The phenomenal paintings of artist Sarah Fairchild and her electric approach to food and nature
By Colleen Leonardi, Paintings by Sarah Fairchild
“I hope to make work that is a familiar and delightful reminder of the beauty surrounding us,” says Columbus artist Sarah Fairchild, “and why it’s worth protecting.” One look at Sarah’s neon pink cabbages or sultry, midnight blue broccoli does leave you in suspense over how simultaneously star-like and essential peasant food can become in the eye of the beholder. We caught up with Sarah while she’s living in New York City, creating a body of work and exploring high fashion for inspiration. —CL
Q: Tell me about your childhood growing up in the garden.
A: My grandmother and my mother were both avid gardeners and would can and freeze their own food. We spent summers in the garden picking tomatoes and shelling peas. It’s just what I knew. We were always outside in the summer. It was a time when we grew our own food; we didn’t go to the grocery store to buy the majority of our food. That is something I find sad about how food has changed in this modern environment.
Q: Where do you gather inspiration? How often are you researching new images and ideas?
A: I love community gardens more than most any other location. Gardens and plants in general are time-based; when you see the corn getting tall you know summer is starting to wane. I find beauty in common vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower in all the stages of growth, when they’re brand new and then when they’re old, bug-eaten and imperfect, yet still beautiful. They have this sort of raw beauty.
When I am in Columbus I always take time to photograph the Grandview community garden and the community gardens at the Franklin Park Conservatory. I work from my own photographs. I try to connect to Columbus as much as possible. It’s my home, my friends and my community.
But I’m also in the city now and it’s this visual overload. I’ve been really inspired by fashion, going into Barney’s, or other high-end retail shops, and looking at some of the clothes and really being inspired by the colors, forms and textures of these couture objects and thinking of art in that way. Like the hand-made versus the mass-produced because couture objects are very expensive, limited edition, and then you have art, which is an obsession, really, with these objects that take a lot of time similar to couture objects.
Q: As an artist from Ohio now working in New York City, how do you connect to the earth, vegetables, the soil and growing food while living in the city?
A: I consider myself very lucky. I live in Jersey City and I have a front porch garden. I have four large pots and I grow herbs, some tomato plants and just a few basic things just to have something to take care of. It’s really important to me.
It’s interesting, too, because we live on a busy street and people come by and are like, “Can I have some of your hot peppers?” And then they’re picking the basil and they’re sort of kind of stealing it but I don’t really care. You know, in big cities people don’t really talk. I’m used to Columbus, an easy, supportive environment. So, it’s kind of nice that people are like, “Oh, your flowers look so great, thank you for putting them out.” The plants have connected me with neighbors and the community that might not have been possible otherwise.
Q: What are some of the challenges and joys of living as a painter?
A: I work by myself now and I do the five days a week, eight to10 hours a day and I’m by myself. I taught for 15 years and I was around 200 people before noon. I had a very social life in Columbus, so this is more solitary. I’m also valuing the change that it is. Doing this full-time, the most gratifying part right now is being able to experiment and try new things.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: I have been working for the last year and a half, or two years, on a solid body of work to connect with more galleries and show more work. So, I’ve been working on paintings, larger works. I’ve been experimenting with new colors—blues, greens, oranges and turquoise. I’ve also been working on silk, so it’s bringing that couture fashion element back in. So, I might buy a yard or two of silk that was designed by Oscar De La Renta or Roberto Cavalli, and then I add my art on top of it, so it creates an interesting kind of play.
Q: Why is nature such an important connection for you?
A: It’s the most important thing. It connects you. It grounds you. It’s beautiful. It’s awe-inspiring. I get super excited by a feather, by a rock. It’s just a part of who I am as a being. It’s something I value more than anything. I like to be out in it. I like to scuba dive. I love to see things in their natural state. I watch for hawks. I’m always searching for what bird is in the area. I’ve been the nerdy girl looking for birds. It’s honest. There’s no judgment in nature. Everything just is. There’s no right or wrong, good or bad. It’s just nature. And there’s no ugly nature. What’s the ugly nature? Can you tell me? Only when man goes in and ruins it so it can no longer sustain itself.
Q: What is your favorite summer vegetable?
A: Tomatoes. They are my favorite. Homegrown, simple, perfect, sliced, lightly chilled with a drizzle of nice olive oil, salt, served with a chunk of crusty bread.