Picturing Evanston

Sarah Kaiser-Amaral

What brought you to Evanston?
I moved to Evanston in 2009 when I met my husband, Luis Amaral. He is a professor at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. Prior to that, I lived in Hyde Park. I went to the University of Chicago, where I earned an MFA and lived in Hyde Park for 9 years. I really enjoy living in Evanston because it's so close to the lake. I love the water and it invigorates me. Plus, there are so many great opportunities for artists here. I like living and working within a network of artists and arts organizations that fuel and inspire me. 

How does your environment inform your art?
My studio at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center is large and has lots of light. It encourages me to be more ambitious and to take more risks. I also teach classes and host workshops in my studio. Often, I am inspired by what the students and participants are doing. We share our ideas, and sometimes their technique or approach informs my work. I also enjoy exposure to other artists who work in the art center. I once shared a studio with Jennifer Presant and Jules Kunhardt. Now that we are neighbors, we still visit each other often, and give each other feedback on our work. Daniela Kovacic is also in their space now, and her advice is also valuable. 

What is your medium?
Most of the time, I work with oil paint. I either paint on canvas or on wood. The texture of the canvas is more forgiving, but I can paint more details on wood. Often, I will make a preliminary sketch which functions as a compositional study for a larger, finished painting. The sketches are in chalk pastel and charcoal. In the summertime, when I travel, I work in watercolors because they are nontoxic and easier to transport. Once I tried to bring oil paints on an airplane and TSA confiscated them.  

Describe your art, in a hundred words or less.
I use metaphorical subjects such as water, sky, clouds, figures and animals to communicate my ideas. Some of my paintings are moody and authentic, while others might be purely decorative. I often paint transparent veils of color that remind me of stained glass windows. Light plays a role in my work, whether it illuminates a figure or represents spirituality. The interplay of light and shadow at different times of day is a topic I often explore in the landscape. Sometimes, I am not sure what a painting is about, but when people view it, their interpretation and response often surprises me. Art is subjective, so I let people make up their own minds instead of steering them in a direction. They tend to project their own experiences onto the work.  


What are you currently working on?
I am currently painting a portrait of my pregnant artist-friend, Daniela Kovacic. Her baby is due near the end of July. I am enjoying the process because she has such prominent features. I am also painting a portrait of her baby, Roman, inside her belly. I’m playing with the concept of “Inside/Out.” 

Name one piece of art, by any artist, that blew your mind or otherwise inspired you.
“The Song of the Lark” by Jules Adolphe Breton really speaks to me because the woman in the painting is strong and represents perseverance. She is looking up to the sky and it appears to be early morning or late dusk, just as the sun is rising up from the horizon. The light in the painting is subtle, and it reminds me of the golden hour before the sun goes down in the evening. Also, the epic scale of this painting made an impression on me when I first encountered it at the Art Institute of Chicago. The life-size scale of the figure and her place in the barren field make the painting quite mysterious. 

Why art?
I make art because the routine grounds me, and I find it therapeutic. I have made art for as long as I can remember, and my mother has filled in the gaps in my memories. She provided me with ample time and space to explore this side of myself. I was an only child until I was 13, and we moved around a lot. Since I went to so many different schools, I didn’t know a lot of people. So, I would draw and paint to fill my time. I also went through some difficult times, and my artwork has always been there for me to absorb the pain and frustration. Making art can be cathartic, and I enjoy sharing that concept with others. At one point I was studying to be a social worker because I wanted to help people and make a difference somehow. But that process became too bureaucratic since the rules were always changing. So, I find that teaching art can satisfy that need. Even though I teach the students about fundamental concepts such as measuring and shading, there is more to the process. Often, the process, or the journey, is more important than the product. It’s the act of making art that’s important, which can be a form of meditation.