Leslie Pardo, special to the WJN; June/July/August 2019; Sivan/Tammuz/Av 5779; Volume XVIII Number 9
Ann Arbor will transform into an art lover’s paradise Thursday, July 18 – Sunday, July 21 when visitors and locals alike will enjoy original works of art, street performances, live music, fabulous restaurants and culinary treats and a variety of sidewalk sales and boutique shopping—all part of The Ann Arbor Art Fair.
The largest juried art fair in the country, the Ann Arbor Art Fair features more than 1,000 artists and has become a Midwest tradition that draws nearly half a million attendees over four days. The Ann Arbor Art Fair is comprised of four nonprofit juried art fairs that span 30 city blocks: the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original; the Ann Arbor State Street Art Fair; Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair; and the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair which is celebrating 50 years.
We sat down with artist Sara O’Connor, a painter originally from Pittsburgh, to talk about her art. This will be O’Connor’s third year exhibiting at the Ann Arbor Art Fair (booth SU824 on South University).
WJN: What inspired you to become an artist and leave the practice of law?
O’Connor: The short answer is my desire to destroy the starving artist myth. The longer answer is I believed I needed to pursue a white-collar corporate profession to be responsible and successful. When I went on medical leave in late 2015, I began painting. I built up a portfolio and soon people started asking to collect my work which was an incredible feeling. Fast forward one year, I left the practice of law and focused on my art. Since then, I have been exhibiting across the nation. I even had the opportunity to exhibit during the international art mecca— Miami Art Week.
WJN: Your maternal grandmother and PapPap are Holocaust survivors. How has your family’s background and your Jewish heritage impacted your artistry?
O’Connor: My grandparents’ tenacity, perseverance and willingness to find and create love despite the horrors they experienced are values I try to infuse into all aspects of my life. My maternal grandmother and pap-pap survived concentration camps when they were incredibly young, Stutthof and Auschwitz-Birkenau, respectively. My grandmother fought for her survival for five years and finally saw liberation when she was 13 years old. She should have been enjoying her bat mitzvah at that age. Following the war, my grandparents met in America and now have four grandchildren who will be, in her words, “the voice when I’m gone.” My family’s background and Jewish heritage have impacted my artistry in three significant ways. First, my Torah portion (the rainbow) is featured on the back of my business card. To me, it stands as a shining beacon of colorful hope that, no matter how horrid the storm, the beauty of this world will never be fully destroyed. Second, many of my works are painted on an incredibly dark blue background with vibrant circles of color dancing on its surface. It mirrors my desire to reflect that we can find calm, soothing beauty and bright shocking vibrancies even in the darkest of times. Third, I am mindful that people have vastly different perspectives, but we share a common joy in exploring and discussing art together. Art is my way of connecting with people no matter their background.
WJN: Tell us about your artistic process and the technique you use, heavy-textured pointillism.
O’Connor: Stemming from my love of playing with tiny colorful beads as a young girl and dabbling in ceramics and stained glass as a teenager, I desired to combine my favorite qualities of these mediums to create a near 3D effect to traditional 2D pointillism paintings. After creating a formula that achieves my desired effect, I apply thousands of dots to create flowing movement of color with extreme precision and care. I feel a bit like Willy Wonka. The only difference is that my wonderland is filled with color instead of candy. There are more than 650 distinct colors in my studio. The time it takes to prepare the materials can be almost as long as the amount of time to create the art. While I generally have an overarching color palette and design in mind for each new painting, I allow my decision-making to evolve during the creative process. What I paint embodies a moment of self-reflection.