For many people, the image of the artist is a romanticized affair. Often pictured is a contemplative and brooding individual puffing on a cigarette, wearing a paint speckled uniform of black Levi’s and boots. Locking himself in the studio, he intently focuses on nothing but his next masterwork. This picture of the artist is an old-fashioned-male-painter-artist-as-genius idealization, yet for Sara Hovekotte it’s not that far off. Although, swap the black Levi’s and cigarette for a bright green smock and bunny slippers. “You know the show Bob’s Burgers?” she asks me. “I’m like Louise.” Louise is the younger sister on the show, who for no apparent reason is always wearing a pair of hot pink bunny ears.
Once garbed in her bunnies and smock, Sarah checks her insecurities at the door. In front of her on the paint table lie an array of raw painting materials; a number of canvases are hung throughout the studio, all in various stages of completion. From the paint table, Sara bounces around the room, bunny slippers bobbing, carrying a paint-loaded brush. She works circularly through the studio, adding a swab here, a line there, always coming back to the painter’s table to reassess, and reload the brush. It all sounds very romantic.
Sara’s romantic take on painting is perhaps a reaction to her 22-year-old millennial contemporaries, who born alongside the Internet have a distinct relationship to technology and its integration into daily life. “Thanks to the rise of social media, Gen Y has essentially grown up under a microscope. With every tweet, photo and status update, millennials open themselves up to public observation, for better or for worse, and this has had a tremendous psychological and sociological impact on the way they live their lives (By Nicole Fallon, 2014 Business News Daily).” Amid all this technological-social integration, and public spewing of self-identity, Sara confesses that she’s just trying to get back to the basics.
During our conversation, she waxes on about how as humans we all respond and relate to essential truths: color, form, and shape. It is these basic truths that she capitalizes on, and attempts to reveal through paint. “Painting is painting,” she tells me. “People will never stop responding to other natural objects–painting is an assembly of colors and shapes to bring about associations.” Honestly, I find Sara’s nonchalance towards the gigantic burdening weight of painting’s history impressive, and quite refreshing. Be it naiveté or genius, Sara has struck a studio ethos that celebrates raw form and color, removed from any overwrought historical associations, criticisms, or even a concern with newness. While a bit removed from the art world at large, it all sounds pretty Zen. Sometimes she paints a chair simply because the coloration and form captured her imagination.
Other paintings have more involved back-stories, yet are still tied to simple impulses. The painting Spring for example, began as a depiction of Sara and a high school friend cutting class, finding five dollars, and buying frosties at Wendy’s. On hearing this story, two bouncing figures behind the wheel of a car and driving through a lush landscape, begin to emerge from the otherwise abstract painting. Yet, these charming stories are not ones that Sara typically divulges to her audience–the work is left intentionally open ended and obscured so that viewers respond to the aesthetic aspects of the work rather than narrative and autobiography.
As a recent graduate from Maryland Institute College of Art, Sara still lives and works in Baltimore, where she rents a studio at Current Space. Founded in 2004, the space houses a gallery, art studios, and community work spaces for rent (including a dark room and a print making facility). The dark room was initiated just last year via a successful Kickstarter campaign, and equipment donations. Because the city lacks a ripe collector base or large gallery scene, artists ban together, buy each other’s work, and create their own opportunities to show and display work. This communal attitude is certainly a result of the city’s placement adjacent to a number of larger East Coast metropolises: New York, Philly, and DC are all within a stone’s throw, and it seems Baltimore has made a concerted effort to foster a unique and independent zeitgeist.
Sara confesses that Baltimore has also had a profound effect on her painting–the grittiness of the city has manifested in the way she accepts and celebrates subtle imperfections on her canvases. Where she previously might have been dismayed at a blemish or irregular bump of paint, Sara has now come to invite such inconsistencies.
The scale of her work shifts to become relative to subject matter, although she always keeps the scale within arms reach – maxing out at about 43 inches wide. The reason for this is to be able to attack a canvas before the “inspiration” is gone. What I might chalk up to chronic distraction brought about largely by the an increasingly Internet based culture, Sara refers to much more simply in terms of “inspiration.”
Talking to a painter’s painter is refreshing. Sara’s task is intelligibly simple. She goes into the studio, mines her brain of recent visual stimuli which has captured her imagination, and represents it on canvas, quickly and seriously. Speaking to her is like speaking to an old painter of a time gone by; her ideas around the subject are romantic and idealized. It seems Sara has used her role as a painter as a stand-in for the social media she eschews–information comes in and gets disseminated in a democratized way in order for her paintings to connect and communicate with others. Connecting with others is still a primary instinct–after all, she’s a millennial at heart.