Amid the Weeds, 2018

Oil paint, coffee, gold leaf, tissue, varnish on canvas

Dimensions: 48" x 48"

Image courtesy of the artist

Sarah Jane Phillips

Hunstville, Alabama

Throughout my life, I have struggled to varying degrees with an anxiety disorder. It’s as if I share my mind with a dark tide. At times, it swells unbearably to the surface, threatening to drown me. At other times, it remains a soft lull in the corner of my mind, waves peacefully lapping at the shore, almost forgotten.

Much of my art explores these feelings of anxiety. My figures dwell in dark, undefined, swirling masses that transform into mental landscapes. At times, the background obscures the figure, overwhelming it. At other times, it retreats, just as the tides of my own struggle ebb and flow. The glow of gold is a warm comfort within the darkness and a soft recollection of religious iconography that creates saints of the unabashed, naked curves of feminine forms.

In growing and exploring my identity as a woman, I’ve struggled to break with the ideas of traditional femininity: that to be feminine is to be small and unseen. Through my work, I depict women in a realistic and unidealized way that gives them power over their own expression, identity, and body.

In the grand tradition of figurative art, my figures are painted in oil. Most of my subjects are nude. Nudity expresses vulnerability as well as ownership of one’s own being. For eons, male artists have used female bodies as subject and muse. In fact, my figures are often described as “Rubenesque” as if the artist himself invented full bodies and natural curves. It is important for me to reclaim this imagery for myself and for the women I depict. I think women in art, both as artist and subject, have not held their own agency in history. I want to show women in a way that is personal and genuine. There is frailty and strength; sexuality and stillness; so many contradictions wrapped into a single form that express the many facets of femininity.

Many of my works evoke the flora and fauna of the American South. Grasses, lily pads, snakes, frogs, and algae recall the disquieting and beautiful habitat of the swamp, ever circulating with death and growth. The detritus creates haunting gloominess and beauty, the remnants of life nurturing new life. The brown hues recall dirt, from which all things grow and return.

More frequently, my figures are captured in scenes of nature, surrounded by Queen Anne’s Lace, forests, and hiking paths. In my own life, I seek connection with nature to find solace and calm my mind; to reflect in solitude. Many times, my paintings depict a solitary figure, the story of a singular being reflecting in nature and connecting with the universe and their truest self.

My art has allowed me to express myself and to expel my inner demons. My vocabulary has evolved through experimentation with different techniques and modifying traditional mediums. The results are at once sedentary and dynamic. The oil painting figures are often rendered in silent meditation. The environment is created through physical motion; I climb atop and around the canvas, flinging paint, throwing ink, and sprinkling dust. The canvas becomes a punching bag; I sling, hit, slap, and beat coffee, paint, ink, and charcoal into the surface. I experiment with different materials in order to create chemical reaction, and seek to immobilize them beneath a glossy surface. These reactions are often created by attempting to combine opposing ingredients such as oil and water, ink and turpentine. Many of the brown hues are created with coffee.