A City’s Canvas: Sarah Kelly


“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.” Oliver Sack’s quote says a lot about the human condition. It is important for all of us to be able to see beyond our own four walls; to see the world outside of our own, or even, at times, to see our world differently.

Perhaps ironically, nowhere can this be done more effectively than through the creation of others, or more specifically, through the art others create. Art can be that vessel that opens your eyes, conjures emotion or even takes you away to a world of imagination. Sarah Kelly is fully aware of this power that art possesses, and she embraces it.

Sarah Kelly, a graduate of Guilford College, is a young artist to look for in the downtown scene, who is as passionate about art as she is the life she leads because, for her, they are inseparable. “I think probably by the time I was in middle school, I started to realize my interests were pretty different from a lot of the people around me,” said Kelly. “I’d rather spend a Friday night reading or drawing or going to the craft store than being herded to a movie in a mini-van with a group of friends. I remember one night in particular, in high school; I’d decided to draw a portrait of Hank Sr. for my cousin for Christmas. I stayed up all night and finished it, but I had no idea how much time had passed until it started getting light out, and I thought ‘what in the world just happened?’ It was like time stopped, and the world was quiet in the most amazing way. Like nothing mattered except the next line I had to put down — and I knew I had to keep making art.”

Kelly’s style, as is her life, is continually changing. “My style is always evolving,” said Kelly. “My interests are so varied (within and outside of art) that I’m constantly inspired by new things, and it takes my art in different directions. My primary training is in oil painting, and my painting tends to be somewhere in the realm of what I call ‘altered realism.’ I think I started calling it that because my first abstract paintings were based on these semi-symbolic still life’s (altars). I also like to make functional ceramics and some mixed media things. More and more I see my creations in different media having a congruent aesthetic, and I can’t wait to see how it develops over time. I’m learning to let my art be what it is rather than try to box myself into one genre or medium, and exciting things are happening!”

As you can tell, art, to Kelly, is much more than a passive activity. “For me — emotionally and physically, art is a necessity,” said Kelly. “If I’m not making art, I can get into a funk really quickly. Art, in general — art is everything. Art is culture; art is life. It’s the lens to understanding the world and human history. Most people don’t realize how much we have discovered about the cultures of the world (new and old) because of art objects and paintings from the past. You can learn so much about any culture or time period in history by looking at the art that was being created.”

Learning about and “seeing” the world around us is, indeed, an important part of the human condition. It is so important that it can shape our personal world. The one that exists between those “four walls.” In fact, if we are lucky, it can bring those four walls crashing down to create something even better; something that may have only existed in our own imaginations, or maybe, in paintings hung in a small gallery in downtown Winston-Salem.