Sarah Rupp is Drawn to a Strong Female Gaze

Sarah Rupp’s paintings, though vastly different stylistically, all depict female forms. Fusing various modes of representation, Rupp paints women whose faces captivate her. She is particularly drawn to a women’s gaze and makes it a focal point in all of her work. Rupp lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and when did art first enter your life?

The story is a bit of a complicated one: I grew up in Stuart, Florida and ultimately ended up getting my BFA at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

I painted on and off as a hobby when I was younger, but never thought anything would come of it. Prior to my experience in art school at USF, I was enrolled at the Florida State University for four years—I switched majors frequently and never got a diploma. I ended up dropping out and moving back home with my parents. When I was living at home, I found clarity and peace through painting. After about a year at home I knew I wanted to go back to school for painting, so I applied to USF and the rest is history.


When did you begin to depict female figures?

I’ve depicted the female figure since I started painting, even before school. In school, I focused on figure painting and they were female, morphed or collaged or manipulated, but always female. I’ve never had the desire to paint anything else.

What issues are you discussing in your work?

I create art in order to explore not only my own fascinations, but to challenge the artistic language of both my body of work and a larger one: the various ways that women are portrayed in popular culture, fashion, advertising, & even historically. My work addresses trends associated with ideas of beauty, appearance, and perception. I’m creating a bend on a timeless subject matter, the female form, and also celebrating it.


What about females do you find so captivating?

I am always drawn to faces, and I am most captivated by the gaze. I try to depict a strong female gaze very often in my work. There is a lot of mystery and vulnerability in the eyes, in the gaze. It creates a dialogue between the viewer and subject, even a connection, and that’s important to me.

What other artists most inspire you?

My favorite artist is Chantal Joffe. Alice Neel is another. Brian Calvin, Marilyn Minter, Hope Gangloff, John Wesley, John Currin, Jenny Morgan, I could go on …


How do challenge yourself in your practice?

Conceptually, it’s important for me to check in with myself and really reflect on why I make the work that I do, why I choose the subjects I do, and how I can continue to grow and strengthen my body of work. Forcing myself to do things that make me uncomfortable is a challenge.

I am trying to get away from the bad habit of noodling my paintings to death, overworking (and overthinking) them. I am trying to be more mindful to make each brushstroke purposeful.

When I need relief from a painting or if I am feeling stuck, I will choose something to paint very quickly in one pass, make a color study, or make quick contour drawings just to get the wheels turning. For me, taking action is so important, in any way, even when it feels forced or I’m “not in the mood”. It’s a real thing.

I also love to task myself with the challenge of making a ‘bad painting’. This helps my process both technically and conceptually. A former professor of mine used to encourage us as students to do this, and it has been one of the most useful exercises for me. It’s important to remember to have fun and not take painting so seriously all the time. Not every painting is going to be a slam-dunk. In fact, most probably aren’t. There are no rules.


How do you decide how to depict your figures stylistically?

This changes a lot nowadays. Right now, I am trying to be more open and relaxed when I approach a painting, leaving room for improvisation. I used to make bodies of work that were uniform in style (for the most part). I’m not as interested in one specific technical style right now as I was in the past. Recently, I’ve been using different types of painting styles in my work. This keeps things exciting and fresh for me, and varies with each painting. A lot of it depends on the subject matter, the feeling or personality I want my subjects to exude. I like to inject humor into a lot of my paintings, and typically those will be looser, more stylistically playful. Or the exact opposite: a stylistically serious approach to a more playful or perverted subject matter. There’s no one answer for this one.


At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

I have two! My studio mate, Chuck Rosenthal and my former roommate, Jaclyn Mottola.