Inside Art with Sally Jane Fuerst

“Artists like John Singer Sargent and William Bouguereau made me want to be a painter, but it was Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons who made me want to be an artist. I identify strongly with pop art and how it reinterprets elements of our culture that people will instantly recognise. I think this helps the viewer make an immediate connection with the work.

My style is heavily influenced by fashion photography. I love the beautiful and often surreal atmosphere in fashion editorials and this is something I try to incorporate in my paintings. I also work with models who have fashion experience, I think the fashion models’ elegance and regal poise is a nice balance to the playful nature of my other subject matter.”

How did you get into art and painting?

“I’ve loved to paint and create things for as long as I can remember. My mom is an artist and fashion illustrator, so growing up paints and art materials were always around and something I was free to experiment with. Seeing my love for painting, my parents encouraged me to pursue fine art. At 16 I began taking life drawing classes in pre-college programs at Parsons New School in New York.

After high school I studied for two years at Pratt Institute in NY majoring in painting. My time at Pratt really taught me the importance of the idea behind the work, the emphasis of my classes were on creativity and developing an artistic voice. However, I knew I also needed rigorous technical training to learn to draw and paint to the level I aspired to, and this was something I found the major art schools couldn’t offer. After two years at Pratt Institute I moved to Europe to study in ateliers, ending up at LARA. When I graduated from LARA in 2010 I finally found myself with both the ideas and skills necessary to communicate who I am as an artist.”

Madame X – John Singer Sargent

Why do you paint the way you do? Do you follow a certain philosophy?

“I’ve always loved representational art. I enjoy the challenge of trying to recreate what I see on a 2- dimensional surface and give it that spark that brings it to life.

I also think painting has a real mystery about it. Being a realist painter my images are often compared to photographs. However, a photo is mechanical where as a painting is organic. A painting will always be unique; even if I were to try to paint the exact same image twice, they would never be identical. Even a very realistic painting is still the artist’s interpretation – I’ve decided every colour, every brush stroke, every transition.

It is also important to me that from a distance the paintings feel real, but up close they are still painterly. I don’t try to hide the fact that it’s a painting, which is something I’ve learned through the atelier training. They teach the importance of accurately simplifying what you see, actually leaving out small details to make the image feel more real. The way we’re taught is based on impressionism, and this is what separates us from the hyperrealists.”

Trophy Wall – Oil on canvas

What message are you trying to convey with your art?

“The themes in my work are usually based in pop or commercial culture. I think I’m drawn to this as it’s something we all share and that helps people identify with the image. The viewer feels like they understand the work.

I also often use animals (well, artificial ones!) in my paintings. I love animals and enjoy exploring the often tender relationships between people and animals. I think my painting ‘Sunny and Sweetie’ is a great example of this. This painting was inspired by the arrival of the two Giant Pandas (Sunshine and Sweetie) at the Edinburgh Zoo. They are on loan from China and were met in the UK with much celebration and fanfare. They continue to be a very popular attraction, and there is huge excitement and anticipation for their romance here to produce a baby Scottish panda. Even the ‘pandas’ pose in the painting has roots in pop culture. I modelled them after a photo of another celebrity couple, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, shot by Peggy Sirota for Vanity Fair magazine.

Some themes in my work can be a bit naughty, like the Blow Me bubblegum in ‘Pop’, or Ken’s date in ‘Great Date Ken’. However my paintings are all meant to be playful, not to genuinely offend. Classical painting can often feel very serious, so I like to balance that with subject matter that I find fun, sometimes darkly humorous.”

Pop – Oil on canvas

Can you tell me about the role of women in your pieces?

“I love figurative painting. Painting people is a wonderful challenge. I think we will always enjoy seeing people represented in art. Over 35,000 years ago cave artists started depicting humans in their work and figurative art has been going strong since! I think seeing a person in the painting helps us connect with the piece.

That’s really the role the women in my paintings play. This is also something I’ve taken from fashion photography – models are always in the photo, but the image is about the clothes; the woman becomes a vessel, almost an accessory. My paintings are about the costumes and the toys, but they feel empty without a human presence. After all, a giant inflatable zebra wouldn’t exist in this world if it wasn’t for us.

I’m often asked why I only paint women. I’m not against the idea of painting men, but so far my ideas feel most natural when expressed through a female model. Maybe this is because I’m a woman. Although I’m certainly not the models in my work, I do see my paintings as self portraits in a way. I am the underlying idea, I usually identify strongly with the inflatable toys.”

High Net Worth- Oil on canvas

What techniques have you learned at LARA?

“I learned how to paint! Which I think is really retraining yourself how to see objectively. Another important thing LARA teaches is patience and persistence. Painting is very difficult, but LARA teaches how to break it down and how to work through the inevitable challenges. I remember before the training I felt like my finished paintings were never as good as I wanted them to be. I thought this was something I just had to accept. Now I never settle for what I consider to be a subpar painting. If there’s something I don’t like about the work I know I can fix it.

Before the training my paintings were held back by my inability to paint as well as I wanted. The mistakes in drawing and colour distracted from the overall image and point of the work. I think painting is very comparable to music in this way. A pianist could be playing a beautiful song, but if it’s compromised by technical shortcomings and wrong notes the audience’s attention will be drawn to those. Listening to a musician who has mastered the technical side of his art allows all the focus to be on the song itself and the emotion the musician is conveying.”

How you do you feel about LARA’s teaching methods?

“I love them. It’s intense but that’s exactly what I was looking for, a school that would focus on developing my technical skills. LARA tuition pushes your observational drawing and painting skills to an extremely high level, a level that while in art college I assumed was just not possible.

I came to LARA to learn the classical techniques among the cutting edge contemporary art that London is famous for. Here there is the Tate and National Portrait Gallery for painting inspiration, as well as the Tate Modern and Saatchi Gallery to absorb all of the amazing things that have happened after the 1800’s. LARA offers the opportunity to study the best of the past among the best of the present.”

Fuerst’s work can be viewed up close at our “Atelier | The Art of Representation” exhibition,

November 30th through December 4th at Mall Galleries. RSVP to the Facebook event to stay updated.

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