LIKE A LOT of young artists, Sarah Russell has a day job. She describes her opportunities to paint as "a vacation" and fantasizes about the day she can become her own boss. That most other Gen Y-ers are struggling to find accord with what they want to do versus what they have to do (ugh, work) is what maker her, to quote Girls, "a voice of a generation.
The sense of ennui that she perhaps feels in the interim between work and art is prevalent in her art. Vulnerable but unabashed self-portraits of the artist are frequently nude or partially nude, and many convey a strikingly beautiful languor, like "Vacation," a 2015 drawing of a woman standing still in an ocean bursting with activity. There's a sense of yes, imperviously waiting for something to happen, but also of observance, a reflectiveness that gives away the kind of person that loves to read. (And indeed, many of her self portraits, such as "Sarah and Polly's Best Days", express her propensity for reading.)
A VIRGINIA NATIVE, Pennsylvania resident, and Nantucket regular, Russell is East Coast through and through. Her appreciation for summer, architecture and complex interiors, and the appearance of the occasional Volvo station wagon in her work are more than subtle nods. But geographic significance isn't just evident in her subject matter; it also affects her use of color, which ranges from lavish (the acrylics) to still vivid black and white (her ink drawings).
"My use of color tends to work as a reaction to the seasons," she explains. "In winter, everything is bare-boned and pale, so there are more drawings, and then Spring is a rebirth and I lean more toward acrylic or watercolor."
Meanwhile, her mediums - watercolor, India ink, and acrylic - allow her to start and finish each piece in one go, injecting more than a trace of energy and focus into her work. "If I have to set something down and come back later, I become distracted and my original vibe is lost."
SO WHAT'S NEXT? Russell is beginning to display her art in Philadelphia, including this exhibit at Dock Street Brewery, and she also takes commissions. Plus, she has a lot of fans; when she posts a new piece on social media, it's met with support and admiration. The relatability and the easy beauty of her work is undeniable, even more so after peeling away some of the layers and getting to the heart of the subject matter.
But Russell also manages to tap into another, rarer sentiment that parallels the fashion industry and hints at enormous commercial potential; the temporaneous world, the perfectly imperfect characters she brings to life in her art are aspirational, yet attainable. To lounge about in underwear, read in bed, or drape across a chair in a well-appointed room - that notion of justbeing - is well-known, understood, and desperately craved.
Russell is, however, aware of that fine line between relatability and selling out. When asked if she would consider commercial collaborations with brands like J Crew, Kate Spade, or Anthropologie, who regularly tap artists and illustrators for t-shirts, home goods, and decor, she ceded to being inspired by fashion but wanting to keep a safe distance. "I fear being commercial or convenient."