Monday, November 7, 2011

Vale Sarah Watt

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.

14 comments:

Libby said...

Thank you Rachel for writing the above. I am so sad that Sarah is no longer here. I feel lucky to have met her briefly, but I didn't get around to sending her the letters I wrote in my mind. Her work is honest and vulnerable. I'll never forget seeing her animation "small treasures" it had a huge affect on me.

Rachel Power said...

Yes, you're right Lib. She really laid it all bare, didn't she? The anarchy of our minds! Those fears and anxieties that take our minds to all manner of crazy places. No-one's ever done that quite like Sarah, I think. I was looking through her emails last night, and saw that she'd thanked me for giving her the chance to meet you and Clare B, by the way. You must have interviewed her for Triple J. Is there are recording of that interview somewhere, do you think?

sister outlaws said...

Sarah Watt was so unpretentious, talented and brave. I met her a few times as a novice filmmaker/student and she was always very magnanimous and inclusive with her ideas and advice. And radiant. And funny. Yes her work did explore the wonderful chaos of our minds and hearts - the fear, anxiety, grief, hope and love in the everyday and ordinary moments. Her work shows us how to live.

Sarah Tomasetti said...

That's a beautiful tribute Rachel. Its rediculous I know but somehow I feel someone with such a talent for getting to the heart of things should somehow survive, just because. As though facing life should be some kind of spiritual insurance policy. Either way, for her family, especially her children, to lose Sarah at this time is just plain old f-ing unfair, not to mention the work she might have made.....
I'm going to watch everything all over again.

Christine McCombe said...

Yes, I feel very sad that she is no longer in the world. I had watched 'My year without sex' on SBS on Saturday night, all the while feeling sad that this amazing woman was so near the end of her life and then got up on Sunday to read in the paper that she had passed away. But what an amazing legacy she has left - those few films are stunning and powerful and not easily forgotten.

divacultura said...

Fitting tribute. Thank you.

Rachel Power said...

Sarah, I so totally agree with you! It's funny, I went to write that some people really deserve a longer life. But that felt controversial. Of course no-one should die young. But in this case, it is a terrible loss to us all. And yes, much much moreso for her family, of course.
She was more of an inspiration than she ever allowed herself to realise, I think.
And yes, agree her work shows us how to live. And her death reminds us to make all we can from the time we've got, as she did.

sister outlaws said...

And in a typical Sarah Watt way, she has also shown us how to face death with grace and honesty. The fact that she kept being creative, working and writing her memoirs as well! She's left an amazing gift for her family and the rest of us. That's so generous.

Historychick said...

Thanks Rach, for taking the time and emotional energy to write this. The people I know who have grieved the loss of a dearly loved one always say that it is tremendously important and comforting to them to receive letters and tributes. Like there can never be enough said. Like silence would be the worst form of denial. It's fittingly brave of you – given the fearless talent of Sarah Watt – to start this conversation. Make sure William and the kids see the archived blog thread.

Jo said...

Thanks Rachel for sharing some of Sarah's everyday words and treasure. My year without Sex was the last adult film I actually made time to see at the movies sans kids and oh I loved the wildness and bare stage real-life muddle and mix of it and of her work. So so very sad to lose such a great Australian artist who had so much to say and shared it plainly, generously and brilliantly.

Sally Rippin said...

This is a lovely tribute, Rach. I still think of our outing together to see her film and her warmth and unpretentiousness upon meeting her.

Rachel Power said...

As time goes on, I have been feeling sadder and sadder at Sarah's early death. I know this is often the way, as the real significance of someone's absence becomes apparent and settles itself in your gut. And that is not to pretend I knew her well; it was a great privilege to have had any contact at all with someone whose work I admire so much. But when an artist like Sarah Watt dies, the cultural loss is also a personal one when the work speaks to you as much as hers did to me. I can't think of any other artist whose work mirrored my own domestic life and inner experience so acutely -- and I know I am not alone in feeling that way! That is not replaceable. She was irreplaceable.

jen storer said...

Somehow I missed this post, rachel. It's a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing. jxx

PickledPunk said...

I just watched some of Sarah Watt's films for the first time, I had never heard of her.
Being quite depressed at the moment, I go through the days watching movies and tv series, but come to think of it, this art medium so rarely brings up real emotions, because most seem to be made for entertainment-value, trying too hard to pull emotions from the audience, lacking simple honesty.

"Look both ways" made me feel something, which was a relief after feeling so depressed. I am saddened to discover Sarah Watt has passed away almost 6 years ago. If you are in contact with her family you can tell them that her work is an inspiration for someone on the other side of the planet to try to go through a difficult time and that I wish I'd had the chance to know her.