ALOUD interviews SARAH DUETH – Artist – NYC

As NO!R‘s show Ceremony of Innocence shuts its doors until the next time, it is time to celebrate NO!R’s artists and their work, starting with Sarah Dueth and her ‘Girls’.

Some people wouldn’t recognize their own fate if it were standing in front of them. Sarah Dueth did at the age of 18 though and hasn’t looked back since. Of growing up in North Carolina, Sarah says “I wasn’t around the kind of environment  that allowed me to find what I needed in my future, so I got out of there and found my own way,” heading for Boston University to study Liberal Arts. These studies never really felt like a close match and either Sarah was very lucky or simply open to possibilities, but it’s in the corridors of her dorm that she stumbled onto her destiny.

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The first year, there was a girl in my dorm who was an artist. She was drawing something and I said, ‘What are you doing?

Homework,’ she said. I couldn’t believe she was drawing for homework! I didn’t have a portfolio or anything but the next day, I went and picked up an application in the art department.  For the next 6 months, I worked really hard to make my own portfolio and I guess they saw potential because they accepted me. That, right there, was the start of my life changing forever. The next year, when I went back to Boston University, it was to go to the School of Fine Arts, and that is where I stayed for the next 4 years.

Despite graduating at the top of her class and full of aspirations, leaving the nurturing and inwardly-focused environment of BU proved challenging. “When you graduate from art school, you think the world is an easy place. I knew that full time painting was what I wanted but one still has to make a living. That was the most difficult part of my whole career.” Sarah moved to Virginia to be close to a friend and a year later, knew it was time to move to New York City. 

From painting mostly still lives, an art summer residency program at Yale University moved Sarah’s work in a new direction. “I started falling in love with trees and their trunks and it sort of pushed me into abstraction. I was really trying to figure out how to work with paint. Not only can you carefully apply it to the canvas but you can also go crazy and form something 3 dimensional with it. After that, I painted only abstract images for the next ten years, traveled to Australia to study Aboriginal art on a Fellowship, which all led me to believe I was an abstract painter. 

After 10 years of it, I felt as though I wasn’t able to say what I wanted to say anymore. I didn’t know how to push the abstract paintings to be more detailed, more specific. I couldn’t find my story and started to wonder if I had lost my ability to paint because these paintings were becoming dead and dull and I didn’t even know if I could paint a round ball anymore.

As it turned out, she could but going back to her earlier still lives didn’t make her “heart beat”. “That’s when I started thinking about painting little girls, their dresses, bows and lace; and thinking, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?

‘The Girls’ started appearing when I realised that I love the freedom of abstraction but I also love having a subject matter that is recognizable. It took me a whole year of painting these girls’ faces to even like them, and realise they were turning mask-like. Maybe not exactly masks but the paleness of the faces is absolutely necessary. Once I figured out how I wanted the faces to look, I didn’t know what the next step was, so I just kept painting. I started the Girls in late 2008 so it’s been 3 full years of this.

Surprisingly, after 3 intense years and countless portraits of her larger than life Girls, Sarah is filled with the same enthusiasm and energy for her subject matter as when this impressive series began taking shape. Like a variation on a theme, each portrait, although undoubtedly part of a continuum explores something new, a nuance like another special bead on a long intricate necklace. 

I feel as though I found something that had begun to explain ‘Sarah Dueth’ from childhood all the way to adulthood. I am bringing back a lot of memories, some lovely like the details of an outfit – – colours and bows and ribbons, tights that are striped and patterned – – But some memories which are not always easy. In the past 6 months, I have started to slow down and pay more attention to these specific details, giving myself time to grow in the particular series.

I never look at a reference when I paint; it’s all strictly from my head. If I want to paint a flower, I don’t go outside and get a flower. It might make my paintings technically better if I did, but I need the freedom to change things the way I want, and explore the unknown.  

I don’t know how long these Girls are supposed to last but it’s of no concern. I am just going to paint them until I don’t want to anymore. Each painting has another little spark that says ‘Sarah’ in it and that spark is what is going to represent me and nobody else.

When she isn’t in her studio with all her Girls, Sarah is with her 9 year old son and her husband which, she says, “creates a really perfect balance to a painting lifestyle. When I became a mother, I felt that there were two separate things to care for in my life, but now, I feel like it’s one full complete lifestyle” and if Sarah could teach her son just one thing, it would be to listen to and trust his instincts and find something that inspires him, as she has done her whole life.

Every choice I have ever made is because I wanted to make it. I listen to my instincts and go with it. I’m not scared to do anything when I’m in the studio or if it has anything to do with Art, though there are plenty of other things in life I am scared of.  (haha)

My son says he wants to be a professional tennis player, but I don’t see him asking ‘Hey Mama, can we go play tennis everyday?’ I will support anything he wants to do but I also need to know his decisions are completely his. I don’t feel people can change anything in their lives or become good at anything unless it absolutely comes from inside. One can not make decisions based on what other people want. 

I let him grow up learning that if he finds something that he loves, it’s a wonderful way to live life but even if you find something you love, it’s not always going to make life easier, it’s going to be difficult sometimes too. But it will be his and no one else’s. These Girls will always be mine.

* * *

You can see more of Sarah’s work on her website. Sarah was recommended by Rachel Wilkie and an artist in NO!R’s Ceremony of Innocence.

If you are an artist or designer and have found ways to turn your passion into your livelihood, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at

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  1. Jane

    There is something reminiscent of the work of Odilon Redon and Gustav Klimt in Sarah’s brush stroke, choice of colors and dreamlike atmosphere while her subjects take us back a few more centuries to Diego Velasquez’s portrait of the Infante or to other regal figures depicted with their pets by French and English painters.

    What a delight for Aloud. readers far from New York to be able to discover such harmony and creativity!

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