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Niki Sabet Interview - A Look Into Her Artistic World

By Christina Schmotolocha

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Q: At what moment did you realize that you are an artist?

A: As far back as I can remember I felt the ultimate freedom when I was creating whether it was painting, sculpting or making things with random objects. Growing up, my family moved around a lot. I began speaking less and observing my environment more. Art became a way for me to record what I witnessed growing up. Like another language, it became the most natural way for me to communicate my thoughts and feelings out there. I don't think you wake up one day and decide to become an artist. You either are or you’re not. Yes, you can learn different skills such as how to draw portraits or make a wooden horse.  But art is the freedom to let go, not be afraid and imagine without caring what anyone else thinks. The real art is the concept, the idea and the content behind the art piece. This is how I have felt all my life. 

Q: Who or what have been your influences?
A: My mother was definitely the first person to introduce me to art. She is also an artist. I must have been 3 or 4 years old playing around in her atelier. She allowed me to use all her materials - paints, brushes, clay, etc.  She was the one who taught me about the freedom in creation.  She never allowed me to take art classes as she wanted me to understand and form my own opinions. My mother always said, "You learn by doing - failing and discovering. You make art, because it's your way of communication - not to be approved by others. Never let anyone put you in a box or teach you their way of thinking. Art is not design, and there are no boxes."  Eventually my life, my environment and encounters became my influences. I also realized the more honest the work…the more impact it has. 


Q: What inspires you to create a piece of art?
A: My personal life, my private encounters and what is going on in our society today is what fuels my creativity.  All my traveling from a young age, being exposed to different cultures and watching what is happening today through independent, diverse sources of news and information serves as my inspiration. Whether it is political or environmental, trying to understand our world today has definitely had a huge impact on my more recent work. As an artist, I feel it is my duty to document all of this from my perspective.   There is also a layer of relevancy to expose the perversions of humanity - from human trafficking to the genocides occurring in Syria.

Q: How has your modeling career helped you as an artist? 
A: I always saw modeling as an opportunity to travel the world. I was able to support myself while living in some of the most exotic places in the world for months and at times years - not as a tourist but a local. I consider myself very lucky having learned and experienced so many different cultures first hand instead of reading about them in books. I was able to actually see and sometimes even touch the most diverse architecture and art while living a few minutes from Acropolis, Athens or waking up to Table Top Mountain every morning and watching the clouds roll in.  As a traveling model, I have lived both the high life and a more humbler existence – from bathing in Dom Perignon to boiling water in order to make it sanitary. I draw a lot from my personal life.   I have witnessed or personally experienced situations that most people couldn't even comprehend. In that world everyone has a shelf life.  My modeling career, has also helped me in a major way to connect with my subjects or muses. They know that I know hence why they trust me and allow me to push them to their limits. There is an unspoken bond and understanding.  I can read my subject's mind, because at some point I have been there. It is easier for me to get certain emotions or reactions from them due to the combination of trust and me understanding the subject’s thought process. 
 

 

 

Q: How important is the studio space in which an artist works?
A: An artist studio is a personalized sanctuary. I have a wonderful studio permanently in Silver Lake. That is where I make my monumental sculptures.  I also have a foundry within my own studio which is a dream come true for me. My studio is not just a place I work in, but it is a place that I also get inspired. When I step into my studio, I officially check out from the real world and step into my personal haven. Only the artist knows what is really going on in the studio. Take Francis Bacon - many thought his studio was an atrocious mess where even souls would get lost, and yet he knew where every little mundane thing was. The artist studio is the most intimate place to an artist in my mind.  I always have music on. Music is very important to me as it inspires me and helps with tapping into different emotions. Although, the place is very raw, I still have my favorite incense on. It is important that all my senses are wide awake.  I have all of my books there and things that I found, bought from around the world or things that were given to me.  I rarely allow anyone into my studio as it is such an intimate place.  It is my wonderland.  If I am doing a show somewhere other than Los Angeles or New York City, I make a pop up studio to work.  For instance, when I was doing my first international show in Athens, Greece, I rented a studio for two months where I prepped and retouched the work that was going to show. Truthfully, as long as I have my music I can make art anywhere. For the past couple of years, I was living in and out of hotels. So I began working out of my suite, wherever I was. Surprisingly, the hotel did not seem to mind even though the pieces were about 48x60. In fact, the cleaning crew would leave me notes, which I have kept, encouraging me and letting me know how excited they were to see how the pieces were turning out. I made an entire series out of the bathroom of my suite at the Soho Trump. Even then, the house keeping respected the area in which I was painting and would not go near it. Slowly but surely random things that I had found on the street, but gave me some sort of inspiration, also appeared there. 

 

with one of her sculptures

 

Q: Do you have a preference when it comes to working with different materials?
A: There is something majestic about working with bronze.  It's eternal.  At the same time, I love experimenting with different materials - metals, cement fabrics, chemicals and personal as well as found objects. I like working with expensive rocks and diamonds to simpler materials such as card board and chicken wire. I am always in search of the different materials - for instance, discovering NASA black paint which absorbs 96.666 percent of light making it the blackest of the black. I am fortunate to be able to work with the exact materials that I want for each one of my pieces or projects.  The fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, my pieces choose the materials that I use to create them.
Q: You have been photographed numerous times by photographer Ash Gupta.  Would you consider collaborating with other artists?
A: Yes.  I enjoy collaborating with other artists as long as the right synergy is there. I find that most artists nowadays like to hide out in their studios and work alone. Masturbation can take you only so far. I find that collaborating with the right partner can be mind blowing. Take Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. The best example of their work to me is Un Chien Andalou. By creating The Factory, Andy Worhal was collaborating with more than one artist at the same time utilizing many different mediums. To me that is art. That is when you actually create a movement, and it becomes exciting. 


Q: What project are you currently working on?
A: I never work on one project at a time.  Recently, I became partners with the founder of La Fonderie Atelier, a monumental size foundry and fabrication facility with two locations - one downtown LA and the other in Redhook, Brooklyn. For the LA location, we have created a non profit organization called Create LA which is dedicated to engaging the arts community via educational classes for area youth.  I am wrapping up a couple of sculptures I have been working on and getting them ready for a solo show coming up in the next few months in LA. At the same time, I am in the final process of an aluminum painting series I did for a show in Europe.  I am extremely excited to be working on a monumental installation using scanning technology which I can’t talk about or it would spoil the surprise.  I am a big believer in wearable art. I am in the final stages of my first wearable art T-shirt line IOD-HE-VAU-HE for both men and women.  I am also in the beginning stages of creating an exclusive jewellery line called DAKINI.

at work in her studio

Published on Feb 18, 2013

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