Q&A with Sari Shryack
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
We are so excited to have Sari Shryack host a Disco Ball Drop Workshop at my studio on December 7th from 12-3pm! Sari will teach you how to make her iconic disco ball, just in time for the new year! Class fee includes a round canvas for each student.
Click here for more information.
Austin-based artist Sari Shryack gives viewers a look into life as she sees it through her color-drenched, abstracted still life painting.
Her personal style is defined by highly saturated hues and bold contrasts that create a playful energy within these scenes. Evidenced through her work, Sari is all about color. She even primes her canvas with electric pink (yum!) before going in on her first mark.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Sari herself to get a small glimpse into her artistic background, her inspirations, and her unique way of looking at life.
Tell us about your artistic background.
Sari: So if we are going all the way back, I was always kind of an artsy kid. I never painted or anything, but I liked putting outfits together, I did collages and was just kind of artsy. I didn’t do a lot of art in high school I was more a choir kid/nerd. When I went to college I was a student athlete, I was able to go on a running scholarship and honestly my thinking for signing up for art classes was, “Well, I am mostly creative and it seems like the easiest major to do while being an athlete.” I was totally overwhelmed and so I went into it.
My first art professor was Todd Lowery and he was just an outstanding teacher. He was so charismatic and he was balancing being a legit artist who traveled in Europe and had shows, while being a professor. I thought he was the coolest guy, so I took all of his classes and they just happened to be painting classes and I fell in love with the medium.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do outside of college, I also had a graphic design degree, so I was thinking, “I’m painting and I am doing graphic design surely I’ll get into the real-world and have to do graphic design, right?”, “Who even is a real painter in the world?”
So when I graduated and moved to Austin with my husband, I ended up getting a desk job doing graphic design, but it was the worst thing ever — I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t like the highlight of my day being looking forward to lunch. It just felt really sad. I worked my butt off in college and here I was looking forward to lunch. I ended up leaving for maternity leave after I became pregnant with my son and I never went back! When my son was 2 months old, I challenged myself to do one painting or drawing a day for the whole year, and at least at that point I would know if I liked it or not. My drawings went to watercolors and my watercolors turned into acrylic and, by the end of the year, it was about late fall, I started getting some work and some commissions and I was like, “You know, I think I can do this for real!”
Your work spans from landscapes to everyday household objects, so what inspires you particularly about these objects to create these scenes?
Sari: One of my favorite things about being an artist is the ability to go about the world in a mindset where you can look at everything as art. I mean my life isn’t spectacular, I am just a normal person. I am a mom, I am a wife and I am a person who lives in a city in America. So, for me, it’s just if I go on my runs and my walks do I see something that captivates me? Is the light beautiful? If I’m playing with my son does this lunch spread catch light in a way that’s interesting? For me, my inspiration comes from the desire to always be looking for art and to always think anything could be art if you can make it into it. It makes being a creative person so much easier, because there is nothing off limits — your existence is the reason something can be made into art. So what inspires me? It’s truly everything, everything that I come into contact with.
Can you expand on any of the scenes specifically that you’ve created, do you have any personal stories tied to any of them?
Sari: The piece I mentioned when I came in today is Florida Palm. My husband and I go on vacations and a lot of the time we go back to the city I was born in and the city I went to most summers to visit family which was Clearwater, Florida — specifically, Indian Rocks Beach. It's about going there, looking, kind of reminiscing about time with family, and capturing that light. What is it about going to the ocean? It’s not just the water, it’s the way the light hits the buildings, it's the flora and fauna and seeing if I could just capture that into a painting. And yeah, that’s kind of the whole story behind that one.
How did you find your niche? Which would be color-filled abstract still-life creations.
Sari: I was just talking to my professor about this. There is kind of an interesting dynamic. When you are in the art world you are either a consumer of art or you are a producer of art, for the most part. I think when the style question gets asked especially, from people who aren’t making art, they think that you go and pick out your style and you try to make art to match that. For me, I found that when you come from creating, it’s very much the other way around. How I come to this style is I paint what I am interested in, I paint how i’m interested in it, I am very aware of, "ooh I do like the way I captured the light here," or, "I don’t," or asking my peers, "what does this light say to you?"
Kind of keeping that open dialogue in addition to being really prolific and painting every single day. I think from that I found my niche because it’s led by my intuition, it’s led by, 'Does this feel right? Does this feel natural? Does this feel fun? Do I like spending time painting on this?' I sort of just follow that intuition and that’s where I am now and then I will probably change it and I am excited to see where that goes.
Yeah, I really like where I am now!
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Sari: If I had to say a singular person it would certainly be my college painting professor Todd Lowery, he’s amazing. Ironically his style, not that it doesn’t inspire me, it actually very much does, but seeing him teach and being a full-time very legit artist at the same time in a purposeful way inspires me. You know I love doing art and there’s a little bit of a taboo with people who want to do art and people who want to teach. I feel like sometimes they want to keep them separate. I don’t know why, because I always saw it works well with Todd and I wanted to do the same thing.
Creatively, the OG painters like Thiebaud, Hockney, Hopper are certainly my big three and obviously, Van Gogh a little bit with his brushwork. Those are people who I have multiple booklets from. I have a bunch of my favorite artists and sometimes when I feel myself getting sucked into social media, I’ll just go through a Hockney or Thiebaud book and it revives me.
Another thing I don’t think a lot of visual artists give credit to is musicians. So, for me, following Kate Bush and right now Taylor Swift [ her new album just came out]. Seeing them as women follow their intuition and not play into just anything inspires me. They sort of make whatever art they want as women, not having to hold themselves to a trope and that certainly influences my work. I don’t shy away from things because they are pink, but I don’t feel like I have to play into being a feminist. Watching them as creative inspirations has really let me say, “Just make what you want as Sari Shyrack and, if it looks feminine, then great. If not, then that’s fine too.” So they have been really big inspirations to me.
How do you nourish your creative soul when the going gets rough?
Sari: That’s a good question, and that’s what I think is really important to inspiring artists. I have an analogy that I would like to use for this question. So, I was a runner in college and I was very familiar with the professional running world. When you think of a professional runner you don’t think of someone who clocks in the morning and runs from 8-noon, then eats lunch, and then goes back out and runs for another three or four hours, right? You know that they put in probably a couple hours of work, then they nap, do some cross training, and do some other stuff, right? So all throughout the day, it's a mixture. I feel like painting and creating is very similar in that there is a bit of a threshold.
I feel like I'm extremely prolific and extremely hardworking in my craft, but I max out at about three and a half to four to five hours depending on the day. A lot of the rest of my day is of course, chasing around my child, but I think even if I didn't have him, I would try to get in like a nap or Netflix.
I know that sounds so taboo in our culture, but it really is in these downtimes, that I find the most inspiration. My inspiration for the Eighties Mall Series comes from watching Glow on Netflix. Yeah, it was amazing! You know when you're in the middle of watching something and you feel so inspired? Well, if you already have a creative practice, that's like adding a match to kerosene. You already have the tools, you already have the space carved out, so it's really about putting in the work, but saving time to nourish yourself when you're down. Which means don't sit on the couch watching Netflix, feeling guilty — enjoy it! Just taking care of yourself, the best you can do despite all the tropes. As a creative person, it's really hard to create when your needs aren't met. So you want to certainly break up that stereotype, take care of yourself, have downtime, for sure.
How has your work evolved from the start of your artistic career 'til now and how have you personally evolved as an artist?
Sari: My work has evolved because I moved. So I started making art in college, like landscapes, in my hometown, which is in the Midwest. So, because of that, the light is different and the mood is different. I hadn't explored my color palette as much, so if you were just looking at my art, I would say that it's a little more — it started out a little bit rendered and a bit less saturated in color tone.
I think when I moved to Austin and finally started making art it was like a light turned on. The light became more intense and more saturated and I've really played with color since then, upping and downing the saturation. So, from a formal standpoint, mostly color has evolved and I would say I'd like to think that my technical skills have evolved a little bit. I'm a little looser with my brush strokes in a way that looks purposeful.
How have I changed as a person? Well, certainly alongside that, I feel like I've opened up and I've really healed. I had a pretty rough childhood, so for me self care and therapy took place alongside my move and for me personally, I feel like the light turned on right when I moved to Austin. I did start to find some grounding of my creative practice and I did learn how to ask for help. I feel a lot of that reflects in my art and the reason it is so happy and buoyant is because I don't wake up a single day without feeling deeply grateful for where I am.
I really hope that shows through in my artwork. I never wanted it to seem like it's positive in a way where it's ignoring all the bad stuff in the world. Sometimes joy, despite the darkness is more powerful. I think of course we need a break and comedic relief, and that's great, but that's not necessarily what I'm going for. It is important to be grateful for what we have now, but how can we use that to nourish ourselves so that we do have the space to do something about the world, whatever that looks like?
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Sari: The first thing is, take some pressure off yourself. I know everyone feels a lot of pressure to have this robust career — it took me five years to really even get noticed and that was including time off I took. I found myself in a place where I was paralyzed, because I wanted what I have now, five years ago and I just didn't see how to get there. I guess the first thing is, just physically, take that pressure off your shoulders and set it aside. You don't have to have it all figured out, you don't have to have a mission, you don't have to know what your style is. Make art, have fun, and play.
One of my favorite stories is from this teacher who was teaching children drawing techniques and the kids were asking him, well, "What do you do?", "What's your profession?" He said, “Well, I teach adults how to paint,” and then, the little girl says, “Did they forget how to paint?” [LOL!] It's one of those things, you know how to do it. Just know that when you put in the work, it'll come to you. If you are being honest and intentional with your work and you're willing to do that self actualizing within your work, your purpose and your style will come to you.
Want more of Sari?
Sign up for her next workshop that is being hosted at my studio on Thornton Road in the 04. Click here for more details.