Interview by Ruth Grim, Chief Curator and Gary R. Libby Curator of Art
Home: Paintings by Sara Pedigo
Open at MOAS May 8, 2021 - July 25, 2021
Artist, Sara Pedigo
Sara Pedigo is a North Florida painter who seemingly unpretentious views of her home and immediate personal environments have brought her recognition and awards nationally and internationally. She grew up in the South after receiving her MFA in Painting from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2007. She is currently a Professor and Department Chair of Visual and Performing Arts at Flagler College located in St. Augustine, Florida, her undergraduate alma mater. Pedigo has exhibited nationally, with solo exhibitions at Western Illinois University, Furman University, College of Southern Nevada, Barton College, and Arts on Douglas, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and Wynn Bone Gallery in Annapolis, Maryland.
RUTH: Sara, we've titled your exhibition "Home" because you seem to love to focus on intimate, everyday scenes of your own home, often caught in its familiar "lived in" state. This, of course, has a deep resonance with all of us these days as we've found ourselves working from home and more attached to our own home environment than we ever thought we would be. But you've been painting these types of scenes for many years - long before the pandemic. Can you explain to us a bit of what makes this type of subject matter appeal to you so strongly?
SARA: First and foremost, I want to take a moment to thank you for inviting me to exhibit at MOAS and for this interview. It is my greatest joy to share my work publicly and as someone who is especially susceptible to compliments, to hear that the paintings resonate.
Since roughly 2012, my work shifted from being primarily figurative and based on photographs to directly recording aspects of my daily life, which resulted in lots of artworks recording seemingly mundane occurrences. The twentieth-century painter Charles Hawthorne spoke of "learning to see more beautifully." Considering this, my simple premise is to see the beauty in my everyday surroundings as a celebration of life itself. For me, light plays a large role in turning the familiar into the spectacular. Painting directly from life or perceptual paintings requires substantial time looking at a subject. Typically, these paintings take a series of months to complete. As it turns out, the more time I spend looking, the more beauty I see everywhere. I've since read a good deal about mindfulness, a connection that seems very obvious. I am particularly delighted by cast shadows and reflected light bouncing around rooms and changing as the days and seasons pass. Author John O'Donohue, talks about this idea, though unrelated to painting, in an essay entitled "To Beautify The Gaze." He states, "The graced eye can glimpse beauty anywhere, for beauty does not reserve itself for special elite moments or instances; it does not wait for perfection but is present already secretly in everything. When we beautify our gaze, the grace of hidden beauty becomes our joy and our sanctuary."
RUTH: I think I can safely say that people do not figure very prominently very often in your paintings. Rather, the human presence is implied by clothing draped over a chair or used dishes, etc. Everything that makes up our everyday lives, especially at home. And yet over this past summer, you had a portrait accepted to the BP Portrait Award 2020 Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in England. How exciting! And congratulations! Can you tell us a bit about how that came about and your feelings on this honor?
SARA: I agree with you that most of my work implies humans but does not directly feature them. I have become more and more drawn to that element because it opens the work up to others, allowing the viewer to enter the scene as through it was theirs. As I mentioned above, I previously painted the figure quite a bit but have gradually done so less and less as my interests shifted. However, I have continued to paint self-portraits (although most don't end up in the public sphere). The BP Portrait Award is a highly prestigious annual competition that requires the painting's completion in the calendar year before the exhibition. I previously submitted to the contest unsuccessfully but wanted to enter again. This year I was very fortunate because my painting was among 48 paintings selected for the exhibited form the 1,981 entries from 69 countries. I found out via email right before one of my morning classes and scared several of my students because I ran out of my office yelling, "I can't believe it, I can't believe it!"
RUTH: It's a beautiful portrait and a real testament to your love for what you do. And yet, in looking at the painting on your website I can't help but notice that you figure somewhat slightly in the composition. The painting is a tour de force in the atmosphere, temporality (the bewitching hour of dusk hangs so mysteriously over the painting), and your signature skill with the palette knife in your painting style. It's a masterful work showing yourself at your easel viewed through a window that seems to say that you are a painter at your very core. In other words, the painting, as a portrait, seems to say that you are all about what you do, which is paint. Am I wrong in my interpretation? Can you elaborate a little on that... or offer other feelings on this portrait you submitted to this very prestigious competition?
SARA: I love that you get that from the portrait. As a painter, I am drawn to the idea of being a "painter's painter" and so it would make sense that I would present myself that way. There is something about reflections in windows at night that are fascinating. I think it is because there is always an intricate double image, a world outside of the window, and the interior life reflected onto the glass. The painting is as much a self-portrait as it is a record of me merely looking at my studio window. It is also an unusual painting because I moved out of that house before I thought the work was entirely resolved. Deciding when to stop working on a piece is a challenge for me, and frequently "completed" paintings find themselves back on the easel for alterations. With this painting, I took it as an opportunity to move on and let certain aspects of its creation stay more visible, including measuring lines and marks. It is not a typical portrait, and that is what I like about it. The work visually shares the rich complexity of a seemingly banal object, as opposed to a straightforward version of myself.
RUTH: You've been teaching quite some time now and I'd like to ask what you consider the most important words of advice you offer your students.
SARA: Teaching is a gratifying and challenging job; I find that it is continually pushing me to be a better artist and educator. One bit of advice that I frequently give to students is that "time equals talent." I am a firm believer in the idea that the only way to get good at something is to dedicate significant time to practice. Malcolm Gladwell made this case very popular in his book "Outliers" where he discusses the 10,000-hour rule. Essentially, to become exceptional at something, one must spend that much time practicing. Frequently, students can get discouraged if they struggle with mediums of concepts. I share my experiences with doubt and the importance of hard work. I was not always the best student, but I typically outworked my peers. Over time that adds up; persistence is critical. I want to be the tortoise, not that hare in the foot race. Additionally, I think that creative people are drawn to specific themes and ideas, and it is important to honor that. I instinctively painted similar subject matter as an undergraduate; recognizing and cultivating create interests leads to artistic development.
RUTH: Any thoughts on upcoming projects or directions you think you might go with your art?
SARA: Great question. One new development in my work involves writing text directly onto my paintings as I work on them. The results are varied, and sometimes that evidence is left visible while other times it is almost wholly lost in subsequent layers. The text can be a line from a poem that struck me, a phrase pertaining to an experience, or a quote from listening to an interview.
I am not sure how the writing fits into the work as a whole, but I am letting the experimentation of its play out. Currently, even when the script is legible, it is not easily noticed and would likely be missed by someone casually viewing the work. I enjoy reading poems and often title my paintings based on phrases plucked from stanzas. Incorporating writing into the paintings seems like another way to layer time and experience onto the image's surface.
Additionally, I've also worked on some newer paper-based paintings, done from photographs and including more text. These works feature images of people and objects visually collaged together. They are very fresh, and I'm not sure they will make it out of the studio, but it has been fun to work on them.
Regardless, I plan to continue painting in the same direction as the works featured in the MOAS exhibition. I find that painting from life offers me endless variation, even when I am repeating similar scenes.