Sharka Hyland

If You Don't Have Any Other Choice

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Sharka Hyland is an artist currently based in Philadelphia. She is known for her text-based drawings. She is also an adjunct professor in fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania, and teaches Visual Studies 102: Two Dimensions: Form and Meaning, Typography, and a Benjamin Franklin Seminar: Open Book. Her website is

Interviewed by Bryn Friedenberg
Edited by Amy Goldfischer

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am by training a graphic designer, but most of the work I do now is drawing. However, my drawings are connected to graphic design, because they are based on type, typography and printing.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on the last paragraph of Marcel Proust—the very last part of the very last line. I’ve been working on passages from his texts for two and a half years.

What inspires your work?

Literature. Reading and finding images created through literary language. [My work] looks like printed text, but it’s drawn with a pencil.

Proust, The Guermantes Way (I/89), 2013
pencil on paper, 12x18

How did you get into drawing text?

I have been drawing for a long time. I drew different things based on architecture; or semi-abstract drawings. One day, I was reading and I read a page-long paragraph by Vladimir Nabokov. I realized that I’d never seen an image like that. It’s like the most perfect picture that is created through the words. And so I decided to draw it just as it was written. And I have never stopped.

What are you doing when you’re not creating?

Reading, or teaching. But reading; reading a lot.

Where are you from? Where did you study?

I am from what used to be Czechoslovakia. I went to school there until I was twenty, and later I studied literature in Germany. I got my graduate degree in graphic design from Yale, here in the states.

Can you name a few of your favorite artists or artworks?

Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Eyck, El Lissitzky, Jeff Wall, Manet, František Kupka and others.

Proust, Swann's Way (32), detail, 2013
pencil on paper, 12x18

Is your identity as a woman something you think about in your artwork?


“Though women earn half of the MFAs granted in the US, only a quarter of solo exhibitions in New York galleries feature women (Brainstormers Research, 2006 and Saltz, Village Voice, 9.21.06).” Why do you think this is? How can we change this?

I think that it’s just the result of centuries and centuries of most creative fields being dominated by men, and I don’t think it’s surprising. It will change, and I think it’s changing now. Even from what I’ve seen throughout my lifetime, it has changed a lot. I personally don’t think that it can be changed by some kind of demanding. It just seems like it should already be different today. It doesn’t make sense. You read all these articles and statistics about museum shows and female artists, and it’s surprising, but I also think it’s not surprising in the end. I think it will change with time. It will be frustrating in the meantime, but that’s how things work.

How do you want viewers to interpret your art?

I don’t really know. There’s not much to interpret, I think. It’s a strange thing to say, but how would you interpret it? Whenever my work is shown, there’s always an artist’s statement which explains it. The artist’s statement says that the drawings are of images created through language. I’m trying to be as precise as possible in describing what I do because I don’t think it’s so much about interpretation.

Do you have any tips or inspiring words for other female artists?

I don’t know if I have anything special to say to female artists. I think that you only become an artist if you don’t have any other choice. If you just have to do it. If not doing it is more difficult than doing it, then you do it. It’s not really a choice. Otherwise, I don’t know who would choose to be an artist. It sounds romantic, but it’s really frustrating, hard, depressing and lonely. Why would anyone want to do that? Only about one and a half percent of artists actually make a living. So if you don’t have to do it, don’t do it. But if you have to, then you have to. I know that’s not very inspirational, but that’s how I feel about it.

Do you show your work/where?

I have a gallery that used to have a place in Philadelphia, that now shows in different art fairs in different cities. It’s called Gallery Joe, and it specializes in drawing. Through them, I started to show in a couple of galleries in Paris and Berlin.

Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn (I), 2013
watercolor and pencil on paper, 11x14
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