Sarah Richards sits in the lobby of the Oregon Research Institute, legs crossed as she writes in her journal. Surrounding her are 14 paintings all done in acrylics. They showcase scenes as diverse as the back alleys of Eugene to the verandas of Italy. One has a musician crammed into a small room littered with sheets of music as he draws his bow across a double bass. Another portrays the patterns of electrical wires as they crisscross the sky lit by the first moments of dawn. There is emotion to the work, confident strokes splashing deep colors that grasp at the eye.
Sarah is here because in the mornings she works upstairs with a special needs child. It’s also Sarah’s paintings on the wall. She hung the showing herself; work carefully placed by color and theme. The largest piece is the central one, titled “The Practice Room”, which portrays the musician in his small chamber.
That was the first painting she hung, though after putting it up she realized it was slightly crooked — a detail exposed when examining the shadow. Sarah decided that rather than rehang the piece she would make it work by tilting all the rest.
As a group of people walk towards the exit, one woman separates and murmurs a question to the receptionist. The response is a point towards Sarah. Satisfied the woman continues on her way, but pauses halfway out the door. Her voice rings out. “Excuse me miss, it’s all really beautiful,” she says with a sweeping gesture towards the paintings. Sarah looks up, slightly surprised, and thanks her — but the door is already shutting as the woman shuffles into the sunlight towards her battered dark green sedan.
Making a living as a painter can be tough. The top fine artists — which include painters, sculptors and illustrators — can earn about $53,220 per year. But the problem is finding one’s footing, as 12.6 percent of students are unemployed after graduating with a Fine Arts major.
Many artists will take second jobs, something Sarah is quite familiar with. She has worked as a nanny, a studio manager, a foreign language teaching assistant and an au pair. While she has yet to survive solely on her paintings, she is hopeful, as several of her peers have achieved that success. Sarah’s goal is to find an art gallery that will display her work and give her much needed exposure — helping to market and sell her paintings.
Sarah is a slight woman, able to fit neatly into the small gap between her couch and coffee table that is normally reserved for legs when she paints. The 25-year-old perches on her knees, center of gravity balanced by impeccable posture. Her brown hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail and her left hand is tucked away in her lap. The only movement comes from her right hand, which swings the brush upward from her color palate to the tabletop easel with quick and deliberate motions. As she paints, music from the late David Bowie warbles from a record player.
The easel before her is old and worn around the edges. Splotches of crusted paint dot the dark wood. Before, Sarah used to work on her lap or balance her canvas on a makeshift pile of books. Now she uses her grandmother’s old easel, bonding the two over a shared passion.
Sarah is on the floor because that is how she has painted since she was a little girl. Growing up Sarah never had enough room in a house shared with four siblings, so when she wanted to craft the homemade books she would painstakingly illustrate, she would have to carve out a little space for herself in the corner — always on the ground. It’s become a superstition, as she believes working at a higher elevation will ruin the art.
But now she won’t stay on the floor for much longer, because she never paints beyond her own mandated timeframe. If she can’t produce her vision in two hours, it was never meant to be. Sarah believes that it makes her work less contrived, allowing the scenes to hold the same spontaneity found in life. She found that working longer on a painting led to her redoing the same small sections. Rather than add to her vision, she would become mired in the pursuit of perfection — which wasn’t what she wanted to capture.
Sarah always loved art, but her formal training in the field began later in life. She took her first art class the last term of freshman year at Umpqua Community College, and realized that her journalism major no longer fit. After she transferred to the University of Oregon for her final two years, Sarah finally made the transition to become an art major. It was a choice her family supported, as they were proud of Sarah for being the first person in the family to go to college.
It was during her classes that her talent as an artist really began to shine through. Her paintings are impressionistic but include elements of abstract work. They are representational, made using photos that Sarah takes. Critics have described the paintings as “bold, fresh and confident.” For Sarah the work is just “her”.
The colors she uses are always influenced by where she is currently living — which means grey has been appearing recently to fit the Oregon weather. But that will soon change as Sarah plans on moving away from Eugene in the fall. The art scene just isn’t enough to make a living with the type of paintings she does. Sarah needs to move somewhere with higher disposable income, with galleries that can display her work. She needs to be able to meet with other artists and create a client base that will purchase her pieces. She hasn’t figured out where that location is, but she is looking.
A week after she crookedly hung her work at the Oregon Research Institute, Sarah’s cellphone rang. The painting “The Audition” had sold for $90. For her its confirmation that she has chosen the right the path, though it can be slow going at times. She loves that people can find joy in what she creates. Sarah will keep pursuing a career as a painter because it was what she was meant to do. Hopefully it will soon become a fulltime job.
Sarah Richards was born in rural Oregon, where she was raised - often with her sisters by her side, a pen in hand, or her toes in a creek bed. She grew up well below the poverty line and didn't truly leave her hometown until she graduated, in 2009, from Glide High School, located in the enchanting foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
During her following Art School years at Umpqua Community College, Lane Community College, and eventually the School of Architecture and Allied Arts at the University of Oregon, Sarah had the opportunity to study subjects that not only interested her deeply, but that were unheard of in her community in rural, poverty-stricken America.
While studying Art, which ultimately was her degree, she took great academic and practical interest in Gender Studies, Sociology, Sexuality and the Human Experience, Psychology, Metaphysics, and Life in Antiquity. All of these "studies a la carte" profoundly affected her artwork, representationally and conceptually. Some of her best known Collegiate works held subject matter ranging from U.S. beauty standards in the home, to the act of dressing, the painful and traumatizing act of clitoridechtomies, and more.
Her current representational body of work focuses on daily moments, like sitting at a stoplight, or passing a fork. Her abstract work currently focuses on color and movement and is non-representational.
Sarah lives and works in Tempe, Arizona.
Sarah is currently booking shows and events, as well as accepting private commissions, contact now.
An article by Christoper Keizur
I see creating artwork as a fluid motion- never beginning or ending, always in cyclical action.
My work is a reflection of my deepest interests and curiosities- as primitive as the joy of simply making a mark, touching pigment to paper, and as advanced as identifying and replicating the subtle nuances of an orange sunset on a freezing day in December. This is why the audience member who views my work will find both pleasures being played with and nursed in my artistry- bold brushstrokes that borderline abstraction against issues of formality and classical tradition- a hovering point that I find myself continuously dangling over with ceaseless enjoyment.
I aspire to create work that is fresh, bold, yet profoundly relevant to viewers of all social backgrounds, from the "average" audience member to the "elite" art critic. My work is for the people.
I hope that you enjoy my work and that it raises questions to you- be it questions of production or questions of content.