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Living Walls: Sarah Emerson

Atlanta, Ga.

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Sarah Emerson is no stranger to art in Atlanta, with numerous gallery shows and a very impressive piece in Elevate: Art Above Underground to her credit. Her deconstructed landscape paintings resemble the inside of lava lamps, which is emblematic of her style, creating psychedelic versions of actual places or things.

How did you become a participating artist in Living Walls? I love Living Walls because they really do keep painting present and alive in the city, so personally I really support their effort and they invite artists to Atlanta from all over the world. When I met Monica, I let her know that I would love to work with her if she ever had anything in mind for me. It's really special to me that I was invited to participate in the "year of the girl."Why do you think public art is important?

Public art asks artists and viewers to think about place, the purpose of art, and the meaning of art in relation to sociopolitical context — how can that not be important?

How do you think public art affects the community or city it is displayed in?

Of course it affects the community or city in a very direct way. Neighbors have to see it every day even if they hate it. I'm not sure if art should always have a purpose, but public art often inspires debate about the value of a creative culture — how that culture should be defined and who is defining it. Is it government, community, a single benefactor? Street art has a long history of bringing hard realities to the surface, even if it's simply a reminder of urban locations abandoned and neglected — there doesn't have to be a specific motive defined by the artist for public art to affect community.

For this project, Living Walls gets permission for artists to work in the community and the owners of the walls are given proposals. I have been given a lot of freedom in the drawings and then the placement of the art is done carefully in collaboration with the community by the LW team. I think this consideration in the planning makes this a very ambitious and exciting project for everyone involved.

What inspires your artistic process? Is it planned meticulously or is there more of an organic process?

I'm inspired by actual landscapes and how they are affected by time and human intervention.

I'm pretty meticulous in my drawings and loose in the painting. I have the palette picked out in advance, but I'm usually not loyal to my plans. I can always mix them differently once I get started. For now the plan is to start simple and get more complicated until they evict me from the spot. For this project. I'm working with imagery from my Underland painting series, and I'm excited about the potential scale and the idea of placing the dark forest imagery on an urban wall. I hope the mural creates a "looking glass" into an imaginary landscape that is inspired by our very real urban condition.

What do you hope people get out of your work? Is there a certain feeling, message, or mood you want them to feel or get?

I want the viewer to stay with the image long enough to see that painting doesn't have to remain static. It can be something dynamic and unique to each viewer. I am always looking for more opportunities to do murals because of the scale and reach of the audience.

In the imagery I usually mix a little darkness with the beautiful because that is the nature of the life I am familiar with. But aside from the picture, I want the viewer to feel like they own my work both psychologically and physically. I use a lot of familiar archetypes as a visual alphabet and I see my paintings as odes to a continuous circle of paradise lost and found.

Placing the murals in the public automatically implies community ownership of the imagery, so if there is any message that runs through all of my paintings, it's that life is delicate and temporary — be in it. My murals have a finite life span. They are painted over or destroyed once the event is complete. Street art is always overlapping itself. It's an excellent medium for the message.


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Next: Molly Rose Freeman

Molly Rose Freeman hails from Tennessee, but she has been creating public art all around the South, including recent trips to Miami's Art Basel in 2010 and 2011. Her geometric forms convert walls into complex grids of color and abstracted forms...


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