I have been thinking about it for months and it will soon be a reality. I am cutting way back on my administrative job in January to be able to paint full time (and teach a little bit). The prospect of not working for a regular pay check is a little scary but as my friend Amy said to me, “If you’re going to be an artist you have to be brave.
I drive through this intersection at least twice a day on may way to and from my day job.
I’m heading in to Smithfields today to hang this Lamb Chop painting to replace the Ribeye that sold. Those things in the bowl are white beans, by the way. I realized it would be hard to identify them when I set up the still life, but went ahead and painted them anyway. They were such beautiful fresh white beans from Idaho. The onions were pretty amazing too. I planned this painting so I could actually eat the meat when I was finished painting it. I started with them first, then stuck them back in the fridge and finished the rest.
What a blast – thanks to everyone for coming out, BIG thanks to Neil and Dee for giving my work a home, inspiring the idea and for throwing such a great party.
I did not take any photos – there was way too much to do, so sorry, next time make sure to come to the show. I’ve posted most of the new painting pics in my gallery section here:
There was some fantastic local press for the opening too – thanks to Mandy Valencia, Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings – FRONT PAGE – (Scrapbook time- and I’m sending one for your fridge mom.)
By Mandy Valencia
While some might find animal carcass paintings unappetizing when they’re about to cut into a thick, juicy steak, it’s just the look the owners of Smithfields Restaurant and Bar were going for when they hired artist Sarah F. Burns.
Burns has created a series of vanitas-inspired oil paintings that will be unveiled today in the Ashland restaurant at 36 S. Second St.
“We just wanted to try to create something that would be challenging for my customers to look at and not just a piece of art,” said Neil Clooney, co-owner of Smithfields. “What we were going for was the whole life-and-death concept so people can think about the process the food goes through to get to their plate.”
Business partner Dee Vallentyne is a fan of British artists Damien Hirst, who features dead animals in his artwork, and the late Francis Bacon, who portrayed anxiety and alienation, Burns said.
“She’s all about intense work,” said Burns. “She wasn’t shying away at all from the intensity of the raw meat and the carcasses. I was encouraged, in fact, to go there.”
Clooney and Vallentyne commissioned Burns to paint three large pieces measuring 3 feet by 4 feet, one medium-sized piece that is 20 inches by 36 inches, and four small pieces measuring 12 inches by 12 inches.
“I enjoyed so much the process of making paintings for that specific location,” Burns said. “I could go in the space, see what the lighting was like and know where they are going to hang. They will be positioned at the average eye level.”
Burns said she is inspired by 16th- and 17th-century still lifes, specifically vanitas, a genre featuring objects that symbolize the brevity of life and inevitability of death. Vanitas can be traced to the Latin translation of Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas (Vanity of vanities; all is vanity).”
“I’ve been interested in vanitas for awhile,” Burns said. “My training is classical realist, but I haven’t ever consciously said, ‘I’m making a vanitas work.’ ”
Until now. For one of the larger pieces, Burns used a 200-pound bear carcass in her studio to paint from.
“My friend Gilbert said he just killed a bear, and I asked if I could have the bones,” she said. “I study artistic anatomy, so any bones are really valuable.”
Burns said pulling the carcass out of her freezer every time she wanted to paint for a few hours was a bit of an ordeal, because it was so large and heavy. She listened to books on tape written by chefs while she painted, she said.
“I couldn’t get the bones exactly the same each time,” she said, “so really what you see in that painting is the bear skeleton three times. It was pretty crazy. It would begin to thaw after a few hours. It wasn’t rotten at all; it was really meaty smelling.”
Burns said because she grew up on a small farm in Eagle Point, where there were cows, chickens, sheep and goats, she is accustomed to butchering animals for food — though she did admit to being a vegan in her teens.
“I think it’s really interesting to get different people’s takes on meat-eating,” she said. “It is something that people kind of wrestle with. I know people who will only eat ground meat so they don’t think so much that it’s a muscle.”
The paintings also feature some references to Smithfield, London, the namesake of the restaurant, such as a small painting inside one of the works depicting Sir William Wallace, one of the leaders of a Scottish rebellion who was executed in Smithfield in 1305.
Clooney said he doesn’t want to turn his customers’ stomachs before they are about to eat; he just wants them to think about the process.
“We didn’t want to make it too graphic so they can handle eating, but we wanted them to think about the piece of meat that’s on their plate so they appreciate that finished product,” he said. “Some are simple, like birds with just a few feathers. The bear is more graphic. One is just a tongue.”
“Maybe some people might have an issue with it,” Burns said. “I think it’s pretty awesome. I don’t know, it’s pretty crazy. Pretty cool, though.”
A reception to unveil the new works will be from 7 to 9 tonight at Smithfields Restaurant and Bar, 36 S. Second St. Hors d’oeuvres and wine will be provided.
I’m entering pretty gory territory here. Sorry if you’re squeamish or hate hunting or meat eating or anything like that. My friend Gilbert is a hunter and recently killed a bear, which he removed the meat from and gave me the fresh skeleton, (minus the skull which he has buried in his backyard so that bugs will clean all the nooks and crannies of, so he can dig it up later and have a nice clean creepy and interesting object). Anyway, Smithfields wants intensity and I think this will deliver – no? The back ground elements will all be painted in grisaille, heightening the red and gold of the meat. I have finished the previous painting for Smithfields, although I’m not showing them publicly until they’re all assembled in the restaurant and we can have a smashing unveiling. : ) So, enjoy.
I’m ALWAYS tempted to get rid of everything I’m not using RIGHT NOW, but I’m sure glad I can control that sometimes. While moving my studio I ran across these little pieces of personal history.
We’ll begin at the beginning. I’m pretty sure I drew this before I started school…? It’s me and my dad feeding the sheep.
I don’t remember going to this circus. I do remember Mrs. Jones and her wonderful handwriting – See the “Very Good”? She was really a dream of a teacher. I loved her.
I thought Jr. High would stop being embarrassing to me by age 35. Nope. This is from 8th grade, I think. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but I do remember thinking her glamorous – she had bleached blond hair with a hair style after all. This project was a scratch board. I think we used crayons to cover the paper, then painted it with india ink, let it dry and doodled away…
I’d forgotten about “ROY” – it was the name on a bowling shirt my hoodlum friend Annemarie had? It seemed so cool at the time to me. Annemarie – what was the story there?
Fast forward to high school. I don’t know where my school stuff went – much went to friends and family – thank goodness! (I painted huge paintings during those years. What a hassle to keep around!) Anyway, I went over to take Life Drawing classes in the evenings at the local college (now SOU). This shows the influence of both the teachers I studied with – Bob Alston always wanted us to sit down and look waaaaay up at the model who would be on a really tall pedestal. Later I saw his paintings at an art show and they were all of sky scrapers seen from the street. The other teacher was Jim Muhs who had a zen approach – he wanted us to be convinced our brush and ink were actually on the flesh of the model and would travel over and around it. His paintings were large and distorted but interesting.
After high school I went to Pacific Northwest College of Art for two years, until I dropped out to have my dear little daughter. I have many fond and embarrassing memories of college. The embarrassing ones I blame on the fact that I was gearing up for a nervous breakdown. Anyway – I imagine I’ll regret all this spillage – but the recent studio move and a friend’s addiction problem is causing me to drop normal barriers today. Here are some Life Drawings – this one is of Ed C H King – another student at PNCA. He, our friend Jacq and I modeled for each other to make up for some classes we missed. Look up their art on the links I posted – they are fantastic.
Here are some quick sketches where the model came wearing some striped long underwear and Tom Fawkes, our teacher, asked her to keep them on so we could draw them. I borrowed this exercise when teaching kids at the Ashland Academy of Art.
This whole post kind of started – in a round about fashion this morning when I saw that I had written “Notan” on a file folder on the kitchen counter. I’m pretty sure that was something Steve LaRose told me to look up because something I’d done at Life Drawing recently reminded him of or something ? – (why is my memory so bad?) Anyway – I looked up Notan and then went to go organize the stacks of old art work I had to deal with when I ran across this – an exercise from like Design 101 or something – I guess this was a Notan exercise. I think the teacher was Christy Wycoff.
So PNCA was big on printmaking – and during my last semester in school I made this wild thing – I was feeling exactly like this at that time.
And finally here is a self portrait I did at home – but during the time I was in college at PNCA, I think it was right before I spun out of control. It would be many, many years before I seriously took up painting again. (Well, many years for someone who is 20. Really I guess it was only 5 or 6.) I look like a boy in this piece – and that’s not the first or last time that my self portraits look masculine. weird.
Fast forward – This painting was something I made looking back at the time I’m referring to. It’s supposed to be serious and sarcastic – painful and angry and funny. It’s how it feels to know people are “worried” about you and how it feels to be grieving, how it felt to me to have embarrassing things get public. Believe it or not, Judy Garland was an inspiration for this piece as well. I painted this in like 2008 or something, not long after finishing four years in the Gulag.
OK! Enough about me! Share a memory or two in the comments. Was adolescence embarrassing for you too? And if you were there for some of the events above – please chime in. oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo
PS – And the Gulag thing is a joke – and not as mean-spirited as it probably seems. I learned a lot at that institution and I respect the instructor and classmates. There was some unnecessary art-police brutality though. That’s all.