The photographer Sally Mann has said that it never occurred to her to look outside of her home, family, and immediate vicinity to find inspiration. So many artists feel they need to travel to exotic locations to find their inspiration, never exploring what is right in front of them or what they encounter in their daily lives.
In this episode of The Art Biz I talk with Sara Lee Hughes, an artist who is deep into a body of narrative paintings with recognizable imagery that is steeped in her personal story—going so far as to include her self-portraits in many of them. We talk about making such personal work and whether there is a market for such work. Sara Lee says her ultimate intention is that she gets under your skin. That when viewing her paintings, you start to question your actions and might find yourself reflecting on the encounter weeks later. We discuss the genesis of this body of work, how she is looking at her art in terms of the long game rather than seeking quick gratification, how she keeps her ideas, and how she has created a discipline that balances motherhood with her studio practice.
Waiting, Father Daughter Dance, and other pieces inspired by Sara Lee’s life. (1:55)
The family letters that have helped Sara Lee navigate her true self. (6:57)
Sara Lee’s 12-ft superhero cape and what it represents. (9:05)
Painting from experiences results in sincerity. (11:15)
Asking yourself questions can lead to your next inspiration. (14:55)
Sara Lee’s decision to use her own face in her paintings. (18:19)
The value of painting the part of your history that isn’t talked about. (21:32)
There are parts of your story that anyone can relate to. (25:17)
Using a list—rather than a sketchbook—to keep your ideas. (27:04)
Does personal work sell? (30:20)
The evolution of Sara Lee’s approach to her art business. (32:39)
Finding time for the most important work. (34:32)
“These tossed-off sketches are seeds for the work that I’ve done in the last five years.” — Sara Lee
“When I paint from my own experience, there’s a sincerity in my paintings.” — Sara Lee
“All of my work is my personal experience, so who better to use than myself? — Sara Lee
“My intention is to resonate with you through the works that have inspired me to be an artist.” — Sara Lee
About My Guest
Sara Lee is a narrative painter living and working in Lockhart, Texas. Her representational narratives are influenced by growing up in the south during the 1970’s and 80’s with divorced parents and operate as metaphors for discovery, other-ness, identity, connection, balance and truth. As a body of work, they highlight moments, memories and ideas that mark a journey of navigation through the differences between her gay father, straight mother and the socio-cultural norms of the era and those proceeding. In her work she is most interested in exploring and sharing the connection she had with her father before his death of AIDS, the profound guidance it had on her life, and how this personal experience fits into our country’s broader social and cultural heritage.
Sara Lee studied classical drawing and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she earned a certificate in painting and printmaking. She earned her MFA in painting from Pratt Institute. Sustaining herself through scenic painting and teaching, her work brought her back to Lockhart, Texas where she has lived since 2008.