Sarah Austin is an artist and student who lives and studies in Brunswick, ME. Sarah attends Bowdoin College where she studies Psychology and Visual Arts. She plans to attend graduate school for psychology and pursue her passion for working clinically with mental health patients. Sarah’s artwork is composed mainly of acrylic-based portrait paintings, and she draws inspiration from a background in sculpture and photography, as well as her background studying psychology.
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How can the tension between abstraction and realism be used to make the intangible – the spiritual, the emotional – tangible?
My paintings imagine that an exterior can also be an interior—that we really can see who someone is just by looking. By decontextualizing these portraits with disrupted realism, I attempt to transform the mundane portrait into a triggering experience that reflects both the personality of the subject and myself, as the artist. Drawing inspiration from my own emotions, a background in sculptural work, and an interest in psychology and spirituality, I create intimate, gestural illustrations of faces. They are reminiscent of dreamy, transcendent states that have no basis in reality, except for the very human forms that confront us on the canvases. They are visceral, but intangible, and remind us of how scary it is to truly be oneself.
I return again and again to the question of how to deconstruct a portrait so that it is more than just a portrait. Working mainly with acrylic, joint compound, and spackling paste, I explore this question by striking a tension between abstraction and realism, and between painting and sculpture. My process is rooted in experimentation, and each piece reflects a different potential for representation and a distinctive use of color, brushstroke, and texture.
Sarah Austin has a demonstrated ability for realistic portraiture, but this series of acrylic on wood panel paintings steps into another realm. These portraits not only capture the essence of her subject as a successful portrait does; the abstract colorful backgrounds blend into the form of the figure, questioning their solidity. Each portrait is posed stoically with a softness in the gaze, whether directed at the viewer or just beyond, giving a sense of humanity to counteract the fleeting nature of the portraits. As the backgrounds bounce around in depth from foreground to background the figures feel as if they may fade into the canvas. This distortion of reality embodies modern expressionism as viewers are confronted with “how scary it is to truly be oneself.” Each brush stroke is left unaltered on the canvas giving the works a “visceral but intangible” feeling, further transforming the portrait into a questioning of what it is to be human.