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Chicago’s art scene – Interview with painter Sarah Bastress

No, Sarah Bastress, 2017 (1)

No, Sarah Bastress, 2017

I want to be respectful and honest with the bodies I am portraying, and part of that honesty is that sometimes being a goofball is awesome and sometimes it is fucking terrible.

Name

Sarah Bastress 

Profession

Painter 

Website

sarahbastress.com

Sarah Bastress, 2017

Sarah Bastress, 2017 

Who are you? What do you do?

I am a gay lady who grew up in Appalachia. I make paintings and drawings that usually start with some quote of queer or rural tropes from painting history, pop culture, or my own childhood or loneliness that stir up embarrassment or self hate, and after that I try to recreate them to make alternative existences. These narratives are explicit imagery wise (cum, wrinkles, and body hair are gonna be visible!), but usually ambivalent in content. I want to be respectful and honest with the bodies I am portraying, and part of that honesty is that sometimes being a goofball is awesome and sometimes it is fucking terrible.

Where are you from?

I am from West Virginia, a wild and wonderful state in the U.S. and I now live and work in Chicago. 

Your style in 3 words?

We aren’t yours

If You've Got Leaving On Your Mind, Sarah Bastress, 2017

If You’ve Got Leaving On Your Mind, Sarah Bastress, 2017

Your weakness? Your strength?

I have a lot of trouble finishing things, but I have made some really good communities of friends ever since I was a child, and a lot of them have stuck around.

What makes you different?

Probably those communities of friends challenging me and keeping me humble and out of trouble.

When did you decide to become an artist?

When I realized it was the only thing I was good at it, so I may as well try to pursue it rather than pursuing something that was seemingly more practical, but that I would actually not be very suited for or add anything to. In school I thought maybe I would be a farmer or an activist, but hoped, and still hope that pursuing my actual dream may in the end be more useful.

Painting for Lenny, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Musa Mckim, Sarah Bastress, 2017

Painting for Lenny, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Musa Mckim, Sarah Bastress, 2017

What do you find most fascinating about your work?

If the work is going poorly it will ruin your day, but if the work is going well it can save your life. It is the most powerful and positive drug in the world.

A few words about your favourite creation?

I don’t think I will ever have a favorite… I hope that my favorite thing will always be what I make next? I did make a drawing of Calvin and Hobbes for my dad when I was a kid, and he still has it, and I still think it looks good, so maybe that is a bar to hold things up to? 

8) No 2, Sarah Bastress, 2017

No 2, Sarah Bastress, 2017

Someone else’s work that inspired or inspires you…

In the studio I keep coming back to Berthe Morisot (her painting chops always get me jealous and wanting to paint, and her paintings hold so many surprises to learn from) and everyone in the Glitter and Doom book about portraits in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. I always have been drawn to blunt portraiture, but in our current political climate they seem especially/obviously relevant. As for someone contemporary, I saw Jennifer Packer’s show at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, saw her speak there too, and think she is maybe the best painter alive today. Her work is so touching and raw, and she has such lovely ideas about the responsibilities of being a figurative artist. I was really humbled by her work and talk.

A new project coming up or an idea you want to work on?

My friend Miri Phelps* and I are trying to get a show together based on the Dixie Chicks song Goodbye Earl and its connection to our work and this current political climate. I think it should be a really good time. 

I Didn't Know I Loved You So, Sarah Bastress, 2017

I Didn’t Know I Loved You So, Sarah Bastress, 2017

Finish the sentence „More important than my career is…“ 

If my grandmother and niece and nephew like me. 

2018: Where are we going?

Somewhere where we need to build coalitions with people who are outside our communities and comfort zones.

When the going gets tough…

I try to eat or drink something delicious.

 Your city’s favourite spots?

It is a 3 way tie between the Lake Michigan beaches in my neighbourhood, and two bars, R Public House and Big Chicks. All three places are very welcoming homes for all kinds of weirdos, and diverse in a ton of ways. The Midwest has some great friendly bar culture, and the better quieter ones just let you sit and be you in peace. 

Do you have a vision?

No, but I have some ideas and I hope I will keep having more.

Tell us about your future plans…

Staying in Chicago and trying to be a good painter and neighbor.

Last but not least: what is your favourite Song?

What a hard question! Maybe Debaser by Pixies 

#…?

My instagram is #sbastress

 Miri Phelps

R Public House 

Big Chicks