The Secret to Controlling a Lack of Control

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Molly Sawyer has worked in paper, large-scale sculptural installation, fiber art, and found-object collage and assemblage, evolving between mediums as she “tracks decades of life movements.”
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

“When I was nine years old I had a brain tumor,” reveals multimedia artist Molly Sawyer, who has also endured breast cancer and undergone more than 20 surgeries in her lifetime. “I’m open in talking about those experiences because they are a major part of what informs my work and who I am.” Sawyer sometimes refers to her artwork as a “physical incarnation of what I’m trying to deal with internally.” 

Cape Horn
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Over the past two years, her journey has involved a pivotal transition into assemblages on paper, from previous projects as a sculptor doing much more physically strenuous work — including large installation pieces. “I was concerned, thinking I might not have the bodily strength to work with such massive, heavy materials. But I have an extensive background in fiber, so I started doing needle felting and other fiber work and bringing that into my sculpture.” That eventually led to her current body of work, watercolor on paper that still retains a unique sculptural quality.

“These works, that I call ‘Found Objects,’ are like assemblages and collages. I’m making and cutting watercolors up and sewing them back together and I’m embroidering. It’s so reflective of my surgical processes — and putting them together is a layering process, kind of like how the choices everyone makes throughout the day are layered.” 

Small works on paper are part of Sawyer’s latest paradigm shift.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Sewing various watercolor and paper components together allows Sawyer to achieve a large scale with lighter materials. While her new approach is still evolving, some of her pieces are four feet wide and four feet tall. 

Molly working on her piece at Marquee Asheville.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

The artist studied ceramics at Guilford College in Greensboro and later attended the New York Studio School and the Art Students League of New York. Her work can be found in public and private collections across the United States, and has been exhibited in multiple galleries and museums, including Asheville Art Museum. 

Sheep Feathers
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“If you had to have one word for my work it would be ‘balance’ — positive and negative spaces and physical balance. With my brain tumor I had to retrain my brain, and trying to find balance might have been the key to it all. When I stand back and look at my own curated works in different series, I’m able to track decades of life movements. I’m recording and embracing the passage of time with the body. And a number of my sculpture works are not made to last.” 

Orange Rhino
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Case in point — she’s recently been experimenting with icicles: “I go out in winter and find them and coat them in powdered pigment, then let them melt on watercolor paper.” Through it all, Sawyer’s work continues to explore a universal urge: how to contend with a lack of control. 

Art Gloves
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“You never know what’s going to happen next. But one thing you can try to control is [accepting that] and letting go.”

Heart of the Wood
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Molly Sawyer, Asheville. Sawyer’s current sculptural work will be on exhibit at Marquee (36 Foundy St., Asheville) through Monday, March 28, and her smaller works are available there on an ongoing basis (marqueeasheville.com). Sawyer is represented by Mars Landing Galleries and will mount Works on Paper there beginning Friday, April 1, with a solo show opening Friday, July 1 (37 Library St., Mars Hill, marslandinggalleries.com). Her work can also be seen at The Centerpiece Gallery (7400 Six Forks Road, Raleigh, thecenterpiece.com). To learn more, including information about commissions, visit mlsawyer.com and on Instagram: @mlsawyerart.

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