New Canaan, CT
Sarah Saunders is a working artist, floral stylist, and aspiring jewelry designer. With a recent MFA from Pratt, she works out of a studio that she shares with her father in Connecticut, experimenting with unusual materials and attempting to harness the power of chance to create a totally new style.
When did you first start making art?
I’ve always been creative. I always took art classes after school and things like that. As an undergraduate I did ceramic sculpture mostly, and then I did my masters at Pratt in painting.
At what point in your career did you decide to work as a professional artist?
I probably made that decision my freshman year of college, right when I got there. I got into college, had to pick a major, was already interested in a lot of art classes, and it felt like the right thing to do, so I decided to do it. It was an easy decision. It wasn’t like this thing I fought over, or thought about too much; it was something that was intuitive and felt right. I wasn’t afraid to do it. I just knew this was what I wanted to do.
What are you working on right now? You seem to have quite a few things going on.
I’m kind of like my father, I’ve always got a lot of different things going on at once! That keeps it fresh—one thing might give me an idea for something else. Mostly, I’m working on some larger works with spray paint, charcoal, and oil bar, and a couple of other things, but I’ve mostly been doing these foam panel paintings. The spray paint and the foam have a chemical reaction where the spray paint eats at the foam. I like the unpredictability about it, that I can always be discovering something new about it.
How does your family life affect your art?
There’s six of us total—I have three brothers and two sisters. I’m the fifth out of six. So it’s crazy, it’s fun, we’re all really good friends, we all do different things, but they’re also supportive of my work as an artist. I went to Brigham Young University—I am Mormon. You could say I'm very into it. My spirituality has an impact in every aspect of my life, and therefore has an impact on my art. How? I think it’s kind of hard to separate exactly how, because it’s always been a part of who I am. My belief that we exist after this life, and that our relationships continue after this life finds its way into my work. I also like to think about my ancestry, because as Mormons we’re very into our ancestors and how they are connected to us, the idea of existing as families after this life, so I do a lot of work that relates to my ancestry and who I am. Culturally, the fact that my mother is from Denmark also influences my work.
Is there any theme in your work that is woven through the different mediums in which you work?
I’ve always been very sculptural, and I try to make my paintings very sculptural, to bring the worlds of sculpture and painting together into one voice. In terms of content, in an underlying way I’m always talking about the idea of change because I’m really fascinated by the way that things are always changing. Human beings always try to predict the future: we try to know what the weather is, we try to predict markets. But the reality is that there is always some unknown element and we won’t always know how things will change. It’s about learning to be open—both in my personal life and artistically. I especially like the aspect of that in art: it’s vulnerable. It’s going to change without me knowing how it’s going to go.
You make use of some pretty unique materials, not just your average oil on canvas...
I frequently work directly on foam board—it’s just foam insulation like you would use in a house. I can just buy it at Home Depot. The spray paint just eats away at it, and depending on the amount of spray paint used, it will have a different effect. I’ll often use different objects from my environment to incorporate into the works as stencils. I’ll steal different tools from my Dad’s workbench, I’ll take bullet casings from the guns he’s been shooting, and different things around here which I’ll rearrange and use as stencils at times.
Like the clay coils. Is there a story there?
The coils (pictured) are actually forms taken by closing my hands around the clay, which I’ve also taken and re-purposed as stencils in some of my paintings. The idea behind the clay coils was to embrace the chance and uncertainty of things: when you try to build things this big, you can build it to be technically sound and perfect, you can dry it the exact amount of time needed, but then when you fire it the whole thing could explode! You never really know how it’s going to turn out. When I built the coils, some of them would fall apart and break and I would use the glaze to fuse some of them back together, but the unpredictability was really appealing. It was sort of a love-hate relationship.
What inspires you as an artist?
It’s always based on some kind of personal experience—an interaction with somebody, sometimes even just a sentence that I say in the course of any given conversation on the train or something. It’s always something that is related to my real life. An example is the large piece (pictured) with the writing in the background. The text is a conversation that I had with a lady that I baby-sit for. She was talking about how her daughter was dyslexic and wouldn’t be accepted in society because she can’t spell, and everyone is going to think that she’s dumb. I argued with her about that subject because l’m dyslexic and conventional learning has always been hard for me. I wrote parts of the conversation that I could recall onto the painting, and the other elements were brought in to symbolize how I felt about it.
Got a day job?
I am also working as a designer at an event company doing floral designs. It’s fun: we do a lot of corporate events and weddings. It’s an artistic thing that I’ve done since high school, and you basically get to sculpt and paint by using different colors of flowers and arranging them in a structure. So it’s actually quite enjoyable for me, because I feel like I’m doing the same creative exercise that I do in my studio as an artist.
What are your artistic ambitions?
I am showing now, but I would like to show and sell work internationally. I am also working on starting up my own company. I’m working on developing a jewelry line, and currently meeting with a number of different people to discuss the different aspects of that idea. The concept is to create more high-end, one of a kind pieces that incorporate non-traditional materials and re-purposed materials. Some examples include computer chips mixed with leather and feathers; I’m interested in the idea of taking things that are meant to be used one way, and finding a way to let people see them differently.