Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Art Space Talk: Sara Sisun

Sara Sisun, an emerging artist from Denver, Colorado, has won first place in the 2008 Undergraduate Scholarship Competition provided by Sara will receive a $5,000 cash scholarship from myartspace. The myartspace Art Scholarship program began in July 2008 and entries were due by December 15, 2008. $16,000 of cash scholarships are awarded to the top 3 winners in the undergraduate category and the graduate category. Entry to the competition is free as is membership to myartspace.

Sara Sisun is currently pursuing a BA at Stanford University with a major in Studio Art and a minor in Creative Writing. Sara has been painting and drawing at the Art Students League of Denver since 1990. She has taken classes from Heather Delzell, Kevin Weckbach, Kim English, Ron Hicks, Ken Velastro and Quang Ho. Her paintings can be found in private and corporate collections including the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Collection.

Catherine McCormack-Skiba, the founder of myartspace and CEO noted, “We had entries to the scholarship program from students at over 1,200 colleges and universities. The unbridled spirit and creativity from this group is quite impressive. While the top winners receive their recognition and award money, virtually all the submissions were of top-notch quality. We applaud the young contemporary artists in school today. Their contribution to the fine art world will be felt for decades to come. We are so excited from this first scholarship program we will be launching our 2009 scholarship program later this year and hope to see more than double the participation. Myartspace remains focused on improving the lives and careers of its community members.”

For more information about the myartspace Art Scholarship program and 2008 winners visit,

Convulsion, 36" x 48"; oil on canvas. By Sara Sisun

Brian Sherwin: Sara, you are one of three winners of the undergraduate art scholarship competition provided by the artist social network As you know the scholarship is intended for students who exhibit exceptional artistic excellence in their chosen medium and is to be used in order to further education in art. Can you describe how you felt entering the competition and your reaction to finding out that you had won?

Sara Sisun: I’ve been applying to graduate schools, so I was already uploading art to websites like “slideroom” for online portfolios. I was just checking out the myartspace site and saw the advertisement for the competition; I had my portfolio documented and available so I figured it would be easy to fill out one more application. I was completely shocked to hear that I had won; I thought the winners had already been announced. I’m nervous to hear back from graduate programs, so receiving such encouragement is really great.

The Dress Eater, 36" x 48", oil on wood. By Sara Sisun

BS: Can you tell us about your academic background in art. I understand that you are currently studying at Stanford University. Do you have any influential instructors or fellow students that you would like to mention?

SS: Stanford has a very unique program. I’ve been able to work with all kinds of mediums while still doing independent work painting. I’ve enjoyed that the emphasis isn’t on technique but on the collage of ideas and visual exploration. There are a lot of interesting classes on the cross over between art and science. I’ve also been able to take classes outside the art program, everything from Darwin to computer science.

I’m minoring in Creative Writing; I had the opportunity to collaborate with twelve other students on a graphic novel. Having the MFA students as TAs has also been great. They are a perspective from someone at a different point in their career. David Hannah and Enrique Chagoya have been two of my favorite professors to work with in the art department.

Back to the Sun, 40" x 48", oil on wood. By Sara Sisun

BS: Sara, I understand that since age six you have studied at the Art Students League of Denver under the instruction of Quang Ho, Ron Hicks, and Kevin Weckbach. Can you discuss that experience? How have each of these instructors influenced you?

SS: The Art Students League provided me with fantastic instruction in more traditional painting. I learned how to use shape, color, line, value, form, texture and pattern to create dynamic realism or abstraction. Studying with Kevin Weckbach in particular showed me that art is a real career, and that it’s something you can dedicate your life to, that can grow and change as you do.

Leaving the Art Students League (for college) was difficult, but I took the skills I learned there with me and I have been able to question their usefulness. I had to leave to see that I don’t want my paintings to be only about technique: hopefully there’s something about the human experience that transcends that. I’ve been forced to question what I learned, which is great. Any “rules” in art should always be questioned. Instead of following a checklist to create compositional “harmony” I’ve tried to explore inevitability.

Self Portrait as Silence and Noise, 42" x 52", oil on wood. By Sara Sisun

BS: Can you go into further detail about your art? Tell us about the thoughts behind your art…

SS: This is a difficult question to answer. I try to paint figures that exist in liminal psychological spaces: between pleasure and pain, humor and violence, sanity and insanity. As an artist, I’m always trying to activate the space between the viewer and the work, hopefully to deepen the mystery rather than solve it. For me, painting is about more than rendering and about more than describing what I see. Art is the best way I have of figuring out what the world is trying to show me.

BS: Can you discuss some of the methods or techniques that you utilize?

SS: I’ve always been an oil painter. Lately, I’ve been painting on wood because I like the firm surface and the luminosity of the wood underneath the oil. I use photographs for reference. I manipulate them in Photoshop before printing a hard copy to work from. I often go back into Photoshop after starting a piece and alter the image depending on the direction the painting is naturally going.

I get my references from photos I take, from the internet, from newspapers, movies, magazines, and old snapshots. I can’t really say what draws me to an image. I like distortions, dramatic lighting, and a feeling of the uncanny or a dream.
Blue Nude, 11" x 14", oil on canvas. By Sara Sisun

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artist or art movements?

SS: I love a lot of the work by the Young British Artists. Particularly Jenny Saville and Cecily Brown, whose influence is pretty obvious in my work. I’m also a huge fan of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, Kara Walker, Martin Creed, Raymond Pettibon, Cai Guo Qiang and Yan Pei Ming.

BS: Can you discuss the art that you decided to enter into the competition. In your opinion, why do those specific works reflect your growth as an artist?

SS: The work I entered into the competition is excerpts from several series I’ve done during collage. For a while I was painting dancers, and then I was painting my face in the photocopier. Next came some paintings with rocks in my mouth. Finally, I’ve been working on a project of paintings of my friends and family with paint on them. I’m trying to make the paintings look like they are being painted, creating the subject as we look at them (yeah, it’s a bit meta).
I also like the idea of having this record of all the people I know at this point in time, because it’s so transitory and I’ll be graduating soon. So I think the work I’ve entered represents the path my art has taken through my college career. All of it is somehow expressive. Some of it is sentimental. And hopefully all of it will lead to more ideas in one way or another.
Two Dreams, mixed media. By Sara Sisun

BS: In your opinion, how is the internet changing the landscape of the art world, so to speak. Obviously artists today have more opportunities than they had before the advent of the World Wide Web. What your thoughts on this?

SS: I think the internet has created fantastic opportunities to connect artists with one another. It’s now possible to receive funding, critique art, even sell art online. It’s also like having a constant pool of images to draw from, almost completely without context. It’s like the ultimate collage. What I’m not sure about is how the internet is going to influence the art we make. It’s sort of like how the camera so dramatically changed the purpose of painting. Is the internet joining us, or fragmenting us? The purpose of art is to communicate… I’m curious about what art will look like in a world of hyper-communication.

Help, I'm Stuck in the Photocopier No. 3, 40" x 48", oil on wood. By Sara Sisun

BS: What are your future plans as far as your art is concerned?
SS: To keep painting! I would like to go to graduate school, if not next year than the year after that. Wherever I am, I really can’t stop making art, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

SS: Not really. Just that I’m trying to be honest about the whole thing; to trust that the work will happen as it is supposed to. The paintings, like Bacon said, become living things.
You can learn more about Sara Sisun by visiting her website-- Sara is a member of the community-- For more information about the myartspace Art Scholarship program and 2008 winners visit,

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Sara's comment re the influence of the internet,
"It’ having a constant pool of images to draw from, almost completely without context.." was interesting in that it makes us consider both the benefits and limitations of the web's influence.

No doubt the sheer volume and accessibility of images and data can be of benefit in terms of research, but I feel its important to remember the need for art's "physical" context to be continually affirmed.

The web can be considered an essential repository, but it is through continuous physical engagement and perception of work that we come into a fuller understanding of the effects of space, scale, texture colour, light - essentially the work's impact on our kinesthesia. I appreciate this is not the only objective of art making, but it is certainly a critical one. I know too that much conceptual work can challenge and undermine our ideas around the perception and reading of art, but there is a strong case for artists to essentially balance their intake of web-based material with continuous physical engagement and response to art in real, physical spaces, and never to lose sight of it's essential place in our art education.

When Sara says she is not sure how the internet will influence the art we make, then perhaps we can consider how the web's shortcomings may also affect the way we view, experience and critique art in virtual as opposed to physical spaces.

Charlie said...

"Novus sole sub soli" There's nothingh new under the sun but the work is a nice repackaging of the figural theme...good job seeing new things in old ways.