Keeping tabs with Sara Rabin
Interview by Crush Sahara
We had Crush Sahara interview Sara Rabin, an artist who has created iconic imagery for brands like Sandy Liang, Heaven by Marc Jacobs, Supreme, and more.
Sara reimagined Woolrich’s iconic sheep logo for this limited edition shirt. This collaboration between Woolrich and Serving the People marks the beginning of an exciting partnership between both organizations.
CRUSH : Do you like giving interviews?
SARA: No, actually. I don't really go back and read them because I trip and overthink but I don't think I've said anything horrible. I just don't think about them.
CRUSH: That's healthy. When people search you, they might be reading about a version of you that doesn't exist anymore, but it comes with the territory. Coming to New York to pursue a life or career—while bringing some perspective of where you come from—is quintessentially New York. Build me a 72 hour itinerary for Ohio.
SARA: I'm from Cincinnati and I think it's the best city in Ohio. I didn’t ever really kick it there because as soon as I graduated high school I left to come to New York. I've been here for like eleven, twelve years. But I can't answer that question about Ohio because when I lived here I was just like, “Fuck this whole place.” When I visit now I don't mind it as much because the nature is pretty, everyone is nice, and it's definitely a slower pace.
CRUSH: The range you display within your portfolio is impressive. Rather than showing off all of the mediums you’re capable of working with, it reads more as the ability to capture expression in a variety of impactful ways. You’ve been referred to as a masterful observer—do you feel that your work is more about your subjects or for yourself?
SARA: Myself for sure.
CRUSH: So the subjects are the vessels by which you say what you want to say?
SARA: Every single thing is me. It's always me. And sometimes the little cartoons will actually look like me. Even if I'm drawing someone else, I'm drawing myself in them—which is narcissistic.
CRUSH: What compels you to start?
SARA: I'll see something that I like or something that makes me laugh. I consider myself a glorified fan girl. There are some artists that I really, really like and I'm like, “Oh shit, I want to do that.” And I try to do it with my own fingerprint. Or sometimes I'll think of something that's really fucking funny and I just want to draw it. You can probably see that distinction in the work—which ones are supposed to be funny and which ones I focus on technique.
CRUSH: For sure. Who are some of those artists that you really fuck with?
SARA: Antonio Lopez, Shel Silverstein, and Satoshi Kon. I really like a lot of animation. I love Frank Frazetta and a lot of sci-fi art.
CRUSH: The past two years have absolutely flown by and deep quarantine felt like sci-fi IRL.
SARA: It was like a collective fever dream. What was that?
CRUSH: I don't know if there was a defined ending either, it just gradually changed. When I look back at articles and interviews from that time period they all feel similarly coded. It’s interesting to recognize a pattern of people shifting entire thought processes all at once. In a more recent article from PRINT you said you’ve somewhat lost yourself because you haven't been working on a whole lot of personal projects since 2019—mostly client work—and that timeline predates the pandemic. I’m curious what you think it takes to break the cycle and why it's important.
SARA: I'm just not sad about it. It's my own fault if I'm not working on personal projects. Maybe I’ve also reframed my thinking that every single job can still be personal. I used to spend a lot of time doing personal stuff because I wasn't getting hired, and then I started getting hired and I missed it. Now I just don't think about it and if I want to do more personal work, I'm just gonna have to carve out time for it because the jobs aren’t stopping.
CRUSH: It’s a survival mechanism to a degree.
SARA: Everything stops one day. If I can keep working and making money I need to do that now. One day the phone will stop ringing and then I can start doing all the stuff that I miss and I’ll be able to support myself from the commissioned jobs. If I’m sitting here saying I miss doing personal work that’s no one's fault but mine. I should just make time for it. I put my heart into everything and it's hard to do both at the same time—it’s exhausting—so I need to be stronger and then I'll be able to do both.
CRUSH: I can relate to that. There's a lot of stuff I used to beat myself up about, and then like one day I just stopped caring and it was really liberating. It wasn't sad or anything, it was more of an admission of, “I'm in control.”
SARA: Yeah, it’s not giving up. It’s just acknowledging that this is what's going on and I'm gonna ride it. If I think about it and I miss it and it's sad, all I need to do is change my thinking. It doesn't need to be a big deal.
CRUSH: There’s an illustration of a spider on your website with the phrase “HAPPY MATRIGARPHY” referring to the evolutionary survival mechanism. As humans we're capable of perceiving meaning in something natural like this as a morally pure, altruistic gesture, but why are we so obsessed with assigning meaning to things? Especially with art, it seems like someone always requires an explanation.
SARA: I don't relate to that type of artwork or that way of thinking. I try very hard to take things at face value. I like things that are pretty so I make things that are pretty. There’re a lot of people who like artwork that have conceptual, research, homage, or archival elements and that’s great but it's not my first pick. I just feel sometimes that simple is better, less is more.
CRUSH: There’s seldom the acknowledgement that things can just be.
SARA: Yes, I like things that just are. I do like to be challenged. I have close friends that are on that end of the art spectrum and I think that's great. I just like to go there, I don't live there.
CRUSH: What scares you?
SARA: Revolving doors. I don't like revolving doors. I don't like people talking with toothpicks in their mouths. I'm afraid they're gonna choke. There's a deeper answer in there somewhere.
CRUSH: I like the shallow answers—they’re more interesting.
SARA: I used to be a fearful person and then things have happened to myself and all of us and I just try to live with less fear. Maybe that's why those answers were the ones that came up first. But yeah, I don’t like snorkeling. I don't have any of these big existential fears that I feel I can answer with right now.
CRUSH: Do you have any New Year's resolutions?
SARA: No. I used to be really superstitious on New Year's and I had to be around certain people at a certain time. If I was around bad people at midnight I thought that it would affect my year and all those stupid things. Then I realized that it doesn't fucking matter and your year can turn to shit anyways. I no longer have New Year's resolutions.
CRUSH: Some of your illustrations are hyper-realistic—almost exaggerated—contrasted by a cartoonish surrounding. It’s interesting and harmonious. Are there any parallels in your personal life that may have prompted you to make work like this?
SARA: I've never even thought about that. I definitely like to balance the seriousness with the absolute carelessness and the mess. You need to have both. You can't be serious all the time or else you'll just die.
CRUSH: How many tabs do you have open on your computer right now?
SARA: Oh my gosh, I will not answer that question. I have more than one computer and it's way more than one tab and way more than one window. Every time my computer crashes, I'm always like, “You've done so well. I'm so sorry.” And then I have to shut it down. There are a lot of tabs. My computer doesn't even ask if I’d like to restore tabs. It's like begging me, “Sara, please don't do it. Don't make me do it.”
CRUSH: A lot of people I know have a million tabs open at all times. Is this a pattern of high performance?
SARA: It’s the key to success. The more tabs the more success, I promise. Talk to me in six weeks.
CRUSH: I just try to keep it minimal.
SARA: Let it go. Just relax. See what happens. Sometimes I go back to a tab that I opened up weeks ago and I'm like, “Oh, shit.” Then I don't go to bed and I go down that hole.
CRUSH: What’s the first tab open on your phone right now?
SARA: The online services for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles because I got vanity plates. I was thinking that this would be a really cool plate if people knew me, but if I say it and it goes on the internet the game's over. There's a chance that they might get rejected but I'll find out later.
CRUSH: Would you rather be able to relive anything on demand or always be lucky?
SARA: I can already do both. I feel lucky all the time and I have a really good memory. Something that I do before I go to bed is watch my memories in my head—but in HD would be awesome, so I'll pick that. HD is also kind of scary. You can see people’s blemishes and how old someone is and I'm like, “I'm trying to watch TV. I don't need this to be real life.”
CRUSH: Are you scared of getting old?
SARA: No, I actually love it. I fucking hate my twenties. Every single day I like myself more and more and I feel better about who I am and I know that will keep going. But I'm a little bit vain, so I'm kind of bummed about cells that start dying and looking like shit. But the mental part I love. I also think that the older I get I'll start to care less and less about maintaining how I look. So I don't have to worry, I'll just stop fucking caring and I think that’s also really hot.
CRUSH: You once said that there can be extreme value in not sharing your work and I agree but I’m not sure why.
SARA: I had a close friend who used this metaphor with me once and it’s about how you don't have to share your gold with everyone all the time. It will lose its value or it's very precious, so when you decide not to share something it can keep it sacred to you. Also, when something's out there it's kind of out there and it's open for praise or criticism. But if you keep it to yourself it's just your secret gold—and that's awesome. It’s just between you and yourself.
CRUSH: In that same article you talked about all the positive things that can happen if you share it. If I was sitting on a pot of gold and I never shared it, is there some sort of benefit other than knowing I’m rich?
SARA: I think that it depends. Not everything has to be an open book all the time. Also, if everyone knew that I was sitting on a pot of gold, wouldn't they just be dying to see what I did next?
CRUSH: Yeah, or rob you.
SARA: They can't do that.