The Power of the Subconscious Mind

An Interview with Featured Artist Sarah-Jane Crowson

By Kristin LaFollette

“I love the way [collage art] lets us work with source material and the possibility it brings for transforming old mainstream narratives into something different and more contemporary.”

— Sarah-Jane Crowson

You mention your work is inspired by “fairy tales, nature, and Surrealism.” Talk about these themes in your featured portfolio.

I love how Surrealist art uses the power of the subconscious mind to bring a sense of magic to the everyday. Similarly, fairy tales and folklore offer compelling narratives which hint at mythic spaces that can help us navigate our lives. I live in a beautiful rural area, and the mountains of Wales can be seen from where I work. Walking outside is an important part of my practice, as are the things I find on my journeys.

How did you become interested in collage? Where do you find ephemera, images, and text for your art?

I was introduced to collage at art school. I love the way it lets us work with source material and the possibility it brings for transforming old mainstream narratives into something different and more contemporary. I visit thrift stores and jumble sales to find books and images and I also use online sources like the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the British Library. I try to work with an element of chance when I choose images, too, to let the surreal “in.”

You say your work explores “the space between real and imagined” and creates “narratives as small acts of resistance.” Tell us more about this and how you see these concepts coming through in this portfolio.

The best example of this in the portfolio is probably “The Modern Palmist,” which you’ll see featured twice. The source book is a vintage text and full of preconceptions. By taking these words out of context and finding new meanings, I hope to contribute to a postcolonial and feminist critical narrative without appropriating from another culture. More straightforwardly, I also hope to make something contemporary and beautiful that people will enjoy reading and looking at.

The Infinity Forest piece is such a beautiful and intriguing addition to your portfolio. Why did you decide to make a video as part of this series? How does the music create additional meaning?

All the animations are experiments, so it’s really nice that you like them! I wanted to experiment with collage technique using a modern medium, partly to push myself technically but also to see if I could use collage differently. The music brings, I hope, a sense of story and human emotion to the piece, something that can be lacking in collage.

Tell us about your roles as an educator at Hereford College of Arts and a researcher at Birmingham City University. How do you see your teaching, research, and art intersecting?

What a great question! I used to try to silo off my various roles, but it didn’t work as they all inform each other. My doctoral research looks at a possible “critical radical rural” in education and is underpinned by the work of spatial philosopher Henri Lefebvre. His work writes of the “space between real and imagined” as somewhere new knowledge can be found. This informs the method of my creative practice. Hereford College of Arts is one of the last two indie arts colleges in the UK. As a tiny specialist art school, it’s full of synergy, exciting practice, and new ideas. I can’t imagine any other place where a conversation might range from darning to Marxism in one small corridor conversation. It’s a place that opens up the magical in our everyday, which my practice hopes to reflect.

You are also a visual poet. Does your visual poetry resemble your collage work? Where can we find some of your visual poetry?

Another great question. My work very much sits at the intersection of art and poetry. For me, I think it depends on each piece whether I define it as art or visual poetry. For example, I use the erasure form in many of the works you’ll see in my portfolio and I also use metrical forms to pick out the erasures. If you look at the four smaller images in the “gallery” of “An Anthology of Love,” these are erasures which also follow the metrical pattern of sapphic verse. So, for me, the text and form here led to the making of the image and they are more visual poetry than artwork. “Folklore Erasures” also very much follow a pattern of erasure poems. However, for work like “Vessels,” one image doesn’t have any text, and the rest, although erasures, are more visually-led—more art than poetry. I do write text-only poems, too, and you can see those at The Inflectionist Review and other places. Whether you read and define the work in my portfolio as art or visual poetry is up to you.

What writers, artists, and creators have inspired you and your work?

Oh, so many. I love the work of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, both trailblazing female Surrealist painters. Max Ernst’s and Hannah Hoch’s collages are wonderful spaces that subvert and create new political narratives through Surrealism. The way the work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha uses multi-layered text to create narratives is hugely inspiring, and I also love how contemporary artists like Isabella Streffen experiment with text and myth. J.R Carpenter makes amazing use of multi-media in her poetry. Sarah-Jane Sloat’s “Hotel Almighty” is a great example of someone really pushing the erasure form and Aaron Poochigian’s work is a wonderful example of how use of poetic form can be both lyrical and wholly contemporary.

By Kristin LaFollette
Kristin LaFollette is the Art Editor at Mud Season Review. Her artwork and photography have appeared in Armstrong LiteraryWest Trestle ReviewThe West ReviewThe Magnolia Review, and others. She is the author of Hematology (winner of the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize) and Body Parts (winner of the 2017 GFT Press Chapbook Prize). She received her Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University and is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana. Learn more about her work at