As most of you probably already know, artist and filmmaker Sarah Watt passed away on Friday. Readers of The Divided Heart often mention her chapter to me as one that especially spoke to them. The photo to the left is the one she sent me for possible use in the book -- Sarah with her kids, Clem and Stella.
Sarah was easily the most unassuming, down-to-earth artist I've ever met. She had the pure creative spirit of someone who makes art because she has to -- as a way of coming to terms with, but also celebrating, the world around her. And by that I mean the ordinary world. The mundane, the suburban, the everyday was her territory -- a reminder that there's beauty, solace and humour to be found everywhere.
The last time I saw her was when Sally Rippin and I attended the opening of her film My Year Without Sex at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville. I laughed so hard I was weeping through the whole thing. Afterwards I told her that it had been like watching my own family on screen -- but funnier. Later I tried to express in an email to her how much I admired her unique talent for describing what lurks just beneath the surface of daily life.
I'm so glad now that I sent those messages while she was here to receive them. Like many, I hadn't realised how sick she had become until very recently, hearing her husband William McIness speaking of it on the radio, and her death seemed very sudden.
As McInnes said, she was incredibly courageous. But so is he, I think. It is rare to hear someone talk so openly about their love for their partner and her bravery in facing her own death.
After seeing My Year Without Sex, I interviewed Sarah (over the phone) for a profile piece for The Big Issue. She told me that all of her work is about “the most basic stuff of life. How you get through your day; how you find meaning.” She was interested in the way we absorb the precariousness of existence — “the randomness of good fortune and catastrophe”.
Sarah had all the difficulties and distractions common to women artists, as well as profound struggles with grief and illness. But despite that she stayed very true to the art she wanted to make. Her art and films are bursting with heart, with her over-active imagination, her steely eye, her playfulness, great sense of the absurd and anxiety-fuelled whimsy.
Few artists have made work that has affected me like Sarah Watt's. I am already grieving the films she might have made next. It was just luck that allowed me to meet her in person.
After hearing that Sarah had died, I re-visited our conversation in The Divided Heart. For all who fear their domestic, suburban lives are not the stuff of art, let Sarah Watt be your inspiration.