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Sarah Brenneman

Posted by Kate Singleton on

Sarah Brenneman with her series “It Was Like a Growlin’." Six of the ten pieces of this series are available on Buy Some Damn Art


Where are you from and where do you live now?

I grew up in Southern Ohio in Middletown a small town that, when I was there at least, was mostly a steel town with lots of farming families. I currently live in West Orange, New Jersey. After eleven years in Brooklyn I moved here last year. It is about 40 minutes from Manhattan but it seems like worlds away. When I first moved here I felt like I was at an artist residency. My mind seemed so clear and focused in the studio. A year later I still maintain that feeling in the studio. It is as though the chatter is gone while I am working. This reinforced that it was the right time to leave the city. Although I am still in the city every week, it feels wonderful to come home to our little house with a nice yard and a garden.


Aqua Snake (detail)

Tell us a bit about this work.

I enjoy working in a series of small works. These aren’t always the same theme but are created one after another until they seem to make a completed statement. These paintings are part of a series of ten paintings that I titled, “It Was Like a Growlin’.” This title came from an interview with a woman who was describing what a tornado sounded like in the recent storms in the South. There is collage in some of these works both from older paintings like in, “And I Quote,” and “Game Theory,” and with cut white paper over the painting like in, “Love Beads,” and “First Goddess.” I also employ the use of patterning and watercolor techniques to create images. This series is playful and a bit free. They all sort of came to me easily and gave me their titles and imagery. There is a snake like image in, “Aqua Snake,” and a depiction of a booming sound in, “Star Starter,” among other images.


First Goddess (detail)


You've been using watercolor for 10 years. What about it appeals to you in your practice?

Since my first watercolor course in undergraduate school I have been in love with the medium. In fact it goes back even further than that. My Mom taught me her skills from a watercolor class she took in town when I was a child. I still have a banana painting somewhere that I made with her. I love the fluid immediacy of watercolor and am also infatuated with paper. The history of watercolors as studies for paintings has always appealed to me too. I like taking it further into the realm of being paintings themselves. I never think of my work as drawings or studies even though they are on paper. I’ve always thought of them as paintings. I have had many flirtations with other mediums over the years but I always come back to watercolor as my main squeeze.


The artist's studio space.


I noticed that your earlier work had a softer color palette. Was the shift to bolder, more saturated colors a conscious one?

I suppose a risk with watercolors is that they can get a little pretty or precious. For the past couple of years when I think of a word to describe the palette I am aiming for “electric” comes to mind.


An example of Brenneman's bolder colors: Salmonoid Shift, 2010.


Are you involved in other creative practices or projects besides painting?

I have tried and failed to write poetry. Instead I often start a painting after reading a poem and have made many works this way. I am always thinking about language with my paintings and am constantly writing down things I hear and phrases I read that may lead to a painting or a series. As far as other projects I recently did a sketchbook exchange with another artist, Barbara Campbell Thomas. We each started a sketchbook and then sent it off for the other to finish. This was her suggestion which I am truly grateful for. It seems to have opened up a new way of working for me which I am just now starting to see the fruits of.


Star Starter (detail)


Some artists work very much on their own and really limit the influence of other artists on their own work, while others are much more wrapped up and influenced by those around them. Where would you say you fall?

One of my teachers once suggested to me when I was right out of graduate school and moving to New York to ignore what was in the galleries for a while and concentrate on what was at the Metropolitan and other such museums. Although I wouldn’t say I ignore what other contemporary artists are making I do tend to favor a trip to the Met over a trip to Chelsea. Although there are many painters that I really admire, I am not really thinking about their work in the studio nor am I looking at their work for ideas.



What things can't you live without?

My red Webster dictionary 

Isabey brushes 

Black tea 

Dark chocolate 

Red wine 

My Father’s circa 1980’s Ray Bans


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5 comments


  • This work speaks to me – speaks of real maturity of vision and just, well, oodles of talent. Good show young lady!

    Doug on

  • Gorgeous work!

    Audrey - This Little Street on

  • Stellar! Really special.

    Jess on

  • These watercolors are absolutely divine! Love the palette and the fresh bust of energy each painting possesses.

    Erin McIntosh on

  • Really beautiful work! I am loving Star Starter and Game Theory!

    sadie on

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