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Big Walls and Windows Project 2021: an interview with winning artist BA Painting student Sarah Savage

white woman, with brunette hair, arms crossed, standing straight on, murul behind her.
  • Written byGrizelda Kitching
  • Published date29 April 2021
white woman, with brunette hair, arms crossed, standing straight on, murul behind her.
Big Walls and Windows 2021 winner, Sarah Savage with her finished mural. Photographer Iman Osman

Since 2013, the Big Walls and Windows Project has been an opportunity for UAL Fine Art students to realise a temporary artwork that exploits the spaces within our colleges. The project is sponsored by Cass Arts and Liquitex, who cover the material and equipment costs.

Following a competitive selection process, BA Fine Art: Painting second year student, Sarah Savage, was selected as the winner of this year’s competition with her proposal for a mural which transforms a wall in Camberwell College of Arts’s entrance area.

Sarah, who was born in Northern Ireland, has a practice that portrays landscapes that are almost biographical, referring to her personal memories of growing up in a segregated environment.

line drawing, with measurements of the mural and wall. Coloured in blue, black and green.
Sarah Savage's winning design proposal

Sarah’s winning design explores universal symbols that appear on roads on which we travel around the world. Even as a stationary mural, the artwork contributes to an existing sense of travel, where the motifs are symbolic to the notions of restrictions, freedoms, and the movements between people and vehicles.

Over the past couple of weeks Sarah has been hard at work onsite at Camberwell creating the mural.

full view of one side of Sarah's wall mural. A forest scene surrounding road signs and markings. Blue,green and black colours.
Sarah Savage's mural, winner of Big Walls and Windows Project 2021. Photographer Iman Osman

Sarah's project is now complete and on display here at Camberwell and the mural is open to the public to view. All visitors must sign in, wear face coverings and must also adhere to government social distancing guidance.

We spoke to Sarah, to find out about her winning proposal and the creative process behind it.

Why did you enter the Big Walls and Windows Project 2021?

I wanted to do something that would associate with a cosmopolitan identification, something that could have connotations to every person in the College, with students from all over the world. I came to my familiar area which is semiotics:, this directly informs our world of travel and something we all experience.

However, because of the current situation many students from abroad have decided to study at home and this almost changes the original meaning of the mural.

I entered the competition just before the closing deadline and thought that the work was not good enough. I do not usually work a such large scale and when it was selected, I still thought about making changes to the original design. Later, you realise that the sense of your work not being good enough is only subject to yourself and no-one else.

white woman with long brunette hair tied up, holding a paintbrush, painting the wall
Sarah Savage working on her mural. Peter Cattrell Photography

Have you had any experience of mural painting?

Coming from Northern Ireland you are surrounded by highly politicised murals, I think this has directly affected how I perceive my environments and my paintings. I have never painted any Northern Irish murals, but I think of the amount of energy you feel that has gone into them is enough to prepare someone for a big wall of their own.

Although, back in Northern Ireland the desire to live closer to nature led me to paint my bedroom walls to represent the Tasmanian Mountains. I noticed how this affected my overall outlook on life and mental health. Waking up to the constant image of a teal blue sky and mountains gave me a sense of renewed happiness and space amongst such a dreary and politicised country.

I hope my Big Walls and Windows mural could do the same, with an environment changing a person's emotional response.

Big Walls and Windows Project 2021 | BA Fine Art: Painting student Sarah Savage's work in progress

What are the processes and materials you have used?

The award was funded by Cass art and Liquitex. I used so many mediums including ceramic stucco and modelling paste which I added to the paint. This allowed me to build excessive layers and almost mountainous folds, to create positive and negative spaces.

I also used black lava to paste over areas to give deeper shadows, especially under the bridge of the motorway. At the beginning, I also used masking tape to create a basic idea of the shapes before painting and to get the lines straighter.

How does it feel to be back working onsite?

It is great to finally engage socially, outside the online interface, after such a long time and distance away from college life that we are all missing.

Whilst working on the mural, which is in the entrance area of the college, I have met new people and caught up with friends from last year as they made their way to the studios.

In Conversation - Big Walls and Windows Project 2021

Find out more about Sarah's practice and her proposal: watch this In Conversation event, hosted by Daniel Sturgis, Professor in Painting, with Sarah Savage, Juan Bolivar, Lecturer in Painting at Camberwell, Liesel Thomas, artist and Partnerships & Outreach Manager at Cass Art and Stephanie Nebbia, artist and Global Fine art collective Manager at Liquitex.

The exhibition is open to view at Camberwell College of Arts until Friday 28 May 2021. If you would like to see Sarah’s work and you are not a UAL staff or student, you can sign in at the front desk and get a temporary pass to visit the mural.

Thank you to the project's sponsors: @cassart1984 and @liquitexofficial

Find out more about our BA Fine Art: Painting Course

More of Sarah’s work can be viewed on her website