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Interview with Sharon Bartels Clements

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Sharon Bartels Clements

Joyce Creiger Interviews Sharon Bartels Clements, June 2016

Joyce: To begin can you tell me about your personal life...what constitutes your family?

I was born in North Tonawanda, NY, a working class suburb of Buffalo. Buffalo is really a great area to grow up, hard-working, middle class people. My father was an insurance salesman. My mother was a stay at home Mom and I'm the third of four children. I was the only one in my family to complete a four-year college education and earn my Master's Degree in Art Education.

I'm married with one son who has a family of his own. When I married little did I realize I would travel all over the world, visiting such places as Africa (5 times), Australia (3 times), Tibet, China, India, all over Europe, and other countries I haven't mentioned. This all happened because of my husband's career with Toyota.

All of my travels expanded my small world and awakened me to new adventures and possibilities. The people I've met through Toyota are some of the nicest I know.

Joyce: How long have you been working in the arts and how did you begin?

My idea of being an artist came to me very early in life. I had an Uncle Erv who actually lived in California. My father's brother would visit our family about once a year or so, bringing gifts and dresses (he had seven sons, no girls). He always asked to see my artwork, and soon I started making art for him to see and keep. He always asked a lot of questions and took a genuine interest in what I was doing

I started being more involved in school with art, winning contests, and being in charge of classroom and school art. I guess this type of attention spurred my wanting to teach art as well. I went to State University College at Buffalo for undergraduate and master's degrees. I taught in Lewiston, New York, a beautiful little town outside of Niagara Falls. I taught there eight years. During that time, I got married. I then started the process of many moves with my husband's work in the auto industry. During the time we lived in Northern New Jersey I would get up early and take a bus to New York city. I took painting classes at the Art Students League while my husband got our son off to school. New York was another exciting adventure for me and I loved going there. My work became more abstract, painting more landscapes.

While living in Maryland for nine years I had my own studio and became involved in a great local artist group. I loved Maryland and hated to leave. I'd also take side trips to New York. In California (we lived there three different times), I continued to paint and went to various workshops and attended what was then called Laguna Beach School of Art. Also, during this time I started traveling more, raising our son and continuing my painting.

Joyce: Describe a few recent projects and rewards associated with the projects.

About three years ago I conceived of the idea for my Ancient Warrior Torso Project, an installation of thirty torsos. Since beginning, I have completed twenty-eight torsos. My goal is thirty.

The rewards of doing this project have been many. Each woman has their own background and history which is as individual as their physical appearance. They also bring with them their story and whatever that might mean to them. The stories will then be a part of the installation along with their torso. Not only have I had the reward of seeing a transformation when the hard plaster shell is removed, but I've heard them say, "This really feels like a shield or a hard protective coating of armor".

Working with all of these women makes me realize our humanness, and all we share in joy and vulnerability. We all have a story to tell and a voice crying to be heard.

Joyce: Where do you want to be in your career five years from now?

My goals five years from now are to be working on new and innovative projects. I see my torso project as an installation in a museum/ gallery. I see their stories compiled in a book, a written testimony to their strength and courage. My paintings continue to evolve, and I liked to see them shown with my torsos.

Joyce: What are the various ways you have received commissions for your work?

I've been very fortunate to know people who have established themselves as leaders in the business world. I have been commissioned by them for their places of business, office spaces, and personal yachts. Through these relationships I've made many new friends.

Joyce: How did you get started with the Women Warrior Torso Project?

About three - four years ago I started my "Ancient Warrior Torso Project". I started working on this project after I had been to Xi'an China, visiting the Terracotta Warrior's. I came away with a sense of awe and questioning. "What if those warriors were all women"? After all, women, in my mind, are the real "warriors".

I wanted to show women's great inner strength. Whatever their history or background, they have a story of who they are, and what they can teach others. Some have overcome cancer, abuse, or addiction. All carry with them a sense of pride and dignity. Their stories resonate with people of all ages and walks of life. They are the representation of the women warrior archetype. They all have a profound sense of remembering and giving their remembrance a voice.

All of the women I have worked with, and continue to work with, are the real rewards of my project. They've taught me. I am a better person because of them. It has been a great honor.

Joyce: Do you think that you have an ability to see differently from other people? And do you think that unique ability is what has catapulted your career?

I think all artists see things differently. It's something I don't really think about. I also feel that "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder". People take from art what they can.

Joyce: What is your favorite part of working as an artist?

I enjoy the freedom I feel while working. I sometimes feel "out of my body" while going into a total Zen-like experience. I also enjoy being an "idea" person. Some of these ideas actually formed my "sculptural objects". It seemed like for a period of time I did nothing but make these objects. I enjoyed working with the car tires. I sometimes still use tires as part of my painting process. I like the textured feeling they produce and the symbolism as well.

Joyce: What advice would you give to young artists just starting out?

First, stay true to yourself and your beliefs. Don't compromise yourself. Don't be too proud to ask for help if you need it. Being an artist is very challenging at times, and takes true dedication. Being in your studio can sometimes be a lonely process. Having goals helps keep you focused on what it is you want to achieve in a realistic time frame.

It helps to have a schedule or daily time frame. I sometimes listen to music while working, or at times just enjoy complete silence. It may be helpful to join an artist's group or co-op gallery when first starting to show your work. I did this and really enjoyed the friendships of other artists, sharing ideas, and sharing your work in a supportive environment.

Joyce: What technique do you use to create the "sculptures"?

During the process of using plaster, the individual torso is transformed to a shield of protection. Once the hard protective plaster shell is removed from the torso it becomes part of the collective consciousness of the woman as warrior. The transparent film of the patterned collages are representations of the patterns we ourselves reinforce throughout our lives. Every torso has a spine that represents the strength and courage it takes to overcome any adversity and move forward. Their painted wrappings and seeing patterned exterior reveal their inner strength. A synergistic presence emerges, as the viewer finds themselves surrounded by torsos.

Joyce: Please complete this sentence: Art is... ?

Art is viewing the world through the artist's eyes in a thought provoking and changing way. Color, energy, movement, texture, etc., are all part of the process the artist. The artist is a vehicle, working in his/ her medium of choice... That said, art is all around us. We see art in nature every day. Everything we do can be art, with all its possibilities.

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