Interview by James Leonard Rowe
Sari Szanto is a Hungarian-born collage artist and illustrator based in Moscow. Her wonderful zine, Housewife: What A Poor Lesbian Does When Her Girl Goes Way For The Weekend is available now from Sputnikat. Pick up a copy here. Here she talks to Sputnikat’s man in London, James Leonard Rowe, about life, work, and her cut-and-paste vocation.
JLR: When we first met at ELCAF (East London Comics and Art Fair) last year, I remember scissors and glue being essential tools of your sketchbook kit; at what point in your artistic journey did you first start to utilise collage?
SS: That’s right, I always have glue and scissors on me! I started experimenting with collage as soon as I went to art school and learnt it was something you could do. I guess I was just really self-conscious about my drawing and collage seemed to be an easy way to make pretty pictures. That’s how it started, then I realised it was more than just the look of collage that I was attracted to.
JLR: In your latest book ‘Housewife’ we have a snapshot of a lesbian’s lonely weekend; how much of your work is based on your personal life and how much is fantasy?
SS: It depends, really. This particular book is my actual experience. My girlfriend did go away for a weekend and I was alone in the apartment. I was feeling bored and useless, and all those other feelings you can read about in the book, and I wanted to cheer up, so I forced myself to draw. I was trying to see the funny side of my misery. In a couple of hours, I had a series of silly line drawings and bits of text, and I decided to make a zine out of all this. It was printed and bound by the time Dasha got home. So the original version was a gift for my partner, and it was a very personal little thing. Still, this could be anyone’s experience, there’s nothing in it that’s specific to me. Or specifically gay. Anyway, back to your question: with most of my projects, the starting point is my own experience and my personal observations, and I like to include little inside jokes that only I get, but the final stories have very little to do with me personally.
JLR: Tell us more about your creative process: from initial idea to completion. How much does chance play a part in this? I’m thinking about your use of found objects.
SS: I like leaving most of it up to chance, but again, it depends what I’m working on. With ‘Housewife’, I had this original little zine I wanted to improve, and I wasn’t going to change the content, just the form. That was really difficult, reproducing drawings in collage. It’s hard to keep it spontaneous and fun when you have a particular image in mind. I prefer letting the material guide me, I love the way random stories pop up in my head when I stick two odd bits of paper together. That’s how I worked on my BA degree project too (Here : http://sariszanto.com/Displaced). I had a collection of found stuff, including a stack of family photos of some complete strangers, Christmas decorations from the Fifties, old postcards and whatnot. Some of the items had been with me since I was little. I just started combining the images and objects and tried to figure out the stories behind them. I came up with a bunch of random collages and stories, but for the most part I had no idea where the whole thing was going. I was over half way into the project when I found the theme that connected all of them. So that’s my favourite kind of process.
JLR: What comes first when you begin to tell a story: words or images? Or are they mutually exclusive? Does one inform the other more strongly as the story evolves or is it a constant flux?
SS: What normally happens is I start doodling and cutting things up with my scissors, and the collage gives me the idea for the text. So they both happen at the same time. I might be making a character, and as I work on their facial expression, I may get an idea of what they are saying or thinking, which then gives me another idea to do with the appearance of the character and so on.
JLR: I know you used to be a language teacher and now you run illustration workshops; how are your lessons structured and what have you learnt from your students and the projects you’ve developed?
SS: When you teach languages, your job is to get your students to talk, so you have millions of stories and really learn about other people. I think my language teaching experience really helped me build a mental database of characters and ways of thinking.
Now I teach art at a couple of different schools and courses, so the structure depends on what I teach and to whom. But what I always do regardless, is still try to make the students talk to me and one another a lot. With my monthly collage workshops, for instance, I’m free to do whatever I want. I like these sessions because I get to work with all kinds of people - some participants might be professional illustrators or designers, others just come to have fun and do something that’s not their nine-to-five office job. So I just try to make the workshops entertaining - and also useful for me! There’s always some theme, which is something I’m currently interested in, and I organise the activities around that theme. I like to show collage art I find inspiring and worth stealing ideas from, and I also take part in the workshops myself. And I always try to make people talk to each other, discuss their work, and give feedback to each other.
JLR: What is it like being an illustrator for - and an integral member of - the Sputnikat family? And what are you working on at the moment?
SS: It’s awesome, of course! I’m really proud to be part of Sputnikat. When I was asked to join the team and make a book, I was really happy.
Currently I’m working on a short story for Sputnikat! I can’t tell you much about it, but it’s a story for PersonaЖ3, which is a really cool anthology series we publish yearly.
Visit www.sariszanto.com and saroltakatalin (Instagram) for an in-depth look at all of Sari’s work.
PersonaЖ #3 will be published by Sputnikat in summer 2018.