(overflowing) full story
My first art form was photography. I obtained my first Cannon FTb from my friend Andre when I was sixteen. His father was a doctor at the university and the camera was being retired from capturing images of cadavers. A little gross in a strange way - to me it had an honorable previous life. Right away I was hooked to the slowed motion I felt while holding the camera. I loved everything about darkroom photography. For me the process was about intentional wandering, intricate noticing and delight in the surprises.
The images I was most drawn to create were centered around bringing out the beauty in the ordinary. Rundown, abandoned, outskirts, boarded-up, these were all invitations to me. These spaces vibrated with a quiet, sacred hum that made the moments swollen with intrigue. I was attracted to aging, broken, well-used, rusting, objects and spaces, and the connected human historys or stories they implied. I also loved capturing kids being kids. I still carry a camera, admittedly less though, my reasons being a mix of finding less fulfillment in digital photography and wanting to engage in the moments instead of capturing them.
I started painting in 2005.
I studied Studio Art and Spanish at Saint Catherine's University in Saint Paul, MN. I learned from remarkable professors and inspiring peers, we critiqued aggressively and were better artists because of it, my color teacher learned from a teacher who had learned from Joseph Albers, I shared a glorious mezzanine painting studio with 2 other students for the bulk of my time there, to date I meet with former professors turned mentors.. I could go on.
My story though, is not in the formalities of my training, but in the event that lead me to pursue it. I'll begin with my take-away: I learned the importance of spending my numbered days in a fulfilling manner. My contribution is the greatest when I give what is intrinsically mine to give.
It was never my intention to obtain a degree in art, I didn't mean to be a painter or work with communities. As a returning student finishing a degree program I started ten years earlier, I entered St. Kate's with an intention to get a professional degree that would best serve my worldly responsibilities. I had tried Art in my first attempt at college. Adults commonly ask young people a set of questions: where are you going to school? what are you studying? what are you going to be when you grow up? I grew tired of the dismay on peoples faces in response to my excitement about my Art path. I remember those awkward conversation moments when you could tell they were about to say: “really?” or “what else?” After a year of listening, my young self was defeated. My second attempt at college, I was going to get a degree that made cents.
I decided to study engineering. I did well, classes were difficult but resources for help were available. My peers were nice, but there were no stand-out connections. In April of 2005, I was a year away from finishing my bachelors program and had graduate school plans.
I don't know how to introduce what happens next in the story, writing it feels exactly like it did in real life. I'm at a loss, there's no lead up, it's shocking, there's no way to package it prettily.
In April of 2005 my sweet brother, at 21 years of age, a day before his 22nd birthday, took his own life. John was in his final semester of a bachelors degree program at Saint Cloud State.
Yes! there were struggles and pains in his life that seemed insurmountable, yes! there was grief and loss, yes! there was substance use, yes! there was depression. But!!! There was my mom, and my dad, my sisters and I, and there were friends, and there was so much life left! I still to this day have a screaming how? inside of me, how did this happen?
One thing I am sure of: mental health is like any other kind of health, it necessitates attention and care. I look forward to the day when not pursuing mental health care is a stigma. There is no shame in self care. My brother was a musician, a writer, a carpenter … he was athletic and strong … he was handsome with a ruff-house-broken front tooth that repeatedly came unglued and, lucky for everyone, that didn't cause him to shy away from the camera, he was hilarious.
I was a 27 year old, single mother, home-owning, full-time college student, with two part time jobs when John left. And I was, as you can imagine, devastated. My course of study was math, science and language heavy. Remember: I was going to make people smile and nod with approval; I was going to be an engineer. After the contemporary time allowed for grieving, I returned to school, but I couldn’t do much more than wander around in a cloud of disbelief, puffy-eyed and sobbing, re-telling my story to anyone who would listen.
From what had become my daily breakdown-safe-space, the campus cathedral, I called my mom, who, even in her deepest sorrow, was still amazingly present to the needs of my sisters and I. I told her I couldn’t do it, I had to leave school, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn't listen, I couldn't take the mounting stress my inability was creating- I wanted to drop out, again. She said, “Sara, you're an artist, you've always been an artist, just go and talk to the people at the art department, do that for yourself.”
I listened to my mom, I went. And I found people who spoke my language and an unnamable respite from the alienation I felt almost everywhere else. They took me in, it felt exactly how it sounds; it was my shelter. Loss is my trajectory, grief forced me to re-evaluate the person I want to be and the mark I want to leave on this life. Because art was fundamental in getting me through the toughest of personal times, I know the artistic process has the potential to offer unique solutions with wide application.
I would not have found art when I did if it was not for my brother and my mother's loving prod. There are countless blessings I have painfully accepted through the process of grieving John. Art is just one.
I appreciate life's ever-changing relationships, complete with all the mistakes that come before perfection. I attempt with paint to balance emotional matter for myself, offering to the best of my ability: a visible process that suggests light and dark and every other trait/property/thing imaginable are in a relationship, we have not one without the other, we can't subtract the bad from the good. And, we wouldn't want to, because things are always born of other things.