We’re super excited to be levelling up with the recent opening of our flagship store and gallery – and who better to be among the artists for our (aptly titled) inaugural group show #NuvangoLVLUP than local painter Sarah Joncas? Sarah’s paintings range in vibe from the edgy to the serene, the graceful to the macabre, and everything in between. It was awesome chatting with Sarah to get some insight into the painter behind the brush who’s capable of such dynamism and creativity.
We have to start with the inclusion of the solo female figure, which has been consistently important thematically in your paintings. Can you tell us a bit more about the story behind that?
Yes, I have painted strictly solo female characters for most of my career, and I suppose it’s been about identity for me. These characters never necessarily represented me or had any autobiographical traits about them, but I was exploring ideas and concerns that were important to me and focused around allegories of the psyche. Whether that be struggles with loneliness, or an individual’s relationship with the environment and technology, or sexuality… I’ve always been a very independent, lone wolf kind of person too and painting solo characters seems natural to me. I have been trying to explore more male figures as of late, and have done a few paintings in the past with multiple figures, but it’s definitely a struggle. Maybe the kind of challenge I need to further push my work in the future.
Taking on challenges is great. Can’t wait to see your accomplishments in the coming years! Your artist statement mentions that the subject matter of your work changed dramatically with your move to the city. Looking back now, in what ways has that move affected your artistic style, general worldview, mission as an artist, etc.?
Before moving to Toronto to attend art school, I lived in Niagara Falls, which is a fairly small tourist city. I had a forest right in my backyard, big field, train tracks running a distance away. I hadn’t experienced much of anything like Toronto, with a huge urban landscape, people walking everywhere, advertising and signage on everything…
My work was pretty nostalgic and whimsical before moving, kind of sweet and illustrative. The girls I painted were little stubby children with wide eyes. My characters soon became more mature and elongated, more melancholy. I focused more on themes of alienation and technology. The subjects I learned in class probably influenced some of that as well (like the Frankfurt school and post-modernism), but I feel like living on my own and being a tad of a recluse in such a buzzing place, it had quite an impact on me emotionally. I think it’s an inevitable time of change as well, your late teens and early twenties. You start finding yourself more and earning some independence.
That’s a good point, about this age period being an inevitable time of change! Let’s delve a bit deeper into your experiences with art school though. How has your BFA from OCAD affected your career as an artist?
You know, there are a lot of problems I had with art school, but there’s also a lot of positive change that came about my life because I took that route. As far as my artwork goes, the money you spend on classes and learning, trying to get better with your work is something you can probably do on your own with enough passion and motivation. I didn’t learn a whole lot technically from OCAD. The school had a very modernist mindset and I was often discouraged from painting figures or anything representational. I managed to get through my entire BFA on scholarship money, but if I hadn’t had that success, I would never be able to pay back my loans. It would have held me back so much in life!
Would you advise young aspiring artists to attend art school then?
I guess I would recommend people to chase after their dreams and maybe take up some technical kind of classes to improve their skills instead, unless they have the means to attend school. At the same time, it’s good to meet others like you, other peers and artists. The school is a great way to be a part of a community. The city as well is a great place for the arts because of the galleries and scene, the art stores (none of which were available to me in Niagara). So maybe it can be more about a place as well rather than just the school itself. Understand, no one is going to turn you away from a gallery just because you don’t have BFA on the resume; your portfolio will speak for itself. You really have to weigh the pros and cons particular to your situation I suppose.
That sounds like great advice – very insightful! Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist when you grew up?
I kind of always knew. I didn’t know the job description or what being an artist entailed or had any concept about money, but I had a natural inclination towards the arts and creativity. I really loved it, thought I wanted to make movies for Disney when I was 7 or 8. Then in my teens I thought concept art would be cool and fun, and illustration too… And then when I was 16, I started to actually paint. I enjoyed it so much that I established quite a portfolio in a short amount of time and then put on a show at a community art centre. I sold almost everything I made and it occurred to me that maybe I could take this to the next level and just work for myself…
That’s fantastic! Looks like going the art route has been a great decision so far. So there weren’t really any other career paths that you’d wanted to explore?
I had a couple bleeps in time where I thought I wanted to be a palaeontologist. Very obsessed with dinosaurs and bones. I used to organize bone hunts in the forest as a kid, excited to come across squirrel or racoon skeletons… But in the end, I mostly found I enjoyed drawing these things more than digging them up.
Being a palaeontologist would have been really cool too. On that note – what’s something else surprising about you (artistically or otherwise) that people might not know?
I can bend my arms a disturbing amount in the wrong direction :s