Sarah Graham (BA (Hons) Fine Art, 2000)
Artist for Sarah Graham Art Ltd
Sarah has always had a love for painting, so studying fine art at DMU felt like a natural progression.
It was the professional practice modules that Sarah enjoyed most; it encouraged her to look for an exhibition space outside of the university.
“I worked in a pub part time and managed to persuade the brewery to let me and my art student mates renovate the upstairs into a large and very professional gallery space. It’s where I first started selling work, so I learnt a lot doing it. The main thing being I could maybe make this work in ‘real life’.”
When it comes to art, some people find it hard to understand how it can become a full time profession. For Sarah she feels that a complete mix of chance encounters, lucky breaks and relentless determination is what has helped her to become a successful artist.
“I felt that if I believe that I could produce artwork and get it out there, then surely things would have to happen? This became a mantra in my head, and I had more rejections than offers from galleries in the first few years; income rarely came from actually selling a painting. My first significant sale rescued me from my only stint in full time employment) stock room supervisor in a shop) it lasted nine months and was simply a means to save for an MA; which incidentally I didn’t get into.”
Sarah was looking for somewhere to store her artwork that she had produced from her degree; she had just moved to Reading and along with her friend shared some empty rooms (with no electricity or water) about a pub as studios. As the winter was setting in and the brewery were kicking them out, which left them with no place to store their work. With the fear that her work would end up in a skip Sarah walked across town armed with a beachscape (approx 1m x 1,25m) to a gallery that she heard about called Jelly Leg’d chicken, she has if they had room to store it, but they gave her one better and not only stored it, but exhibited it and within a week it sold for £1,000.
“Soon after, I was offered a part time job in the gallery, and more importantly my first opportunity to have my own studio. The deal was I manned an ex-florist whose business was relocating to a department store, for a small rental fee I could use the premises as my own shop/studio and flog the odd bunch of flowers out front for them. I spent everyday in the florist/studio so got used to working alone.
From having the studio, Sarah was able to produce a large body of work which lead to her first exhibition in a contemporary London gallery and her first Affordable Art Fair which became her main source of income from artwork for the following 7 years.
“I exhibited at the fair when it began in New York, Melbourne and Sydney. After almost a year I found a more suitable studio with fellow artist Charlotte Hardy, I continued to exhibit in galleries and fairs in and around London and Berkshire. I actually paid for that particular studio by working on the door of a local nightclub, but having a fellow artist to bounce ideas off meant it was a great space to grow. Charlotte and I eventually became curators at the jelly gallery, a fantastic experience from which I learned a great deal, e.g. how not to submit work to galleries.”
In 2004 Sarah unfortunately lost her dad to a frighteningly short battle with cancer. It turned her whole life upside down and moved back to her hometown of Hitchin using her bedroom as a teenager as her studio.
“What felt like a giant leap backwards was made bearable by the fact I’d now invested several years in my practice, so giving up was not an option. My mum was incredibly supportive, but what should have been a temporary arrangement, turned out to be almost four years. I finally came upon a studio after sending a plea text to everyone in my phone. It was a specially converted village barn with daylight strip lighting, just outside town. It was a leap of faith, unsure how I would afford it I took it on and thankfully the risk paid off as a month later I signed with leading fine art publishers Washington Green.
After three and a half years in the countryside, Sarah now leases a space in Hitchin town centre and uses a separate mini studio for her photography, on which all of her paintings are based.
“My dream is to have a major solo show in London, and I’m currently working on some exciting new ideas, so the hope is I can one day have a large body of original work to make this happen.”
You may have either seen Sarah or her work before as she often gets invited to talk at schools and was also asked to paint the front cover of the Kaiser Chiefs album.
“Ricky Wilson, the lead singer first approached me, after seeing my work in a gallery in Leeds, to paint their third album, that fell through but we became friends as he was a fan of painting and photorealism, and I was a fan of getting to their gigs! Four years later, he text me asking ‘how long would it take to paint the end of a stick of rock?”
Sarah feels that studying Fine Art at DMU was a big part of her overall learning curve and described it as one of the most fun periods of her life where she made some of the best friends ever and planted the seed to help her achieve everything so far.
For anyone who is looking at becoming an artist, Sarah advised:
“Don’t do it for any other reason than it’s what you love and care about and be persistent! It’s very easy to give up, but well worth it if you find a way to stick at it.”
Images supplied by Tim Matthews.