July 21, 2023
Perfectly Good Paper
By Mary MacGill. Videography and Photography by Em McCann Zauder.
Music by Wild Isaac ft. Sylvia Estes
MM: Can you tell me your name and what you do?
SE: My name is Sylvia Estes and I make sculptures out of discarded and found materials.
MM : How has your process evolved over time?
SE: It’s hard to track my process’s evolution. I’ve always been really multimedia in my artistic approach. I really just follow my creative urges. Sometimes that means painting portraits, other times that means making clothing, or rearranging my house. I think that it is this all encompassing creative inclination that has led me to think about utilizing materials that aren’t typically used for art. For example, these light sculptures, I was literally just sorting our recycling when it occurred to me that I could build something out of cereal boxes. I like when my creative evolution happens organically. Maybe it’s some kind of coincidence, or maybe it’s my world view… that everything has potential and that beauty can be cultivated from the mundane and the overlooked. That’s what this project is about.
MM: How much do you plan each piece as opposed to finding it on the way?
SE: Every piece is completely intuitive. I am interested in form, and how form evolves. My process is a collaboration between myself and the emerging form. I don’t usually have a distinct vision at the beginning, but the vision comes as I work with the materials. For example, the first light I made was because I didn’t like the form “right side up” so I turned it upside down, and thought, “wow this could be a cool light.”
MM: What part of the creative process do you find the most rewarding?
SE: Sometimes I’ll get this overwhelming feeling that I need to make something. For instance, last night I knew I had to try making a table light. And though I wasn’t sure exactly how to do that, I just felt this intense drive and excitement. Sometimes that urge makes me get choked up. I just feel like “wow I am really doing what I need to be doing.” The same thing happens when I’m in a space. I'll feel like the space is communicating to me that it’s time for a shift, it’s in these moments that I feel the closest to myself and the world.
MM: Are there particular artists or designers who have been especially influential or inspiring?
SE: So so many artists, all in different and interesting ways. For this lighting project I was really inspired by Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems. I love how she jotted down her poetic observations on scrap paper. I think it's interesting how she never intended for these poems to be seen, they were just really her - her observations, her murmurs. Her work reminds me of my Grandma Peg. Peg would often write notes about her readings on the backs of tea bag wrappers “perfectly good paper”, and would even staple the wrappers together to form makeshift notebooks. For me, these little archives of Peg’s knowledge feel invaluable now. They capture a commitment to finding meaning and use in everything. This resourceful approach to creativity has influenced me to create art that considers the use of materials for both their ephemeral and enduring qualities.
MM: How has your environment inspired you?
SE: Endlessly. I’ll just tell a little story that feels metaphoric. There was a mound of dirt at the edge of my childhood backyard. I don't know exactly how it started, but I remember that I would go out there with a garden stake and “excavate” that mound. I found all sorts of interesting artifacts. A plastic tiger is the main thing that sticks in my head… I felt like I was uncovering the lost treasure of some ancient kid. Years later I asked my Dad about that. He smiled, and told me he had put them there. He had found those toys and decided to bury them so I could discover them again. I love that. I think I am still doing this “digging” with my artistic process. I think a lot about ancestry, about where things come from, and about where things end up. In so many ways our engagement with the physical world is at a critical moment. I think that the beauty and the tragedy of our environment can never be fully disentangled. I try to make work that exists between these realities. I believe that the potential for artfulness surrounds us - it's there for us to discover again and again…
Sylvia Estes creates sculptures out of found and discarded materials. Each piece is a response to her immediate environment. By giving in to her process, allowing the refuse of daily life and her home environment to guide each form, Estes creates organic vessels and curved light fixtures that direct illumination and space anew.
Sylvia Estes is an assistant gallery curator and artist living in Kingston, New York.