Sara Lucas aka Hello the Mushroom creates works in a slew of various mediums that are vibrant, pop, full of personality and very fun! Born in Portugal were she lived until her late 20s, Sara moved to England in her 30s and currently resides in Norway.
Sara first started exhibiting her works publicly in the streets of England, guerrilla art style, in her late 30s – after a brush with breast cancer gave her the impetus to fully devote herself to her art practice.
Since then she has exhibited her works in cities and galleries throughout the world.
Wanting to get to know her better, we sent Sara some questions to answer over email.
Take a dive into her world below…
Name + D.O.B?
Sara, 27th of August 1977.
City, State and Country you currently call home?
Hakadal, just outside Oslo, Norway.
City, State and Country you’re from?
(Some pieces from a recent series of painted plates by Sara.)
Please describe some memories – such as writing, art, music, relationships, adventures, study, romance, politics, work, crime, religion… anything really – from the stages of your life noted below:
* Your childhood:
I’ve always enjoyed drawing and making things.
One of my earliest memories I think is of looking down at my tummy and happily drawing circles around my belly button with a biro. My grandfather had to then give me a bath in the middle of the day to wash it off.
I think it’s funny because maybe it was an early indication of how much I came to like tattoos.
I spent most of my childhood with my maternal grandparents who were great and I have very fond memories of them. It was my grandmother who taught me how to sew, crochet and embroider and I spent hours making clothes and little things for my dolls.
It was also in my childhood that I started making scrapbooks from my grandmother’s magazines.
* Your teenage years:
I started getting interested in music, mostly alternative – from goth to metal, through indie and mostly guitar-based music. With that came, of course, dressing accordingly, especially as I was forced to wear a school uniform most of the time (in Portugal only private school kids wear uniforms, public schools don’t have any of that).
It was one of the few ways that I had to express myself and at the last year of what would be the equivalent of high school, I managed to change to a public school, that was mainly teaching the arts. It was then that I really started feeling a bit like myself. It was also at this time that I met my first boyfriend, who has been thus far the longest relationship I’ve ever had.
You see, the private school I attended was a strict catholic school, ran by folks that belonged to the Opus Dei. I have no idea why my parents thought this was a good idea, as my family wasn’t particularly religious and even my younger sister wasn’t forced to go through the same ordeal.
One thing is certain, it has made me really dislike Catholicism in particular and religion in general, which is actually funny because I’m at the same time fascinated by cults. Only in recent years, I realised that the Opus Dei is actually a cult, even if a sanctioned one by the Catholic Church, maybe this fascination came from trying to understand what had happened to me.
* Your 20s:
Two university courses came and went and I didn’t finish either of them.
I didn’t really like the constraints of school and to be honest, what I really wanted to do wasn’t at the time available as a university course in Portugal (illustration). So after 2 years of graphic design and 4 years of primary and middle school teacher studies, I started working on something a lot more interesting – I got hired to work as a colourist on an animation project for a TV show.
By this time I already knew that teaching in a school environment wasn’t for me, even though I do have some good memories from some of the time spent in a classroom with the kids.
It also needs to be said that it was during that graphic design course that I discovered how much I enjoyed painting and did a lot of collage. Until then, I drew occasionally and of course, did some live model classes but until then I didn’t have the confidence to just do what came out of my head.
Thanks to one particular teacher who told me I had a very unique point of view, I felt more confident from then on to express myself through art.
Later on, I started working closely with an ex-colleague from that art school I mentioned earlier, also as a colourist but this time we worked on storyboards for advertising as well as comics – we did some minor titles for Dabel Brothers, Marvel and Image Comics.
I also started learning tattooing at some point in this chunk of time but didn’t proceed with it as I realised that the RSI I obtained while working hunched over a lightbox tracing animation stills was not going anywhere and tattooing gave me excruciating pain in my hand.
That hasn’t stopped me from getting tattoos done by other people, mind you.
* Your 30s:
I moved to England, first to a small town and 4 years later, to London.
I also got married to and divorced an American citizen. I did get to go to the United States a few times on account of that and it was fun.
I didn’t do much by way of art during most of this decade. I moved to the UK via a “real job” that I got with a British financial services company that I started working for in Lisbon. By the time I got to the small town where they were based, I realised there wasn’t a lot more to do than going to the pub and going shopping, with a few visits to the local cinema every now and then.
I dedicated a lot of my spare time at this moment perfecting my written skills (in English) as well as photography and learning all I could about digital and content marketing. I did this by starting what can be described as a “lifestyle blog”, where I published photos of whatever I was interested in at the moment and my outfits, which were my main creative outlet at the time.
I had a dead-end job at what could only be described as a glorified call centre that could only lead to other dead-end jobs so learning this new skill would be a way out of it. My plan worked so when I was made redundant due to staff cuts, I managed to find a marketing job in London working for a tech start-up.
It wasn’t my favourite thing to do but the people I worked with were nice and I finally had managed to leave the small town.
By the time I was 38 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that’s when my life was just turned upside down. Luckily I had it easy, compared to other people.
You see, we caught “Tim the Tumour” early on and I managed to get away with just a lumpectomy and managed to keep my boobs. Also due to the low risk of reoccurrence, I didn’t have to do chemo but did 20 rounds of radiotherapy.
Despite having had it easier than a lot of other people; no one comes out of something like this unscathed and I ended up having to leave the tech job after burning out and not being able to focus enough on what needed to be done.
During the time I was off work doing radiotherapy, I was exhausted physically and stayed in bed all day so at this time I made a very large crochet blanket and picked up some of the scrapbooks I had started again, also realising that I could draw over the printed images using acrylic markers. That was the “eureka” moment that got me back into painting and creating again.
At this point, I had started paying attention to street art – there’s loads of it in London, after all, and after a friend (Victoria Villasana) started doing paste-ups I realised that no one was gatekeeping and that I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission to do the same. At the time I had a trip booked to Berlin to go see a good friend so that was when I decided to do my paste-up debut.
From then on, I knew that I had finally found something I really enjoyed and could feel some level of confidence in doing.
* Your 40s:
I never went back to full-time employment as I developed and was diagnosed with chronic fatigue so I was basically forced to become a full-time artist. It has been a struggle, I am not going to lie and I am deeply grateful to everyone who has enjoyed my art and supported it in these difficult times.
I also had to take some random jobs here and there which was interesting – selling souvenirs to tourists at a stall in London Bridge, coat check at some festival event, and even worked twice as part of a team putting together an installation for a light festival.
It was a hard time financially but I don’t think I was ever happier in my life. I stopped taking anti-depressants and stopped being constantly sleep deprived due to anxiety. Now I still get anxiety but I sleep a lot better, haha.
Has to be said, the only thing I miss from full-time employment is the paycheck at the end of the month. I’ve heard someone talk about “the gifts of cancer” and to me, it was the fact that it really forced me to stop wasting my time chasing a paycheck (which is of course important) but not fully realising myself as a person.
It’s a total cliche about having cancer that it forces you to really assess what is and what isn’t important in life, cut out the bullshit and try to make every moment count.
It might be a cliche but it’s still true.
I have been fortunate to meet and connect to other wonderful artists in London, who welcomed me into their community with open arms. Through Instagram I have also been able to connect and collaborate with artists from all over the world and get my work seen by thousands of people and that’s an incredible thing that I never thought would ever be possible.
Last year the pandemic hit and the decision to move to Norway to be closer to my partner (we were having a long-distance relationship up until then) had to finally be made.
It was already up in the air due to Brexit but after not being able to see each other for almost 6 months, we made an escape plan for myself and Thomas the cat which saw him picking me up from Dover in the UK and driving all the way back across Europe to Norway. It has been an interesting year since, despite the lockdowns and I am finally starting to feel a bit more settled in, with some ongoing projects and I have met a few interesting artists.
At this moment I have been contemplating this weird feeling of suddenly realising that I’m not a youngin anymore. It’s not a bad feeling and you certainly won’t see me rushing to the beautician for a shot of botox or anything of that sort.
It’s more of a realisation that there’s no time to be wasted on unimportant things, that I’m glad that I have a certain level of life experience that I don’t have to make the same mistakes again, learn to let go of certain things and people when they’re not good for you, that sort of thing. I’m enjoying this part of my life a lot and even though I’m always tired and don’t have the same energy as I once did, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.
I have a couple:
“I’m not negative, I’m a realist” – I’ve had patches made and t-shirts printed with this.
“I have excellent bad taste”
When and why did you first become interested in art and everything creative?
… and any pivotal creative moments / influences?
I don’t think I can pinpoint a specific moment when I became interested. I think it was always there, as far as I can remember. The main pivotal moments might have been described before – changing to the all art school from the awfully repressive and misogynistic catholic school, starting painting while I was in Uni and then later picking up art again after having cancer and going down the street art way.
I think the influences have changed and evolved through the years but in my teens I admired Frida Kahlo a lot (such a cliche, I know!), in my 20s I enjoyed surrealism and artists such as Cindy Sherman.
In my 30s I discovered pop surrealism and really appreciated the humour and playfulness.
Now on top of all of that, I am more interested in low brow, outsider and folk art. If pressed to explain why I would say that it’s the earnestness, imperfection and character that draws me to it.
If you had to explain your art and creative endeavours to some recently crash-landed aliens…
What would you tell them?
This is probably one of the hardest questions ever you can ask of an artist. I remember watching a documentary on Carmen Herrera, the wonderful Cuban- American abstract artist and she was asked to put her work into words. She replied something to the effect of “if I could put it into words I wouldn’t have to paint it”.
I can very much sympathise with this feeling.
I can tell you that it’s a peek into the (sometimes serious) nonsense and chaos that goes on in my mind and a (possibly clumsy) attempt of communicating that with others.
I still don’t know the why, but maybe one day I’ll find out!
It can be cheerful and colourful in appearance but I also feel that my dark-humored nature sometimes comes through and the work can be quite dark, even if not entirely apparent. Some people get it, some people don’t.
Funnily enough, the skull pieces aren’t the darkest, they’re actually more about life than death – memento mori. Most people look at those and see something negative, but I see it as a reminder to enjoy your life, which is not a negative thing at all.
Please describe your usual process for creating your art: From initial idea, to creation, eventual completion; and if it’s a public work – installation?
It depends on what I am making. If I am creating something under a specific theme or for a specific event, that will direct my eyes to what I will need in order to get as close as possible to the image I see in my mind’s eye. By this, I mean sourcing the collage materials, objects to modify, etc.
If I am creating something for myself in the sense that I have no constraints, it’s a lot more intuitive. I think that one of the reasons I like working with preexistent printed images or objects is that they give a hint on where to start – then I will just work on subverting them as ideas come, without thinking or analysing them too much. A bit like a subconscious outpour.
I was previously working mostly with drawing skulls over printed fashion magazine pages – somehow that made sense at the time. In the last year, I’ve moved forward from that and I’m doing a lot of other different things. It’s not that I don’t like the skulls and that I won’t ever do them again (I still do them occasionally, even if slightly differently) but I felt that this motif was restricting me too much after a while, and it wasn’t always necessarily appropriate for all events or themes I wanted to participate in.
I have also recently started adding textiles to my work, which is quite exciting and opens a lot more possibilities – and of course, implies a completely different approach.
Occasionally I will make original pieces that will go on the street as pasteups but most times they are printouts of pieces I have already created – the handmade ones especially if they are a large format can be very time consuming and there’s unfortunately only one of me churning out work. I would like to be able to do more large format pasteups though, it would be fun.
(Some recent paintings by Sara.)
If people wanted to work with you or buy some of your wares – How should they get in touch and where should they visit?
The best way is to go on my instagram page @hellothemushroom in my bio I have links to my shop and some galleries that have a few of my pieces.
Even better than that is to DM me on instagram if you see something you like in the feed. If something is no longer available, I am happy to create something similar as a commission.
Any upcoming projects you would like to mention?
I am quite excited to start working on something that I hope will turn into an interesting body of work, based on all of the information I have “studied” over the years about religious cults.
I am going to start soon with the first one which will be appearing at an event in October here in Oslo, about this Norwegian religious figure called Aage Samuelsen. I have sketches for pieces on Scientology, Heaven’s Gate, Teal Swan and a lot of other religious cult nutters and grifters so we will see how that turns out.
Odds and Ends
Who are some of your favourite artists, musicians and writers?
…and what is it about their works that so inspire and move you?
This is also a difficult question – I don’t think I can pinpoint an all-time favourite as I look at and enjoy so many different things.
The photographer Tim Walker comes to mind, the moods he creates in his photos are beautiful and most times, ethereal.
Anselm Kiefer is also a favourite of mine. I remember visiting a show of his works at the White Cube Gallery a few years back and it blew my mind. Maybe because it speaks to some aspect of darkness
If you could live in any place, during any historical era – Where and when would that be?
…and why would you choose that time and place?
I really like the 60s – the fashions, the design, the art. Maybe that would be one of my favourites.
As for the place, maybe in London?
What role did toys play in your childhood?
I was privileged to have had most of the toys I asked for. I had Barbies, lots of their clothes and accessories, My Little Pony figures and a farm, She-ra and her castle.
I also have fond memories of spending hours creating clothes for my dolls using scraps and a toy sewing machine, crochet, you name it.
Who was your 1st crush?
…and why were you so infatuated with them?
I remember I particularly liked Boy George, he was the most beautiful boy in the world in the 80s! I had a few photos of them in my scrapbooks even.
It’s no wonder that in the present day I absolutely love drag queens and genderbending queerness in general.
Does sex change everything?
What are the top 3 items you own?
[Please include photos or drawings of them!]
As an avid object collector with more than one glass display cabinet filled to the brim, this is a hard one to answer but I will try.
(I’m a maximalist, what can I do?)
A miniature kewpie doll I got from my great aunt.
A ceramic Misha bear (the Moscow Olympics mascot from 1980) gifted to me by a friend.
My collection of West Germany ceramics I’ve been amassing in the last year since I moved to Norway.
In a fight between the following mushroomy characters: Toad (from the computer game series ‘Super Mario Bros.’) Vs. Matango (from the 1963 Japanese film of the same name) – Who would win?
…and why would they be victorious?
I have to confess that I had to look up Matango, as I didn’t know that character. Now I think I have to try and watch the film at some point.
As for the battle, I think Matango would win – considering the descriptions I’ve read and the photos I’ve seen, it seems more of a badass compared to Toad!
Please describe your last dream in detail…
Moving to a different country and dealing with bureaucracy is always challenging. Add on top of that a pandemic and it gets a lot harder. It is no wonder then that one of my most recent dreams that I can recall was that I had finally managed to open a bank account and was finally able to get paid for the jobs I’ve done so far…
Other than that, I can’t recall anything else at the moment, just that I have a lot of anxiety dreams.
Of everything you have done, what would you most like to be remembered for?
I’ve done a lot of interesting things so far and each and one of them are important in their own way but mostly to me. I am not entirely sure what about what I do would be relevant for other people but hopefully, I would like to be a reminder that anyone can accomplish things if they work hard at it and stick to it for long enough, even after something like cancer.
Either that or my amazing collection of perspex earrings.
(Two recent worksby Sara.)