Emerging Artists | Mary Sauer

Peeling back the layers

Mary Sauer, The Chocolate Shop, oil, 22 x 26.

Mary Sauer, The Chocolate Shop, oil, 22 x 26.

This story was featured in the October 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Dressed in a stylish beige jacket and white dress, a woman sits poised in a fancy boutique filled with fine ceramic dishes and crystal lamps. Everything appears impeccable—picture-perfect, in fact—in Mary Sauer’s painting ANNA WITH DISHES. Yet the woman’s despondent expression suggests otherwise. “In my opinion, she is feeling the weight of all these things and isn’t sure if she is measuring up,” notes the artist.

Back in 2014, when Sauer embarked on graduate studies in fine art at the University of Utah, she was already winning national awards for her work. The artist had spent years refining her technical execution of the figure in a style influenced by both contemporary realism and 19th-century classical painting techniques. As a graduate student, however, she began exploring ways to build “a greater narrative” in her work, says Sauer. “I spent those next few years focusing on paintings of women, particularly how we feel when we compare ourselves to what we see in the media and what we see when we compare ourselves to others.”

Today, as the mother of two young daughters, Sauer has also been portraying children in her work, in part to encourage other young female artists that “if motherhood is something they are interested in, it isn’t going to hold them back,” she says. And the Utah artist continues to create portraits of women that examine the pressure to be perfect in a media-driven world. Occasionally, she also depicts shop interiors where curated product displays represent unrealistic ideals. “My husband sings opera, and I’m really interested in how things are presented on stage versus in real life,” explains Sauer.

Indeed, thoughtfully designed with hints of mid-century fashion photography, Sauer’s paintings require careful setup, from lighting to background scenery. She then snaps hundreds of photographs of her models, and she might also do graphite sketches to identify areas in a composition where she can “make it more about the paint.” Sometimes the artist’s painterly techniques reinforce her narrative objectives. In her award-winning self-portrait A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING, A GREAT DEAL OF NONE, Sauer allowed parts of the grisaille underpainting to show through. “It’s about letting some layers show through—showing some aspects of the painting unfinished and unrefined,” she explains. “It’s about letting people see certain things.” —Kim Agricola

representation
Sloane Merrill Gallery, Boston, MA; Meyer Gallery, Park City, UT;
www.marysauerart.com.

This story was featured in the October 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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