by Yolanda Wysocki
Sarah Fagan was one of the featured artists in the Winter 2014 edition of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions.
What struck me about Sarah’s work was the exquisite craftsmanship: the order and structure within her paintings. In our conversation, what kept coming through was her desire to express the essence of objects in her work. I too will attempt to distill the essence of our conversation here.
Yolanda Wysocki: Tell me about your paintings. What drew you to such order and structure?
Sarah Fagan: I’ve always been interested in science, genetics and biology, so I’ve always liked being outdoors knowing the names of things, and I’m interested in taxonomy and the order in the universe. I’m also a very messy person; I paint in my living room and there’s a lot of clutter so I like painting a lot of space in my canvases, and simple single objects, fields of color; nothing is hidden, nothing is covering anything. It calms me, feels meditative to paint that way.
YW: How do you choose the objects you combine?
SF: I am fascinated with objects and the way they feel. I have synesthesia, where senses cross. I see numbers and letters and shapes and things like that in different colors. When I see an object that has symmetry and balance, or something handmade, with texture, I want to touch it, but I also want to paint it. I think of my paintings as portraits of objects. Then I play around and see what things look balanced, have symmetry together.
YW: Your paintings seem to have an idea behind them and the titles suggest that as well.
SF: I have a lot of fun with titles, but I think the idea comes after I put things together. Certain things pair nicely, and I wonder what is it about those two that make them go well together.
They are ordinary objects; everyone knows what they are. I think that people who are drawn to certain paintings create their own narrative, and that’s what I hope for. I like to draw people in because the objects are empty slates. But they really are about order and beauty, and I like people to fill in the blanks after that, to find their own meaning. That’s my favorite part.
YW: You teach kids’ art classes. How has working with kids informed your art making?
SF: Before I started painting I was an FT preschool teacher, and I loved watching how the kids experienced the world every day. If we found a ladybug, we might spend the whole day being entertained by the ladybug, and I thought Wow, these kids are seeing the world the way I want to see the world.
I left teaching to go to art school, but I think I’m attracted to things that a child might be attracted to. I think there are a lot of beautiful things in our daily lives and I want people to look closer and to look at things as an object of potential. I want people to think about the everyday objects, and to stay curious.
Kids give me so many ideas. I still work with them because they’ll always ask the questions you never thought you’d be asked.
YW: What’s your favorite question that a kid has asked you?
SF: “Why would you make a painting of a pencil?” A bunch of kids thought it was so cool that someone would make a painting of a pencil. That may have been the first time I thought about this; an artist doesn’t have to paint a Mona Lisa. I love pencils, so why wouldn’t I paint something that was really important to me? It seems that question had to be asked sooner or later.
YW: What would you like people to ask you that they are not asking?
SF: I know my own my work so well, so I expect everyone to see it a certain way but they don’t. I like questions that take me off guard, when someone makes me stop and wonder why I am doing things a certain way. You think you know everything about your work and then realize you know nothing, you aren’t paying attention to the decisions you are making; you’re just kind of doing it.
YW: Other influences?
SF: I love Dutch Baroque art; they make it look so realistic and that’s the epitome of painting for me, and seeing a brush stroke here and there.
I don’t like the clutter of Baroque painting, but I would tease it apart and do a single painting for each object that was in that one painting, and give each the reverence it deserves.
YW: Just like what you are doing! Is there a challenge you are currently exploring with your art?
SF: There has been a little shift in my paintings. I’m getting a little more abstract, maybe including a landscape that is so abstract you can’t see it’s a landscape anymore. I’m also trying to notice how I feel, or think about where I was when I found certain objects, to impart a mood and try to be less literal. Or I may visually split a panel, pairing something literal with an abstract field of color, and create a mood. I am seeing if I can orchestrate a certain feeling through objects, through color, to be able to make viewers feel a certain way and not leave it totally open-ended. I am seeing what abstraction does for me. It’s just a different language.
YW: It sounds like you are trying to distill the essence behind things.
SF: I love the word “distill.” A lot of the work I do is practice for me: I’ve been building a vocabulary, painting it, then if there’s an object I really like I will use it in more advanced paintings, maybe with more of a narrative. Going forward, I’m working on being more in tune about what I choose and where I place things.
YW: I’m curious about where this leads.
SF: Me too!
Sarah received a BA in Fine Arts and English Literature from a small liberal arts college outside of Boston. She worked as an editor and writer for a New England arts magazine for three years before relocating to Portland, Oregon in 2009. There she decided to concentrate on her own artmaking, and attended a post baccalaureate program at the Oregon College of Art and Craft where she studied bookbinding, printmaking and painting. In Portland, Sarah has developed a traveling curriculum of art classes which she teaches at various venues. When not teaching, she is painting: Her work is represented by Portland’s Blackfish Gallery. Sarah is the guest art editor for VoiceCatcher’s upcoming Summer 2014 edition.
Yolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.