It’s not often that you find artists that excel in 5 or more mediums, which is why getting a submission from Sarah Zar feels like receiving a golden ticket.
Paintings, collage, drawing, objects, & photography are all part of her creative practice, and after delving into her portfolio, it became clear to me that her output is the product of an insatiable mind. Questions, perspectives, reflections, and critiques, all embedded in a variety of modes & applications, creating incredibly wide ranging bodies of work that stop you in your tracks.
Sarah Zar’s art is moody… in a really palatable, cool way. She blends texture & technique in differentiating proportions, letting ephemera lead when it needs to, while giving it her own unique spin. Whether her Historic Manscapes series in which a man shares a sunset, her radical collages, or her paintings, it’s clear Sarah needs to be making things.
I, for one, am grateful that she does.
In the following Exclusive Interview on IPaintMyMind, Sarah & I unpack inspiration, obstacles, history, and her concept of ‘thinking through sight.’
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Sarah, thanks so much for submitting your work to IPMM! We were instant fans.
Thanks, Evan. I love your mission, and was happy to find IPMM!
You draw, paint, work with objects, collage and more. Why do you like working in various mediums?
I don’t think of mediums as segregated practices. Each medium is like a language, carrying its own cultural burdens, evocations, and subtleties. I try to use the language that best aligns with my vision for each piece. Like the words that rise from a group’s collective need to express meaning over time, each method of making art grew from a desire. As this desire collects history, sheds context, and grows new skin, the possibility of its subtexts are constantly emerging. Every material reveals and obscures in its own way, and I love to trade between the veils.
What medium did you start with? I’m always interested in the process of working in various mediums and how artists get drawn one way or another.
The first piece I remember making, as a very small child was a combination between drawing, painting, and 3D collage. I painted a snake, covered it completely with black oil pastel, then scratched away its skin to make patterns. After it looked like a snake, I cut it out and glued it to a background, so it looked like it was slithering in and out of the image, with its forked tongue curling off the page. Despite a varied approach, drawing was my first love, followed closely by sculpture. When I was growing up, I won an apprenticeship in Renaissance style cast drawing. Learning technical skills as a young teenager was the most fantastic gift anyone could have given me, because it allowed me to depart from tradition consciously and explore style with intention. Drawing and sculpture were like breathing after that, and working with them still feels like magic.
Are there stumbling blocks with certain mediums you don’t find in others?
I think that most learning requires mistakes, but painting was definitely the most difficult. If I look at any square inch of anything, I see so many embedded colors that the idea of eliminating some in favor of others was ominously daunting for me when I first began. The amount of choice and loss involved in the art of omission was completely overwhelming. Then a very clever teacher told me that art is often an act of betrayal, and that did the trick.
Your work is moody in a really cool way. What thread ties together the various mediums you work in?
Thank you! I would say that the artists are the “various mediums”. All we have innately is the thread of our perception. I’m not sure what ties us together, but to return to your question about mediums, I think this goes back to the idea of reading. I see everything as a text, a lateral translation… I love to read, and generate meanings. Materials sometimes evoke different results from their wranglers during the translation process. In sculpture and collage, I tend to be playful. With painting, my symbolic thinking tends to spill over into the process once the sketch of the overall image is resolved. (A hole in a frame might be placed to mirror with the form of a figure hidden in shadow, detailed rendering will cluster around connected elements, and areas less central to the contextual connections will split into generalities…) With drawing, there is more opportunity for my subconscious intentions to hijack the narrative as I work. Sometimes choosing a medium is about choosing what type of control you are ready to sacrifice.
You also seem to love history and incorporating elements of the past into your work. How do you view that tendency?
That’s true. Lost histories are important to me. I have a deep respect for historians, but my concern is not related to preservation. I am more interested in the way the pieces that remain change as they inform a culture that is not directly connected to their temporal context. Like everyone else, I come from a long line of survivors. My grandparents (on the Zar side) were Holocaust survivors. After they escaped and their lives were no longer in direct danger, my grandmother began to collect beautiful antiques, and my grandfather made a hobby of restoring ancient swords. I think I unconsciously absorbed the idea that when there is a place for beautiful objects in the world, their custodians and makers are safe… perhaps even welcome.
What did art school do for you personally?
It gave me a chance to learn with and from innovative peers, and to work with one of my favorite living painters, which is an experience I will always cherish. My school had a phenomenal visiting lecture series, and provided opportunities to trade ideas, dine, and debate with some of the most interesting artists and critics of our time. The art history courses were surprisingly exciting, which was an unexpected treat. Being immersed in a culture of thinkers and makers is a fantastic privilege. It ignited my passion for teaching, and gave me access to a gigantic studio, which facilitated a lot of exploration.
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