Queer Portraits: Sarah Hunter
As the administer for the K.M. Hunter Foundation, Sarah Hunter is well known in the charitable community for her support of arts, culture, the environment and HIV/AIDS. In Sarah’s off hours she is a dedicated full-time artist whose work is as beautiful as it is provocative. In 2008 she began what was to become her Queer Portraits collection including such notables as Oscar Wilde, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. In a recent interview with Sarah I asked her about the collection, her sources of inspiration and got some sage advice for those just entering the field.
RAYMOND: Who was your first queer portrait of, and do you recall what inspired you to do it?
Sarah: My first queer portrait was of Gertrude Stein and I wasn’t intending to do a portrait of her but she appeared as I was working on a portrait and I realized oh, this looks like Gertrude Stein, and then I got the idea to do a series of portraits of queer artists that had inspired me over my lifetime.
RAYMOND: Why do you continue to create them?
SARAH: I am fascinated by LGBTQ history and our history of ourselves which until recently was not that known or studied in schools or universities. I am still discovering about new artists all the time. I have been aware of many artists for years and often read their work, or listen to their music or enjoy their artwork and admire them and then I find out that they are part of the lgbtq community. Usually if they’re from a different era, that side of them was repressed or hidden to protect them and sometimes because it was outlawed or considered wrong or unacceptable. A recent example of this ofr me is the classical composer Tchaikovsky.
RAYMOND: What are you currently working on that you are excited about?
SARAH: I am currently working on a series of paintings that are inspired by films and most recently I have been drawing inspiration from the classic tv series Brideshead Revisited from the 1980s, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh. There are a lot of interesting queer themes in the film. It was hugely popular in my early 20’s and was a break out film for the Actor Jeremy Irons and introduced the world to Anthony Andrews as well.
RAYMOND: A few years ago you lost your mom and recently your dad. How have these life events impacted your work?
SARAH: I have been working on a series of paintings (also inspired by films) about my mother called The Mother’s Comb. I have three pieces in this series and they are all related to my relationship to my mother and deal with issues that came up for me around her passing in 2015. My dad just recently passed away so I’m not sure what inspiration will come from that in terms of art work, but I know something will emerge over time. I have started a new series inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and quotes and my dad was a huge Theatre and Shakespeare fan so maybe some of that will seep into that work. I’m sure it will.
RAYMOND: As a full-time artist, what do you know now, that you wish someone had told you before you started out?
Sarah: Two things. First, trust what you know and believe in and love. It is important to know that an art career will not progress in a straightforward line. There will be ups and downs. You may be doing well for a while and then go through a slump. Your art may be popular with the public or hugely unpopular and may go through changes in the public eye because there are fads and certain types of art and styles go in and out of fashion. Just keep doing what you are passionate about and believe in and eventually that will bring a success of its own kind. You get to define what success means for you don’t let society or the art market decide that for you.
And secondly, get lots of training in your field. I wish that I had spent more time working on developing my craft when I was younger and getting more practical skills under my belt. I also wish someone had encouraged me to get an MFA when I finished undergraduate school. However I was so anxious about making a living I focused on that and got a day job and did some more art training later on, so I guess it all worked out in the end. I know too that conceptual art and minimalism were popular when I was in the my 20’s and if I’d done an MFA then I might not have been encouraged to follow my passion which is drawing based and image based. I am especially inspired by the Expressionists and really love a lot of early 20th Century art and artists.
For more about Sarah Hunter including her upcoming shows, click here.
About the Author
Raymond Helkio is an author, director and award-winning filmmaker. As a graduate from the Ontario College of Art & Design he cofounded The Reading Salon and is a Canadian Ambassador for the Moral Courage Project. Find him on Facebook.