I’m a huge fan of the photographer Sally Mann who, in the documentary about her work titled What Remains, 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 find exotic locations. Never exploring what is right in front of them or what they encounter in their daily lives.
This results in missed opportunities to make art that is uniquely your own.
In this episode of The Art Biz I talk with Sara Lee Hughes 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. (As in the many faces of Sara Lee in the painting above.)
I wanted to ask Sara Lee about making work with her life experience at its core, and, honestly, the market for art that is so personal. The bottom line: Will art sell when it's focused on the artist’s personal narrative?
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 even find yourself reflecting on the encounter weeks later.
We discuss the genesis of this body of work (It’s a great story!), 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.
Listen to the Podcast
- Waiting, Father Daughter Dance, and other paintings 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)
- Sara Lee’s approach to her art business, her schedule, and balancing motherhood. (32:39)
Sara Lee Hughes Quotes
- “These tossed-off sketches are seeds for the work that I’ve done in the last five years.”
- “When I paint from my own experience, there’s a sincerity in my paintings.”
- “All of my work is my personal experience, so who better to use than myself?”
- “My intention is to resonate with you through the works that have inspired me to be an artist.”
About My Guest
Sara Lee Hughes is a narrative painter living and working in Lockhart, Texas. Her representational narratives are influenced by growing up in the south during the 1970s and 80s 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.
Follow her on Instagram @sara.lee.hughes