Missouri State University

Sarah Williams

  • Assistant professor
  • Springfield, MO
  • BFA, William Woods University
  • MFA, University of North Texas

Adding significance to the seemingly mundane

Police lights cut through the night sky, and Sarah Williams knows she looks suspicious. 

Police lights cut through the night sky, and Sarah Williams, assistant professor of art and design, knows she looks suspicious. She’s skulking through dark streets photographing buildings for inspiration for her oil paintings. These low-quality snapshots help her recreate a story of the rural America that she loves.

Occasionally, she gets taken down to the police station on her quest to capture images of her subjects, but usually in her small hometown of Brookfield, Missouri, where she photographs most often, they recognize that she’s on a mission.

“I'm working from these terrible little snapshots that I take, and I love for them to be bad because it makes me be inventive,” Williams said.

From these resource shots, she knows the shape of the building and location of the light source, but she adds in detail and color – color is her passion – to showcase these buildings’ unique structures.

“I'm just really fascinated with how you can indicate the way of life or someone's existence or personality through the way they've built whatever it is they use,” she said.

Coping with homesickness through painting

Growing up in rural Missouri has influenced Williams’ art from her earliest memories.  In fact, the only art she remembers from childhood was that of the waiting room variety, and the pictures she drew of wildlife.

After moving to the Dallas metro area for her graduate work, she began taking photos on her home visits and putting this inspiration on canvas.

“I was having this crisis because I didn't recognize anything, and I've always grown up in a small area where I could go by landmarks…I completely lost my sense of place.”

Through her paintings, she started to share the uniqueness and slower pace of the rural way of life, sometimes through an abandoned highway or a dark night sky against an aging industrial building.

Recently she’s begun incorporating more residential settings into her work and experimenting with the feeling of voyeurism. For her, she’s trying to capture the feeling that the viewer is standing on the sidewalk staring at the houses to see what is visible inside.

“I've got this series of small houses with big picture windows, and you can see the giant TVs glowing through the windows, so there's that acidic artificial light that's happening.”

Exploring her subject like a hedgehog

For a young artist, Williams has received a lot of recognition for her body of work. Her oil paintings were displayed at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyoming, in spring 2014, and she showed at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, where she taught a course called Weekend in the Wild that took students to Yellowstone. In February 2015, she had her largest solo show to date in Houston, Texas, at the McMurtrey Gallery where she showed more than 30 pieces.  She also was selected for a solo show at the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles in September 2015 and at the Talley Dunn Gallery in Dallas in January 2016.

“If you're an artist, you're either a hedgehog or a fox,” said Williams. “If you're a fox, you’re jumping all over the place with your concept and your materials…If you're a hedgehog, you're working through new ideas, but it looks very consistent, so to the outside eye, it's a slow, slow progression. I'm totally a hedgehog.”

To view selected works, visit http://sarahwilliams-paintings.com/