About my Backbone, the people who help me to stand strong and tall
I decided to take the time and web space to thank the people who have helped me in this crazy art thing over the years. I will add more excellent examples of humanity to this page as I have the clarity to do so.
To everyone listed here, I say, "Thank you," in a way that isn't private—and that's difficult for this very private person to do. I prefer to put my best and strongest, most professional face out to the internet. That isn't what this page is about.
This page is about the people who helped hold me up, pushed me forward, and inspired me in pivotal or deeply meaningful ways.
Written April 18, 2015
Frau Rosenow was one of my teachers for a little over three years. My family was stationed in West Germany (when it was still called that) and the American school in the area was rather small. I want to say there was an average of 54 students in the school. The school had students from Kindergarten through 8th Grade—roughly 5 year olds through 14 year olds. Most classrooms had multiple grade levels to one teacher. With few exceptions, that one teacher taught everything. One of the exceptions was Frau Rosenow. She was the Host Nation teacher and the librarian. She taught most, possibly all, grade levels for a period a day. She taught us about our host nation, West Germany, and taught us the German language. She also had a lot to do with supporting the creativity of her students.
I remember her library being a safe haven for me.
Every memory I have of art at that school has Frau Rosenow in it.
I don't remember if we had an actual art class, but Frau Rosenow kept us motivated to make art and to write. She was the one I remember submitting and going over entries for the DoDDs art and writing competitions. She lead most of the field trips and always pointed out art and architecture while we were out and about. I missed a field trip to the Van Gogh exhibition when it was nearby, and she took a friend, who was also a budding artist, and myself to go see it. We didn't get inside since the line wrapped all the way around the block, but she took time out of her own life to try to make that happen for us. There was always time with Frau Rosenow. And there was always art and writing and even singing.
Yes, she ruled her Host Nation classroom with a bit of an iron fist. I saw it as her way of keeping focused on what needed to be done: Sharing information and inspiring thought and creativity. There was structure with enough time for play, experimentation, and even risk taking. I tore 1/3 of a tiger drawing away and she let me submit it to a competition. It did very well and even went on display. I messed around with trying to make abstract art and she let me submit those weird paintings, too. They did not do so well, but I learned from it. That always seemed to be her goal. She wanted her students to keep learning and keep trying.
So, even decades lateer, I keep learning and keep trying. I keep reaching for things that I don't really think I'll get because if I don't try, I will never prove myself wrong.
Written June 6, 2015
This is when things got real.
Mrs. Stewart was my high school art teacher for the two years I spent in Louisville, Kentucky. She's the reason I have a painting in the Churchill Downs Museum. She's the reason I paint.
Art was always a part of my life, if not my day. I liked every kind of art making, in fact, I still do. I also like writing. I'm fond of reading, researching, and enjoy a bit of math. Learning about (rather than doing) science makes me downright giddy. History and anthropology are fascinating. So what is a young high school student to do when trying to figure out which college, if any, to go to and what purpose to put her life to when everything seems possible, doable, and interesting? I certainly didn't know. I thought I might go to school for chemistry until I had a second year of it and figured out that precision isn't as much fun as I wanted. I figured I could always be some sort of English major and write stuff for people for a living. I thought, you know, maybe art but wasn't sure I wanted to starve to death in a bed made of unsold works. I was vague and very much a teenager about the whole thing.
All in all, those two years were pretty standard lame high school stuff. There were bullies and a dress code. A group of us stood up to a group of them once and might have made things a little better for a moment. One of my friends ended up in the hospital after being jumped by three other boys at lunch. Kids had sex in the back stairwell. Racism and classism were rampant. My Senior class dropped in number by about half my Senior year. You know, it was normal America stuff with a touch of Southern flare.
Two years of art classes with Mrs. Stewart allowed for moments of sanity and peace. The art class I was in was a mixture of grade levels. There weren't other students from my other classes in it. My shy, loner self could just make things.
Mrs. Stewart had her eye on art competitions around the county and encouraged everyone to make things to compete. I did pretty well, all told, in those competitions. A collaborative work that Mrs. Stewart encouraged my friend Mechelle Sizemore (nee Peak) to create and enter into the County Fair got a little write up in the local paper. Some art awards made their way into my hands. I even made a sale or two thanks to her direction and encouragement. It was a good continuation from Frau Rosenow several years previous.
The big moment with Mrs. Stewart, however, really was a moment. A sentence. A declaration. It was like someone struck a giant brass bell inside me and all the separate pieces of me, all the loves and dislikes, interests and passions, fell into their appropriate places. It was as if I was in perfect alignment with my world. All it took was one short statement from a woman I trusted:
Sarah, you are a painter.
Written June 6, 2015
Way back in 1999, the year I started painting rhinos, I happened into my first solo show outside of any school setting.
I was living in San Francisco and didn't have a car yet. This meant that I took public transportation everywhere for everything with anything I had to carry. Quite a bit of canvas, both blank and painted, traversed the Bay with me on BART and made the walk with me on either side of the train ride to either class at CCAC in Oakland or up the hill home in Noe Valley. Over time, I would carry full size lattices, furniture for installation pieces, and a few hundred feet worth of styrofoam rod to one campus or another—just like any other art student, right?
This one particular day in 1999, before I started painting rhinos, I was carrying home a great big El-Greco's-Toledo-as-painted-by-me. It was too big to tuck away inside my portfolio case, so I was carrying it out in the open. I'd started on the first bit of the hill when this guy came running out of a restaurant trying to get my attention. He asked if I was an artist.
That was Victor Escobedo. I soon came to know his brother Miguel as well. It turned out they had just opened a restaurant on 24th Street, called Papalote, and were looking for artists to put work on their gorgeous red walls. I think I was the second artist to show at the restaurant—but don't quote me on that. In the end I think I did three shows with them. They were the first location to have one of my rhinoceros paintings on their walls. And those red on red walls encouraged me to keep my colors strong and strange. One of my rhino shows even got a brief mention in a review about the restaurant. The review, of course, praised the food as it right well should but also mentioned that the art on the walls was "not too kitschy". I took that as a huge compliment at the time as I was a college student painting multicolored rhinos in surrealist dreamscapes. I even sold out a couple of those shows.
The Escobedo brothers were kind enough to introduce me to Daniel Merriam, as he sat having lunch with an art critic. I think I spoke. (Side note: There are very few things I get around to kicking myself about, but missing the opportunity to be mentored by Daniel Merriam is one of those things. That, however, is a story for a different time.)
To sum up, those Escobedo guys loved art and gave me, and other artists, some great opportunities. They even tried to help artists out beyond the walls of Papalote Mexican Grill. And they are one of the reasons my colors are the way they are.
Written April 15, 2015
Amethyst, also known as Patricia Kevena Fili, passed away on the 19th of March, 2015. While at her memorial at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland today, April 15, 2015, I had an epiphany that led to the creation of this page. This is one more thing I get to thank her for, after the fact.
The short story of what this woman meant to me:
Many years ago, Amethyst inspired me to do a series of art work featuring people who identify as transgender. She even generously arranged for an exhibition of the work and a related series of drawings at the Lighthouse Community Center in Hayward. The exhibition and series of four paintings were called Divine Being. To the right is the painting of Amethyst as Sehkmet, our Protectress, offered up now in eulogy and honor.
Passion, strength, compassion. These are the characteristics I remember most. And I will forever see her walking in a field with lionesses.
The longer version that is much harder for me to tell:
I don't like to talk about health issues, but this story needs back-story. To tell the story appropriately and honestly and to make sure Amethyst gets her full due, I'm going to briefly bring up some things I would otherwise keep off the web.
After graduating from art school (Yay CCA!), I went to work at a corporation-who-shall-remain-nameless (CWSRN) and ended up with carpal tunnel and thoracic outlet syndrome. For a while, I couldn't even lift a glass of water or turn the pages of a magazine. I was declared Permanently Partially Disabled with a side note to expect periods of total disability. I think I was 26. So you can imagine, I wasn't able to paint or draw at the time. (I had part time jobs and contract work after the CWSRN found a way to legally let me go and Unemployment sent me to Disability who sent me back to Unemployment.) That time period lasted a few years. I still tried to make things. I sort of finger painted and formed bas-relief flower sculptures of paint. It was what I could do with little pain. It was all I thought I could do. Don't get me wrong, they were cool! But they were an acquiescence to my new limitations.
Amethyst and I knew each other from volunteer work for a non-profit organization. She got me to agree to the show. She arranged the event at the Lighthouse. I was grateful and excited. I told my friends. A couple people who I knew longer than I had known Amethyst reacted to the news rather negatively. "Why you!?" in a disparaging voice. "Why would she choose you to do it?" with a roll of the eyes. And Amethyst's response? "Yes, you. Of course, you." She trusted that I would handle the subject matter respectfully. She knew I would work on the paintings to honor the transgender community. She believed in me and the memory of my ability—and she got me to put a paint brush back in my hand.
And, yes, it was painful. Blah blah blah. I got through it. And I keep getting through it every day. I keep painting with my brushes and drawing with pencil or pen or whatever on my canvases. I live with pain killers and heating pads and ice packs because I'd rather fight my disability than acquiesce to it. Amethyst gave me that. And I didn't realize the depth of what she gave me until today.
Written December 20, 2015
This beautiful and fiery woman falls outside all chronology. She wouldn't really want a fuss made about her, so I will attempt to keep this brief.
This woman, a firebrand standing not quite five feet tall, was my grandmother. She passed away this year.
I've never seen anyone so determined, correct, and authoritative. So certain! She was passionate about everything from her bread baking to how high the thermostat should go. Her love was ferocious.
From her, I learned how to work until the work was done. I learned the type of stubborness it takes to hide 10 rhinos in a banyan tree, animate an explanation of a union deal using sound effects and a backhoe, and hack back the jungle with a weedwacker and a scythe all in the space of a day—while doing laundry and, hopefully, not burning cookies.
To avoid waxing too rhapsodic, I will cut this here: It doesn't matter if Camus was right; I'm too stubborn to stop—and L.M. gets the credit for it.