By Amy Wenk
A Sandy Springs resident is proving to be a promising young artist.
Using spiritual themes like redemption, purpose and acceptance, 18-year-old Sara Claire Chambless, a Riverwood High School senior, is creating art with an unmistakable air of maturity. For this, her mixed-media pieces and watercolors are attracting attention from the local art community.
“Her pieces are very soulful,” said Catherine Kelleghan, who represents Sara Claire at her Buckhead gallery. “It’s almost like she is a very old woman in a young woman’s body creating these paintings. I don’t see too many 18-year-olds that get the depth, understanding and creativity. She seems to have it all.”
On April 18, Sara Claire will hold a public exhibition of her work at Catherine Kelleghan Gallery, located at 309 East Paces Ferry Road NE. Sixteen to 20 of her works, including mixed-media abstracts as well as watercolor paintings of nude figures, will be displayed from 7 to 9 p.m.
“It will be so much fun,” said Kelleghan, who represents about 32 artists at her gallery. “We usually have a really good crowd, between 50 to 100 people. Anyone that’s interested in either figurative or abstract work, would love to see Sara Claire’s work.”
On a sunny day, it is not unusual to see Sara Claire outside painting. Crouched in the grass upon a shower curtain, listening to loud music, Sara Claire begins her artwork. She applies a substantial amount of acrylic paint with a brush then twists the canvas, letting the paint roll along the surface.
“I am a very aggressive painter,” said Sara Claire. “I have been known to pick up canvases, shake them really fast and put them over my head and shake them.”
Next, Sara Claire wets plaster and applies it to the canvas, molding it by hand until she gets the desired shape. Then she follows up with more paint — about 25 layers — as well as additional mixed media such as handmade papers, bark or burlap.
“My method is to explore my intuitive responses to color, line, shape, value, movement, balance emphasis, rhythm and unity,” said Sara Claire. “I approach each blank canvas with a question and, through the physical act of painting, begin to initiate a dialogue between myself, as artist, and the observer.”
Sara Claire said her job as an artist is to let emotion come through her.
“I believe the act of painting is the art, in addition to the product,” she said. “The act of painting has to be a very personal thing.”
Sara Claire enjoyed art-making at an early age and spent hours drawing, painting and sculpting.
“I grew up going to art museums with my family,” she said. “I feel like I never had limitations on what I considered to be art. Art is whatever we feel it is.”
Sara Claire’s interest peaked as a sophomore at Riverwood, where she was accepted into the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program.
“The structure of the IB program, which is very self-directed, gave me a lot of freedom to explore what I wanted to explore,” she said. “That freedom made me really passionate about art. It is a pretty rigorous program. I’d say it is the hardest program at the high school level in the United States.”
Sara Claire became inspired to create art through her studies as well as her interpersonal relationships.
“I think the emotions I experience from nature and from my human relationships lead me to explore other philosophical concepts,” she said. “I’ve recently been very attracted to the existentialist movement, and I have been reading a lot of existentialist and surrealist writers like Andre Breton.”
In addition, Sara Claire has been heavily influenced by several artists including abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, conceptualist Gustav Klimt and surrealist Salvador Dalí.
“I feel like Jackson Pollock made it OK to throw paint on a canvas and be crazy and enjoy the act of painting and make that your art, as well as the product,” she said. “That concept is what I strive for — to make my experience while I am painting be just as spiritual and just as significant as the outcome.”
Although an emerging artist, Sara Claire has already sold her artwork to private collectors in Atlanta and around the Southeast, including Buckhead resident Kathy Hunsinger.
Hunsinger was struck when she came across one of Sara Claire’s paintings at the Gallery Wall at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, where the young artist held her debut solo exhibition this January and February. The painting, called “Devotion,” is a mixed-media abstract piece that radiates light from the center in the shape of a cross.
“I was chairing a major event at my son’s school and I was just exhausted,” Hunsinger said. “I was looking at [Sara Claire’s painting], and in the description, it said in the middle of the drawing was a cross that was the light shining out from this painting. I couldn’t see it. I was looking up close.”
When Hunsinger stepped back, however, the cross came into view.
“It just hit me and I teared up,” she said. “It absolutely brightened my day.”
Hunsinger added she expects Sara Claire to have a successful career as an artist.
“I think she is destined for great things,” Hunsinger said. “I’m glad I got a piece of her art that I can afford. Ten years from now I might not be able to.”
Kelleghan agreed Sara Claire has a bright future ahead.
“I typically don’t [represent] the green artist, but Sara Claire is a very serious artist,” Kelleghan said. “She is a very focused young woman and very dedicated to her work. I think most people who meet Sara Claire are impressed. I am very lucky to have her.”
Sara Claire has also been commissioned to create two pieces of art, including one called “Forsaken” that she produced for All Saints’ Episcopal Church.
Hoping to continue her success as an artist, next fall, Sara Claire will be attending Davidson College, a liberal arts school in North Carolina. In fact, Sara Claire just received the James G. Pepper Merit Scholarship in Studio Art at Davidson. As the Pepper Scholar for the class of 2012, she will receive an annual monetary award, be able to exempt entry level coursework in art, and be recognized by the President of Davidson College at Scholar’s Weekend, April 11-13.
“They have a great [art] department at Davidson,” said Sara Claire, who was recommended for the scholarship by sculptor Cort Savage, a professor at Davidson. “Seniors get private studios, and the professors are world-renowned artists.”
Currently, Sara Claire is preparing for her upcoming exhibit at the Catherine Kelleghan Gallery, as well as a group exhibition at Riverwood High School called Spotlight on the Performing and Visual Arts. At this showing, scheduled April 15, Sara Claire will present 15 works in watercolor and mixed media at the school located at 5900 Heards Drive.
“I paint to communicate my passion for life and for painting,” she said. “It is a good feeling to see all your work on the wall and know that it is representative of who you are and of what you are trying to communicate with your art.”