like, oh my god.
LA: What is your favorite thing about working with your partner and what is your least favorite thing?
AS: I love always being around Emily. She’s so fun and funny. At the same time, it’s hard always being together; working together, living together, going to studio visits-
LA: And you don’t have doors in your apartment.
AS: Right. So I value my alone time, my space. I’m a Gemini. I’m contradicting myself. At the same time, I want to be alone.
EM: I’ll oftentimes make the call, like, I’m going to go away for the night. I’ll feel that we need a beat.
The best thing about working together is that Ali’s my favorite person. I want to be around her all the time. We’re talking about working together, living together, and getting through a pandemic together. It’s created a level of intimacy that I didn’t know existed. It’s also two women. I can’t even express how much work needs to go into understanding one another when it’s two women together all the time.
LA: Emotions, sensitivity, thoughtfulness. Women understand; they see so much.
EM: Yeah. I don’t want to see it all. I want to be that dumb dude who’s like, what’s the matter? My favorite thing is being around her, and my least favorite thing probably has to do with me, and my lack of patience and ability to let go of the reins. That’s really hard for me. Sometimes I’m unpleasant to be around. I’m trying to work on that.
LA: I feel like everyone says communication, communication, communication. No one ever says, let things go.
EM: You have to let things go. That’s such a good point. We do our best when we’re able to accept one another for who we are. When it’s not good, we hone in on every little thing. It becomes, why’d you do that? What’s going on? Let’s talk about it. Sometimes there’s nothing to talk about. Also, we’re 40, this is who we are. It might get a little better, but there won’t be some huge upheaval of our personalities.
LA: Can you talk about building trust with each other, but also, the artists you work with?
EM: It was important for me, when I started my own business, to build relationships with the art community. Especially the emerging, mid-career art community. Go into those studios, get to know the artists on a personal level. With that comes a level of trust. These artists are allowing me in their spaces. They’re allowing me into their lives. They’re allowing me to sell work for them. I always liked this quote: Love comes easy. You don’t have to earn love. You have to earn trust, and respect. You can really dig someone, love them, but the trust and respect comes after. That takes a while.
AS: When you’re building and nurturing these relationships, the dialogue is a little bit more at ease. Concepts come naturally, it just kind of flourishes. The more you build relationships with artists, things grow and evolve.
EM: It’s creating like a family for ourselves. My favorite part of our relationship is getting to be mama bears, creating this family of artists, creatives, makers, thinkers, and having a physical hub for people to come to.
LA: How do you build a creative community through the work that you do?
EM: First of all, it takes time. Time, and experience. I’m a huge networker. I’m always connecting the dots. You have to make it a priority to meet people; go to the shows, go to the openings, go to the events. Be authentic. Instagram has allowed us the opportunity to feel connected with one another. There’s a lot of stuff that I hate about Instagram and social media at large, but I love more than I hate.
AS: It’s accessible, easy, and efficient.
LA: You can’t have one without the other. Right now, at least.
EM: 50% of the artists that I do studio visits with, I’m introducing myself via Instagram. Like, this artist told me to check you out. I’d love to see your work in person.
Plus, we get to see what LA is doing at 1:00 AM on a Tuesday. We’re not going to be at that restaurant with you, because we’re on our 10th dream, but I get to wake up and be like look at what LA did last night.
LA: I love Instagram. I didn’t have one for 6 years. I needed the break, to learn to love myself and to not find that validation through other people.
AS: Did you delete your account and then come back?
LA: I deleted it in 2016.
AS: It’s like deleting part of your identity, then reappearing. It’s your digital identity.