• UO Interviews: Sarah Gottesdiener of Modern Women

    Feeling inspired by the design work of artist Sarah Gottesdiener (aka Modern Women), we took a trip to her sunny, LA-based studio one afternoon to find out a little more about Sarah's background, how she juggles teaching with her need to create, and what artists and shows she can't stop thinking about lately.
    Photos by Sisilia Piring

    Hi Sarah! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
    I'm an artist and designer living in Los Angeles, CA. I used to be an artist, musician and designer living in Portland, OR. I love girl punk rock, weird art, fake meat made out of pea protein, opinions, and pit bulls (I have one old lady rescue pit named Phaedra, for one of my favorite songs, “Some Velvet Morning”).

    How did you first get your start in art and design?

Since I was a little child the only thing that came naturally to me was art. I would draw by myself for hours alone. When I was a teen I would stay up until the middle of the night painting. Later, as an adult, this thing called "making money" came along and design and more “commercial art” was the thing to do as a “creative” person, so that's what I fell into. I've been lucky enough to work in-house for Wieden+Kennedy, Plazm Magazine, and Nike. As a freelancer I've worked for Nike, Sephora, Uniqlo, Doug Aitken Studio, and a lot more individuals and small businesses. 
Mostly I'm lucky I had a really supportive mom who encouraged/encourages all my creative pursuits. I was also super lucky to live in Portland when I did, surrounded my mind-blowing artistic forces who made me think that being an artist was viable and had value. (Like, intrinsic value, not being on a boat value.)

    Did you go to college for it? If so, can you tell us what you studied? If not, how did you find yourself getting into art more seriously? 

    I graduated from Smith College and majored in art! Smith was rad but it wasn't really an art school environment. I worked for a long time and then I returned to school to study design and get my MFA at CalArts in Valencia, about 40 minutes north of LA.

    What kind of mediums do you like to work in? Do you have a favorite?
I love painting, drawing, taking bad photos, and collaging. A lot of my work now gets made or finished on the computer, but my heart will always belong to huge, installation-based paintings and work. I want to get back into incorporating that, maybe in the form of a clothing line that translates into a mural, or some larger space. Will UO sponsor me for 6 months so I can make all the weird cool ideas floating around in my head?

    What kind of things are you drawn to when it comes to design?

    I really, really love Japanese design from the '80s, Dutch design from anytime, old sst record covers, anything Rachel Carns makes, queer punk show fliers from the '90s, amazing dancehall record covers, Barbara Krueger, Jenny Holzer, and the iconic work of Gran Fury/Marlene McCarty. When design looks like it was not created by a designer, it's usually my favorite.

    Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind your WOMEN/WIMMIN tote?

    This was a riff on lesbian separatist spellings of the word "women" without the word "men." I typeset and custom-tweaked the type for a poster, and it took a couple of years, but people really ended up being into it. It's funny and cute and meaningful and an interplay on language and speech.

    Why was this important for you to design?

    I'm a feminist queer lady, and I like making feminist art and design accessible to a wider audience. So much of my work is making things I wish to see in the world, things I wish already existed. I think of a lot of my work as little markers and flags to others, something that says you too are a feminist rad person. People have told me they'll run into someone on the bus or subway with the same tote bag or with the same t-shirt and it's a connecting device. It starts a kinship between like-minded, cool, women-positive, pro-feminist folks. That is way more than I could ever hope for my work to do.

    What about your studio setup? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
    My studio is located in the Women's Center for Creative Work, a space run by wonderful people. It's right by the LA river, close to my house, and there are always great events happening there. Check it out! My studio setup right now is a table and chair by a window. Some plants and books reside there, too.

    What’s a typical day in the life like for you?
    Right now I teach four classes as an adjunct professor at Scripps College and Otis College of Art and Design. Teaching as an adjunct is very rewarding but does not allow me enough money to live in LA, so I also work on different projects that I love as well: consulting, freelancing on design projects, running my small feminist gear project, giving workshops on Moonbeaming (a word I've copyrighted that entails using the energy of the moon to manifest), and tarot reading workshops. On any given day I might be prepping for a class, teaching 60 kids a week, emailing, meditating, chilling out with crystals, writing, reading, hanging out with tarot cards, drawing, designing, or driving in a car going from place to place to place.

    What’s one of the best things about living and working in LA?
    The light and the potential; the proximity to nature; the beach and the desert.

    Are there any upcoming events that you’re excited about? What about any artists that are currently exciting you?

    I just saw Grace Jones and that basically blew my mind for long enough to keep me satisfied for a minute, or maybe up until I see Patti Smith perform in three months. My friend Nicole Killian also makes work that I'm super into. We collaborate on projects and I feel really lucky to know her. I'm excited to see the Mark Bradford exhibit at the Hammer. The Killjoy's Kastle: Haunted Lesbian House is at the USC archives this month and is going to be really cool, too. I'm just generally excited that it's October. I love this month.

    Anything you’d like people to know about you that you haven’t shared before?

    I come off as shy (or aloof), but I probably just want to be your friend. 

    To see more from Sarah, follow her on Instagram and Tumblr
    Shop the Modern Women tote