YS: I gather you’re based in Portland, OR right now — are you originally from there?
SF: I am splitting my time between Portland, OR and North Adams, MA. I have a pendulum relationship with the coasts. I grew up in New England and went to college there. I moved to Oregon for six years where I got my foot in the door as a working artist, but I moved back east for a year-long residency. Now, I am racking up frequent flyer miles to nurture rich personal and professional relationships in both places.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What first interested you in painting?
I always wanted to pursue and artistic career, but I learned I wanted to paint in a serious way while earning a degree in printmaking. It was then I discovered a feeling of disconnect from my products in that medium. The sense of joy I felt digging into my acrylic paints with brushes and palette knives when the classwork was done told me in a very visceral way to move to painting.
And you completed a year-long residency in Concord, MA which is a pretty cool accomplishment. What was that experience like?
I have been on shorter residencies (ten days to one month in length), and the intense kind of making that goes on in those is extremely special. I feel lucky every day I had the opportunity to live and paint in Concord for a year to experience a different kind of energy as well. When you have a year, projects are paced differently. It’s more than a residency: in many ways, it’s a new stage of life you are entering into, if you allow it to be.
I was working at the Umbrella Community Arts Center enmeshed in said community, surrounded by local artists working in their studios, exploring their own voices. Many of them had been working in the building for decades. I feel I had the time, space, and support to work, think, and learn about my values very intensely. I had always loved painting objects, but this past year completely moved me into my current visual and intellectual interests in a way I am not sure I would have arrived at otherwise.
Residency programs have become sort of synonymous with art degrees now, when it comes to building CVs and so on. They vary in length and scope, of course, but how important do you feel that they are to artistic practice?
A residency of any length can be a time for many gifts: time, change, exploration, networking, travel, quiet, any or all of these. I think one’s art cannot help but be richer for the experience. Whether it is a place to grow and change, or a time to get away from the daily grind at home, a residency can be just what an artist needs to be her best self and make her best work.
I like the quietness of your paintings, which come across as meditative in a sense. What are some of your influences? When did you start working in this style?
When I first traded out printmaking for painting as my chosen medium in 2011, I was immediately drawn to painting objects. I love the idea that a painting could invoke a visceral reaction. I have always admired photorealistic painters, especially the trompe l’oeil painters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Over time, my compositions became more and more sparse, and I liked thinking of them as meditative spaces. This past year is when I feel I found my mature painterly voice and minimal aesthetic. As far as influences, I appreciate artists who can say a lot with a little. Agnes Martin’s quiet grids and pastel hues, and Giorgio Morandi’s endless still life compositions using the same set of objects in new iterations come to mind.
What is your studio like?
Messy. And filled with tiny objects. Painting minimally for me is catharsis and wish-fulfillment — I believe Freud talks about dreams in the same way.
What do you find to be the most fulfilling or exciting aspect of pursuing your painting (creatively, professionally, etc)?
I love the painting part — no, really! So much of being an artist is marketing, installing shows, applying to grants and residencies, social media, networking — weeks can go by without a paintbrush being touched. So when I am deep in a painting or a series, I don’t take it for granted. I also love hearing when people find something meaningful and personal in a particular piece. Art is truly it’s own language that can speak powerfully.
On the flip side of that, what has been the most challenging or daunting part?
Artists are rarely the romantic stereotype of folks who work when inspiration strikes. Sometimes it is about going to the studio every day, whether touched by the Muse or not. Being self employed comes with its own set of challenges, like making your own schedule and being responsible for your own hours and career path.
Do you have any tidbits of advice you’d offer to younger artists or those just getting started pursuing that career path?
If you find something you really love, just run with it. Explore it. Love it like a kid loves a favorite toy or game. If you are passionate about it, no matter what is is, that passion will come across and your work will glow. There will be a place in the world for it.
Find more at sarahfagan.com!
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