Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Artist's Studio: Sarah Kaiser

As part of my research on artists' studios, I visit artists working in the studio setting and ask them about their materials, methods, practices, and approach to life. The emphasis of these forays is to examine the studio setting and how the artist functions and creates art in that space.

I drove down to Hyde Park, south of Chicago, to visit Sarah Kaiser, who lives with a family in a large two-story Victorian house built in the 1890s. When I got there, Sarah led me up the stairs to the second floor, and then we went through a doorway and up a narrow staircase to the attic space, which has three rooms, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. She said the family, whom she had known previously as neighbors while she attended the University of Chicago, built the kitchen area and bathroom for her when they decided to rent the space to her. Her studio, located on the southwest end of the space, has a large window that captures the afternoon sun. On the west side, the Green Room (named after the green paint on the walls)has a desk where she works and occasionally draws with the two young girls in the family. Her bedroom, which also has a desk where she draws and does collages, is on the east side of the space.

When she's not teaching, Sarah works in her 110-sf studio about 15 hours a week, usually every night and some mornings. She usually draws at the desk in her bedroom, where her ideas are created, and then goes into her studio to paint or put together collages on canvases. While she works, she listens to music, NPR, or books on tape. She uses the cedar chest of drawers to store some of her work and occasionally puts her work up on old pieces of wood scattered around the studio.

She believes her work has a significant amount of memorabilia embedded in her images, and she is starting to do more abstract work. While I was there, she was continuing to work on a painting she had started in December about winter. Now she was adding small collages of birds in the white translucent landscape. She also likes to do sketchy comic book panels, which she calls isolated frames out of context, where epic images dominate and people have to analyze them more. She inserts revealing phrases she has heard on public transportation into "bubbles" spoken by western or early 20th-century figures.

"For me, comic relief often takes the form of a bumbling, wisecracking sidekick of the hero or villain in a work of fiction, which, in my case, happens to be old comic books. The sidekicks in my work usually comment on the absurdity of the hero's situation and make comments that are sometimes inappropriate for a character who is to be otherwise taken seriously.

"The process of making these images provides a sense of comic relief. In some cases, appropriating such imagery is a cathartic release of emotional tension that may have resulted from a comic episode interposed in the midst of dramatic events. Inspired by Woody Allen, events from my everyday experience become fodder for the narratives I construct. At times, I use poetic license and stretch the truth in my narratives." -- Sarah Kaiser – Conversations: A Comic Relief, Gallery UNO, Feb., 2009

"My paintings and drawings are merely the skin that covers the deep inner life inside of me. I support my work in the same manner that a father would support a wife and a child. Making art serves a definite purpose in my life. The process functions as a visual diary, and helps me to sort out current 'events.' Furthermore, it enables me to construct my own sense of order, especially when I cannot control the chaos that is external to me. No part of my process is purely technical. Even if I have not planned out a piece, spontaneous gestures come from within. For me, making art is the means in which I process events. Only what I construct myself will ever be real to me. In summary, making art helps me to escape the prison of my own mind. It's a form of meditation, which slows me down, and helps me focus."

Sarah's upcoming and recent exhibitions include: Conversations: A Comic Relief, ARTexhibitionLink, Gallery UNO, Chicago, Feb. 2009; And You Think That's Funny, group show, Woman Made Gallery, Jan. 2009; Emerging Artist Exhibit, Morpho Gallery, Chicago, 2008; Faster, Cheaper, Bolder, silkscreen works on objects, fabric and paper, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, 2008; Tie One On, A Benefit Auction to Support Art Education at Lillstreet Art Center, Chicago, 2008; One Inspired Evening, A Benefit Auction to Serve Chicago’s Homeless Population, River East Art Center, Chicago, 2008; Subject/Object, American Academy of Art, Chicago, 2008.

For more about Sarah and her art, visit

Credits: Art images labeled with the artist's name were provided by the artist, and all other photos were provided by Amy A. Rudberg, unless otherwise noted.

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