Artists on Coping: Tom Sarver

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

Tom Sarver with paintings from his 2019 series. Opening of Pretty Ugly at James Gallery, Pittsburgh.

Tom Sarver uses an array of approaches, including puppetry, events and site-specific installation to explore social issues and social interactions. His work is often inspired by life in Pittsburgh, where he lives and works. He has been featured in several projects at the Mattress Factory, including an installation in a row house that he occupied for two years. His work in puppetry was featured in Paulina Olowska’s installation at the 2013 Carnegie International. His Art Olympics event series featured live-action art making and community interaction at venues throughout Pittsburgh. He is currently working on a drawing series documenting Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.

Knoxville, 2020

AS: How are you coping?

TS: I tend to be overly concerned about all medical issues. My MFA thesis show was titled Queasy and featured a giant walk-in tumor. I’m doing okay. Communication with friends and family is important. So is keeping busy. I recently transformed a puppet stage into an indoor station for starting garden plants. My wife and I are fortunate to have a nice backyard for gardening. I’m working on some small sculptures for the garden and I plan to teach a garden sculpture workshop once things get back to normal.

Hill District, 2020

AS: Has your routine changed?

TS: Like many Pittsburgh artists, many of my teaching gigs and exhibitions have been either cancelled or postponed. I was halfway through my current drawing project when the pandemic hit. Since it involves drawing people and places on the street, I’m reevaluating my approach. For now, I can touch up work in the studio and experiment with some new techniques.

I lent one of my drawings to an initiative that provides arts programs for inner city children/families, facilitated by artist Edith Abeyta for the Hazelwood Community of Pittsburgh. They printed copies of it and included it in art kits (pencils, paper, etc.) that will be distributed to homes in a Pittsburgh community. I also did a Zoom interview talking about my work for those in the program that have internet access. 

Oakland, 2020

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about this?

TS: There is more to this crisis than the virus. I’m frustrated with the state of humanity. As I explore my city, a microcosm of the world, I witness neighborhoods plagued by extreme poverty and neglect, abutting neighborhoods of great wealth and privilege. I feel for both places, a lack of empathy in one and struggle in the other. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the world today.

Lawrenceville, 2020

AS: What matters most right now?

TS: I believe that people, especially leaders, need to suppress self-interest and fight for the common good. All resources need to be focused on saving lives.

AS: Any thoughts on the road ahead?

TS: I have hope that we can get through this. When we do, I’d like to see society take a hard look at how we apply our talent, energy and resources. Do we continue to develop more powerful weapons, or do we work together as a global community to make life on Earth more sustainable? Do we continue to damage the environment, or do we develop a plan to allow the natural ecosystems of the planet thrive?

Tom and Kristen Sarver performing at the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh’s 2019 Puppet Slam. 

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: