Sarah Louise Wilson
Sarah Louise Wilson is an artist based in California. She writes, directs, produces, paints, and acts. Her courage puts her on an edge that cannot be fabricated; rather, it comes as a natural part of who she is and what she stands for.
In 2010, with her company Stella Bella Productions, she penned and starred in her pseudo-autobiographical romantic comedy Jelly, starring Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black) and Hollywood icon Ed McMahon. The script alone attracted name talent and funded the film into release. After screening in competition at several renowned film festivals, the film went on to win four Accolade awards and is represented by Cinetic Media. It has since been released on Netflix, Fancast, Hulu, PBS, and The Sundance Channel.
Throughout her career, Sarah wrote and directed short films, plays, music videos, documentaries—anything she could get her hands on. In early 2016, when Sarah was living in Almaty, Kazakhstan, she shot her feature film No Exit entirely on location. The movie went on to win multiple awards and was written up by Esquire, Good Housekeeping, and Variety.
Planning a Coup In the Rose Garden
Interview with the Artist
- When did you first begin making art? What was your first medium?
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. If you ask my mother, she will say I was scribbling on walls with my crayons since I was a toddler but if you ask me— which you are—I’d say that I started creating art when I was about nine years old because that was the first time I remember desire connected to expression. I started to draw with pencils. Colored pencils and regular #2 lead pencils.
- Who were your early inspirations as an artist? Who are your biggest inspirations today?
When I was a child, we had a family heirloom which happened to be a large, white bible. In the center of the bible, there were pictures of old religious art painted by master painters like Carol Bloch and Diego Velázquez. I learned how to draw from those pages.
One year, for Christmas, I wanted to give my family a gift so I stayed up for many nights in a row, wherein I taped my father’s blueprints together and drew The Virgin Birth by Carl Bloch with a handful of #2 pencils.
On Christmas morning before everyone got up, I tacked the drawing to the wall above the fireplace. My parents were moved, so much so that my father rolled up the drawing weeks later and brought it to the local newspaper. We were living in the Bay Area at the time. The newspaper did an article and gave me an award at a school assembly.
I remember [feeling] nervous and exposed at the assembly—after all, I drew the art as a gift, not for something that I wanted on public display. This sounds snooty, but really at that time art was a pure expression of how I was feeling—love actualized. It wasn’t meant for everyone but I knew my parents were proud and wanted to share it. What a profound idea. I used to shrink amid praise and adoration. Later on in life, I yearned for praise and adoration and now I am painting because I have a deep desire to express love and life. In a way, I feel as if I have come full circle—although adoration and praise are still things I desire at times—in pockets of self-doubt.
That was super long-winded. Gosh […] but to be more focused on answering your question. I was inspired by master artists nuzzled in the pages of the family heirloom along with my mother, who also likes to draw. I remember watching her draw and thinking, “I hope to draw as well as her one day.”
Now my inspirations are wide and many, from Picasso—obvious answer—to Basquiat—love. Self-love to romantic love—shout out to my sweetheart hubby—to social justice issues and my imagination which is always blossoming with ideas. Some sweet and some dark. I paint to quiet the madness.
- What draws you to the subjects you choose?
I am strongly led by feelings of passion. Passion for love, truth, justice, and idealism. When I was a child, I loved Norman Rockwell’s work and his desire to paint his ideals. I identify with wanting to paint an ideal. Art then becomes an act of faith. Faith actualized in color and brushstroke. A kind of visual spell, cast in hopes of a better world—that’s why I merge elements of realism with cartoon—maybe? It’s difficult to define why I am drawn to something other than the vague answer of “it’s a feeling.”
- What does the process of artmaking look like for you, from what you consider the “beginning” of a piece to what you consider the “finished” piece
The beginning is always sparked by emotion. It’s like falling in love. I start with great enthusiasm and as I work on it, I have to pace myself and listen, which is also my struggle in life: PATIENCE. My creative problems are surely my life problems. So anyway, I start all hot and heavy when I first begin writing or painting, and then things become quiet. I used to freak out at this point in the creative process until I learned that the quiet is full of noise and ideas and that it’s important to be still at times. Whenever I have done this—stillness—my work has improved.
A piece of art is like a roaring fire or a slow burn. I take my time between the sparks of creation and then at some point the sparks collide and the piece is done. I paint the fire out of me. Or I write the fire out of me but it comes back. The fire always comes back. Even if I have to rub two stones together, the fire comes back!
She Is Palestine
- What is your favorite medium to work with, and why do you love it?
This all depends on my mood. I create with lots of different mediums and not just paint mediums but also film and TV. I wrote a novel, plays, movies—so my mood. I get an idea and then I think about the best way to execute the idea.
- You’re a writer, director, producer, and actor in addition to being a visual artist. How do the distinct disciplines in which you work inform or reinforce one another?
I feel like I cannot express what I am feeling or experiencing through just one mode of creativity, so I have many hats. Maybe if I focused on one thing completely I would be a master in one of them but they feed one another and if I quit one in pursuit of the other, a great dying will most definitely occur. I know because I tried this before. I am who I am and as I have aged—like a fine cheese—I’ve realized the ability to create in a variety of ways is a good thing for me. It keeps me alive and fed.
A Hot Day in the Cotton Field; Mind Over Body
- What has been your proudest moment so far as a visual artist? As a creative, overall?
Oh gosh, this is a tough one but I’d have to say my most recent work from 2021 has been the greatest achievement because the work came on the heels of the driest painting period of my life. I could not paint for the entirety of 2020. I was in a deep state of sadness, for obvious reasons: social unrest, COVID-19, politics, wars, the economic crisis in Lebanon (where my husband is from).
I wrote a bunch in 2020, including co-penning an anti-racist curriculum. I even wrote a novel but I could not bring myself to paint which contributed to my general sense of malaise. Anyway, after I overcame some intense personal issues at the top of 2021, I felt like I NEEDED to paint.
This newfound desire to paint was sparked by a friend of mine when he asked me to design an album cover for his band. He sent me the record and I listened to it over and over again. One song, in particular, awakened something inside of me that I thought was dead and gone but it wasn’t. So I painted three paintings as cover options. None of them were chosen as the album cover but what came out of that gig was still positive—the spark had been ignited in me to paint again. I set out to do an online solo exhibition. I painted over 40 paintings in two months and launched my show, New Eyes, which was all about the African Diaspora.
Since then I have been painting consistently, and this sense of consistency has restored my faith in lots of ways. This was my proudest moment—the comeback.
- Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
I’d rather have them share something with me.
George Perry Floyd, Jr.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021