Deeply fascinated by the changing world around her, Sarah Emerson creates work inspired by environmental issues and swirls reality together with the unknown. While Sarah likes to focus on nature, she finds inspiration from all different styles of artwork. Her colorful and stylized paintings have been shown in many different countries and cities, but this August will be her first time showing work in Los Angeles. The Corey Helford Gallery will be displaying her first solo exhibition, “Ruin in Reverse”, starting August 19 up until September 16.
SARAH EMERSON INTERVIEW
TESS (HIGHLARK): Hi Sarah! Your paintings reflect on how nature is changed and distorted over time, what do you find compelling about this concept?
SARAH EMERSON: I am struck by renewal and survival in nature. No matter what the circumstance, nature finds a way to adapt and thrive. I thought it made a fitting and malleable subject for examining more complex ideas about human nature. Of course, when I started working with the subject matter, environmental concerns were not as widely discussed as they are today but certainly climate change has become a large part of my engagement with nature as a subject.
TESS: Has your art always been heavily influenced by nature?
SARAH: Yes, when I began to explore subject matter and technique, I looked to literature and psychological archetypes for inspiration. Over the years I’ve used many different symbols and archetypes in the landscapes. Since the forest usually represents the great unknown in literature it’s a recurring vehicle for me to present themes that reflect on the fragility of life, the futility of earthly pleasures, and the disintegration of our natural landscape.
TESS: Was there a specific moment in your life when you realized you wanted to be an artist?
SARAH: I was initially interested in photojournalism. I first thought of art as a possibility in my later years of high school when I moved to Miami. Miami was such a big city compared to where I had lived before and I was just surrounded by so many talented artists that really inspired me. I went to art school for photography and I was introduced to painting and drawing. I’m sure I’m not unique in this, but I was fascinated by creating and manipulating different versions of reality through drawing and painting. I’m not sure I ever chose to be an artist, I just started working on art and never stopped.
TESS: While your paintings are inspired by reality, you chose to display them in a more abstract way. Some elements are always left recognizable, while the rest swirls together and sometimes displays creatures or faces. How do you decide how much to distort in your paintings?
SARAH: In creating compositions I am looking for tension between the surface of the painting and implied space for the viewer. I never let myself forget that I’m working on a flat surface, an object for display. My latest series is probably my most fractured and has a less recognizable horizon than previous paintings. A lot of this has to do with feeling a sense of socio-political chaos and unrest. I want the landscape to exist in its own space with its own set of rules but I want it to seem familiar to myself and my viewer. I like to steal from the literary world to describe this, the paintings are apocryphal in that they are based on the real world but they are not ever real.
TESS: Your exhibition “Ruin in Reverse” will be shown this August at the Corey Helford Gallery – what is your favorite part about sharing new work with others?
SARAH: I’m looking forward to new conversations about the subject matter. It’s always amazing to hear what other people are thinking about and seeing in the images. In the studio it’s very personal for me to make the work and I’m very invested in the subject, technique, and narrative but I understand that my intentions probably have little to do with whether or not someone finds meaning or interest in the work once it’s hanging somewhere.
TESS: What are you most excited for your audience to see at your new exhibition?
SARAH: I’ve never shown my work in Los Angeles so this show is an introduction to a completely new audience for me and it’s a whole new body of work. I’m very grateful to Caro and the team at Corey Helford Gallery for inviting me to share my work.
TESS: While it is clear that you draw inspiration from abstract art, what other types of art do you find inspiring?
SARAH: I’m really not picky about art; sometimes the most random image will inspire a whole new body of work or a whole new way of thinking about a medium. I admire and look to so many artists for inspiration and I never get bored of looking at art. I often look to artists that allow their work to evolve outside of the specific expectations of a movement or medium, artists like Louise Bourgeois, Gerhard Richter, Philip Guston, and Kara Walker.
TESS: While many of your exhibitions feature paintings, you also do murals. Do you prefer working on one type of canvas over the other?
SARAH: I don’t have a preference, I love working on both canvas and large murals but I see them very differently. Paintings are objects, they can be consumed and owned by one person and they are experienced differently depending on scale and context. Murals are often public and they can be collectively owned and experienced. I love that public murals are mostly temporary and affected by the elements; they get tagged, faded, and replaced in time.