The ancient Celts described the windswept, Irish moors as “thin places.” It was in these places they believed that the distance between the physical and spiritual world became shorter. To stand in a thin place, a person had the ability to touch the edge of the transcendent. These places were not for comfort, but rather for finding meaning through reflection. In my work I try to capture the thin places in my own life.
I am very interested in the abstract and emotive qualities of the sky and how they work in conjuncture with the overall tone of my work. While some subjects lend themselves to artists to paint what they see, the landscape allows me to paint what I am in. This can be both a physical or emotional space, and through the process of painting, my own internal landscape is conveyed.
My subject allows me to feel small in this world, by letting me put myself in the vast spaces that I create. It is only through painting the enormity of what surrounds me, that I feel and reconcile its weight.
Sarah Nelson is a New Orleans artist living and working in the Bywater neighborhood.
Questions & Answers
Describe your art in three words.
Evocative, Neo-Romantic, Atmospheric
Describe yourself in one word.
What do you love the most about creating art in New Orleans? What particular part of your immediate environment, in your neighborhood specifically influences your work?
This city has the best skies. It’s actually pretty distracting, especially when you are biking. The weather patterns, and even the pollution here, create this beautiful sense of light that is unique New Orleans itself. It has me hooked. This a place so rich with visual imagery, that the ideas I get for paintings seem to stack up in my mind to a point where I might need to invest in some kind of external storage unit.
Describe your creative process. Are there any rituals or rites of passage you exercise before you begin a new piece?
I have only one important ritual: trusting in the creative process itself. As in life, painting requires a lot of flexibility- applying and removing layers, twisting and changing shapes. I try not to hold on too closely to any one idea and let each piece evolve in its own entity.
Where do you draw inspiration?
I like to notice the way that light sits in the external environments around me- the way it glazes everyday objects and scenes, telling you the secrets of their beauty that you might of previously missed. Those images are what light my fire.
Who are your artistic influences or gurus?
Egon Schiele for form. Anselm Kiefer for texture. J.M.W. Turner for atmosphere. Caravaggio for light.
In New Orleans, art and music go hand in hand. What type of music, band or song lyric best describes your work?
I would cue a Gillian Welch song. Real women know the importance of a good pair of boots in the muddy season, and she is one of them. I try to paint like she sings.
Where can we find you when you are not creating art?
You could find me looking for inspiration to do the creating part.
What is your favorite time of day/day of the week/month of the year?
Dusk has always held a nice sense of fascination for me.
What is something people don’t know about you? A fun fact.
I grew up on little island off the coast of MA where you had to take an hour-long ferry to get to the mainland. Some of our school field trips were to the mall.
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Where You Can Find My Work
All works listed online are available to be viewed at Where Y’Art Gallery by appointment.
Dat Dog, Frenchmen St.
Law Office of John J. Finckbeiner, Exchange Alley
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Second Weekend in Contemporary Crafts