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Meet Sara Lee Hughes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sara Lee Hughes.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
As far back as I can remember, I have always loved drawing and making things. I grew up watching the PBS show Zoom and my favorite part of the program, aside from the cast’s orange and blue striped rugby shirt’s, was when they showcased a young viewer and their craft project. My introduction to painting came in college, but not in the traditional way. In 1986 I went to Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) for a degree in acting. I enjoyed acting, but it was an intangible creation. Instead, I’d constantly find myself in the scenic and costume shops helping with productions. I found that I really enjoyed the process of creating an environment or clothing that would help tell the story of the play or musical.

I changed my major to theatrical design for the theatre. The design degree required a figure drawing class. In my first ever art class I was introduced to drawing the human form and a variety of mediums: ink, charcoal and house paint. I loved it! I studied set design and scenic art with Dr. Dan Hannon. He was an exceptional scenic artist/set designer and introduced me to scenic painting, art history and, most importantly, how to see things from a different point of view: taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. In August of 1990 I graduated with a BFA in costume and lighting design.

I was born to very diverse parents. My mother and father married in the mid-sixties. I was born in 1968, my brother in 1973, but unbeknownst to my mother, my father was gay and tried to abide by social mores mores of the time: career, marriage, kids, and a house in a well-to-do Dallas neighborhood. In 1976 they divorced; I was eight, my brother three. Four years later, my father decided that he would always be a hindrance in our lives and simply disappeared. One day, he just didn’t show up for our weekend visitation.

You might think the story would end there, but in college I realized I had so much in common with him— a love for theatre, art, music. It was the mid-eighties and the AIDS crisis had become front-page news. I wondered if he was even alive. I went in search of him and found him. We then shared close to three and half years together before his own death from AIDS.

It is these events that have had a profound effect on my life and the way I navigate and view the world around me. My work is rooted in these events. Their story is my story.

Please tell us about your art.
My work currently- Over the course of the three and half years I shared with my dad, he would write to me. We spoke on the phone and would see one another as often as we could without anyone’s knowledge, however, the letters were his main form of communication. The letters are the subject of my current work. The letters, for years after his death and now, provide advice, solace, confidence, and guidance.

They appear in my work as objects: sewn together as a quilt, as a super-hero cape and as a map(s). This “translation” has not been overnight. I spent 2004-2006 at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn working on my MFA in painting, and this series along with related subject matter was what I took to graduate school as a project to further develop. It’s been 15 years in the making, along with other relevant work in various mediums.

My paintings are both figurative and narrative. My story is not obvious in the work and nor is that my goal. I believe the audience will connect to the paintings through their own story and through the paintings’ universal nature.

Two things about me/my work:
Words I live by, given to me by my father: You must be true to yourself. I have always believed that there is a difference between work and job. My work is the art, created from my life. It is a constant process to get to participate in that work. A job is what I do to make a living and pay for my bills. When the two converge it is awesome. I have tried to always make painting my job.

What do you find the most challenging for artists today?
Where do I begin? In the mid- nineties I went back to school. I attended what I knew to be one of the best art schools in the country, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA. Based on an “academy style” tradition of painting, drawing, sculpture and  printmaking, I learned the rules of traditional painting. I was fortunate to study with notable painters, printmakers and sculptors. This was after I had received a great education in theatre. I vowed to myself that I would paint for a living. I knew then that my “work” might not always be my job. However, I would always find a job painting and that would help inform my work. And that is what I did. My career has included being a scenic artist for TV, theatre and film, a professor, set designer, mural artist, surface artist, and illustrator, to name a few. Perseverance and remaining flexible as an artist has been my main challenge. Remembering that I would return to my easel in my studio, wherever that was: painting large paintings when the studio allowed and small paintings when there wasn’t a studio. After our daughter was born, I brought a kitchen timer into the garage-turned-studio, set it for five minutes, and set out on  five-minute projects. Sometimes five minutes is all I had. By the time she was two-three years old, I was covering the kitchen table in art supplies and we would have The Morning Table—she could work and so could I. On her first day of school I dropped her off and drove home to my easel, set up with paint, panel et al and did my first self-portrait in five years. Each year I have gotten closer to more work and less “job.” Persevere and remain flexible-it takes the time it takes.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
34th Annual Texas and Neighbors Regional Exhibition

Irving Arts Center
May 18th-June 15th

My website

Spanish Land, Texas Home
Oil on Linen
Stephen F. Austin Building
1700 Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78701

Ernie’s Auto Body
1608 IH 35
San Marcos, TX 78666

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sara Lee Hughes

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