The drawings of the rising Austin-based artist Sophie Roach are vibrant in color, intricate in pattern, and decisively capable of transforming any surface she can get her hands on. Whether her work is bound to the dimensions of paper or sprawling across a brick wall, each piece is like an invitation to lose yourself in a vertiginous dream. In one piece you may be transported to the moment before a star explodes, particles and atoms feverishly crashing into one another, light pouring forth and a lingering foreshadow of explosive destruction. Another piece lures you before a deity, an all seeing eye that could be found in the petroglyphs of lost cultures or the exhaustive murals within Buddhist temples across India and Tibet. Each piece is a dizzying composite of unique symbols and riffs on line. Her whimsical drawings are powerful in their ability to conjure up so many associations and to delight the viewer into a suspended sensation of discovery.
We’re in the midst of a transformative moment in art and culture, a wave of sharing and dissemination via the Internet and Instagram that fuel stories like Sophie’s. Her inspiring body of work began as humble doodles and through her dedication she’s risen to a sustainable, creative life doing what she loves—pure ink on silky white paper. She continues to push the platforms to show her kaleidoscopic drawings. The graphic nature of her swirling line-work has lent well for some exciting collaborations. We caught up with her to hear more about the Austin Art scene and her upcoming projects for the summer.
How did you begin drawing and launch this body of work?
I have a BFA in Photomedia from the University of Washington in Seattle, but I’m self-taught when it comes to drawing. I was extremely restless in college. By my third year I was drawing through all of my classes instead of taking notes. I didn’t think about any of it as art, it was just something I was doing to keep my anxiety in check. By senior year I knew that I wanted to do something creative with my life, but it wasn’t until six months after graduating that I hit upon a drawing style that felt like my own. I became totally addicted. I spent the next year developing that style, sharing the process via Instagram along the way. My style and art career have evolved organically over the last three years. Every project is more exciting than the last. I feel very fortunate.
What music are you listening to in the studio right now?
I prefer to listen to audiobooks and podcasts when I draw. Having someone talk over the voice in my head keeps me from overthinking things. I do listen to music when I do art-related tasks aside from drawing. This week I've been listening to Ibeyi, Hinds, Nancy Sinatra, and Drake.
Can you tell us about the art scene in Austin? How does it feed what you’re doing? What are your favorite spots?
Without the resources of New York or L.A., ideas start small and grow naturally through the support of our community. Our most celebrated restaurants started out as food trucks and our most beloved creative institutions started in someone's garage. Ideas that lack integrity and energy generally don’t get very far. I don’t know if that’s an exclusively Austin thing, but it’s motivating either way.
Raw Paw is my favorite creative platform in Austin. They operate a record label, publish zines, and throw awesome events that highlight Austin’s youthful art and music scene. Not Gallery and Common House are two of my favorite gallery spots in town.
The patterns you draw are like manifest daydreams. They have elements of psychedelia, cosmic symbolism, and mandalas. What inspires you? What are your source materials?
I keep my instincts well fed by getting out of the studio as much as I can, reading books, and generally paying attention to the world around me. I try to go on a trip between every project. I go running around the lake almost every day. I go for long walks with my dogs around my East Austin neighborhood. My favorite books have magical realism qualities, but lately I’ve been reading contemporary fiction pulled from Pulitzer Prize nomination lists. I’m influenced by Keith Haring and Milton Glaser. Aside from being inspired by their respective styles, I admire the way they balance their defiance with accessibility. It’s not important to me to know specifically where my ideas come from. Forcing myself into oblivion is part of what keeps my work sincere.
Your work has brightened up buildings, guitars, skateboards, sneakers and even cell phones. How does your process change when working across scale?
I feel most at home working with my technical pens on paper at my desk. This is where I have the most control and freedom to focus on the details. When I work on large-scale murals I have to pay more attention to my vision for the final product than I do on each individual detail. Murals are rewarding in a different way because they’re physically strenuous. I love coming home sore and covered in paint every once in a while. My design process is the same across all media… I have a vague concept then I just go for it. I sketch minimally and give myself plenty of room to be spontaneous.
Tell us about your upcoming summer project with Complex and FIAT?
Complex and FIAT have given me the opportunity to highlight some of my favorite art and artists in Austin through a guided tour of creative hot spots in town, as well as a gallery show with work by myself and three other Austinites. I don’t show work around Austin very often so I’m looking forward to sharing a new collection of work on paper with my hometown.