VonKain’s art delves into human frailties

Sarah VonKain stands next to her paintings “Anxiety,” left, and “Grief,” part of her exhibition “Vulnerable,” on display at The Art Studio, Inc. until Sept. 24. Photo by Andy Coughlan

When we look at art, it is tempting to try to infer meaning, to find out what the artist is trying to tell us. In reality, most of the time, the artist is giving us an image in which we can see some part of ourselves. Art is a mirror. The artist reveals herself and, in doing so, reveals some universal truth.

In “Vulnerable,” on display at The Art Studio, Inc.’s Maudee Carrón Gallery through Sept. 24, artist Sarah VonKain gives us visually stimulating imagery that is both attractive and brutal at the same time. Brutal in the sense that the aggressive brush strokes and seemingly dashed off color are more in the line of Fauvism (defined by critic Louis Vauxcelles as “wild animals”) than Impressionism’s romantic soft pastel haze.

“Creativity,” left, and “Touch” by Sarah VonKain.

The portrait titled“Touch” has a swatch of green in the face that reminds one of Henri Matisse’s “Portrait of Madame Matisse. The Green Line.”

However, VonKain doesn’t expect the viewer to simply engage visually with her work. All of the pieces in the show incorporate words, not single words but volumes of sentences. This is the artist at her most vulnerable. The Orange native has kept a diary since 2014 and has let her private thoughts spill onto the canvases.

“Depression” by Sarah VonKain. Photo by Andy Coughlan

The words create flowing patterns, such as in “Depression,” in which a woman floats in water. The words literally flow around her creating the waves. Rather than being a depressing visual image, there is a meditative calmness about the piece, even though one suspects she is drowning in her emotions. The lines are rendered in different shades of blue, with parts of the sentence receding into the background. In the sentence, “I didn’t choose to live but God chose to keep me alive,” the words “to keep” almost disappear. The brighter colors say, “I didn’t choose…alive.” How one sees the sentence shifts the meaning.

One of the most successful pieces is “Hope.” The portrait is on a red background, and from a distance, one sees only texture. But up close, one notices the words that almost disappear into the background, red on red. Careful inspection reveals lines such as, “This feeling would be mine to hold like a tiny grain of sand.” It is hard to make out the words, but isn’t that a definition of hope? It requires putting in hard work to find the possibilities of the future.

“Hope” by Sarah VonKain. Photo by Andy Coughlan

In “Touch,” the words are written in black on black, and are only visible in the right light and at the right angle.

This small show demands to be given time to view. It should not be read like a novel, but viewers will be rewarded by allowing the words to reveal themselves.

While VonKain has put her vulnerabilities out for all to see. The 13-pieces in the exhibition are bookended by “Anxiety” and “Depression,” both large canvases, but in between is “Hope” and “Touch.”

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. VonKain’s art is the ultimate expression of a life worth living and a show worth visiting.

The Art Studio, Inc. is located at 720 Franklin St. Hours are noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For more, visit http://www.artstudio.org.

This story first ran in the Sept. 9, 2022 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.

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