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Mary Sauer – Cultivating a Career

This article appeared in the 1st Quarter 2019 The Art of the Portrait Journal publication.

Mary Sauer has carefully cultivated her talent through her work, and it shows. It was Mary’s exquisite use of color and confident, natural brushwork that immediately drew me to her art. Her work seems effortless, but as anyone who has picked up a brush knows, this level of expression takes not only talent but work. It comes from providing the seed of intrinsic creativity with the requisite water, soil, and nutrients – the training, focus, and dedication – for an artist’s vision to thrive and flourish.

Contemporary Motherhood, oil on canvas, 60 x 96”

As a child, Mary began to plant the seeds for a future in the arts. She relished childhood visits to the library, where she immersed herself in the works of Velazquez, Mary Cassatt, and Carl Bloch and studied John Howard Sanden’s books on how to paint a portrait. As she grew, her influences expanded to include Cecilia Beaux, Sargent, and the Pre-Raphaelites.

While in her junior year of college Mary attended her first Portrait Society of America Conference in Philadelphia in 2006. During that trip, she recalled visiting the museum and encountering Cecilia Beaux’s portrait of a girl in a white dress with a yellow sash (A Little Girl, 1887): “It was as if a lightning bolt hit me. I knew this is where I was supposed to be.” When she returned to the Portrait Society conference, John Howard Sanden walked on stage to begin a portrait demo, providing further proof that she had planted herself in the right spot.

Mary went on to earn a BFA from Brigham Young University, followed by study at The Art Students League of New York and Grand Central Academy of Art. She returned for an MFA from The University of Utah and apprenticed for William Whitaker for two years.

Leighton in Peonies, oil, 11 x 17”

When I asked Mary how she achieves accuracy and precision without sacrificing spontaneity and life, she emphasized the importance of drawing. She said, “When I put down the stroke, it has to be the right one in the right place, the right value, the right color – all at once. So, I have to be confident that I can draw 100 percent correctly before painting to be able to achieve that direct painting look.” Through careful, intentional drawing, Mary works out nuances in value and “any tricky parts.”

Through her art, Mary works to infuse her message and explore concepts including perfectionism. For example, in Anna with Dishes, which feels “precarious, anxious, and uncomfortable: one false move and all of the dishes will break.” She also uses naturalism to explore the unrealistic images portrayed in social media and how these expectations relate to our self-acceptance of both our beauty and our flaws.

The Little Grape Thieves, oil, 30 x 26”

Additionally, Mary has examined society’s evolving attitude, as well as her own, towards being a mother. In Contemporary Motherhood, each of the adult female figures is the same person’s body with a different head, and the scene is completely designed using modern digital tools. She completed the piece during a time when she was hearing from peers and mentors that having children would hinder her art career. This contrasts with her current paintings of children, such as Leighton in Peonies and The Little Grape Thieves in which children are tenderly depicted, a reflection of her current view of having children. It has opened her eyes and helped her art in ways she could not have imagined.

As in all professions, obstacles arise, and as Mary grows in her art career, she has chosen to address any hurdles head on. She says her biggest challenge is mental: “No matter how many paintings you do, if you start a painting that’s a flop, and you think you’re a terrible artist.” Mary can recognize this saboteur, laugh it off and change direction. Another challenge for her was initially gaining gallery representation, but after a couple of years, it took hold.

Anna with Dishes, oil, 35 x 26”

A challenge she has found to be an exceptional blessing has been balancing family life. Since she has had children, she has had more success with shows and has sold more paintings (in contrast to what she heard while in school). She attributes this to the need to be organized, efficient and deliberate about when and what she paints.

There are particular artists whose work calls us closer, speaks to us and resounds within. For me, Mary Sauer is one of those artists. I delight in her artistic language, admire her expertise, and appreciate her devotion. When it comes to enjoying the true fruits of our labor, doing what we love is the sweetest reward of all, and Mary Sauer is a strong example of an artist who is pursuing her passion and reaping the reward of a well-cultivated career.

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