Artist Spotlight: Sarah Graham

“People say, ‘Photorealism: why don’t you just take a photo of it?’ But it’s about taking something mundane, like the lollies she paints, and elevating it to the status of something more.”


Sarah Graham, photographed by Sharon Cooper

British painter Sarah Graham was born in Hitchin in 1977, and works almost exclusively in oil on canvas.  She completed a BA (hons) in Fine Art painting from De Montfort University. Her paintings are in private collections across the world - in Europe, the USA, Australia, the Middle East, China and South Africa. In 2012, Sarah was commissioned by the British band Kaiser Chiefs to paint the album cover of their singles collection ‘Souvenir’, which was released worldwide.  Her work is also owned by Standard Chartered Bank, who commissioned several pieces by Sarah, including a self-portrait, for their vast global collection of contemporary portraits.

Kaisers Rock!, Graham's piece produced for their singles collection cover

Sarah describes her work as 'a vivid exploration of still life, using subjects that allow me to satisfy my obsession with colour and within them somehow communicate that elusive sense of sheer joy'. Her work borrows imagery from childhood - sweets in gloriously rich, full colours, dolls' faces in closeup, and a wide variety of toys - from a merry-go-round horse in pink to a tin robot in sparking silver - all invoke a sense of nostalgia and wonder.

Goldilocks, 2008, (oil on canvas) Sarah Graham / Bridgeman Images

The detail of each of her subjects is picked out so finely that one can almost touch the crisp, crunching plastic of the bag of sweets, or feel the smoothness of the shiny toy surfaces. Ice creams, such as a sundae, and other treats are also featured in her colourful lineup of subjects.

Raindrop, 2018, (oil on canvas) Sarah Graham / Bridgeman Images

''My work is often described as playful and fun, and even kitsch, due to the nature of the subjects.  None of which I mind, however within it lies a serious practice that I have devoted my working life to, and a deep desire to improve with every brush mark.''

Sundae Bliss, 2014, (oil on canvas) Sarah Graham / Bridgeman Images

Our Artist Manager, Aretha met Sarah for an e-interview:

1. What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?  A print of Constable’s The Cornfield, which my parents had up at home, I would stare at it for ages and fantasise about being in it!

2. What is your favourite time of day to be in the studio?
I’m at my best mid afternoon, that’s when I’m most likely to be in full flow!
Candy Carnival, 2012, (oil on canvas) Sarah Graham / Bridgeman Images

3. Talk us through your painting process. Where do you begin and how do you pick your subject matter?
I begin with an idea, it has to be colourful & excite me. Then it’s a case of sourcing the sweet, toy or object, I have a whole room in my studio full of subject matter I’ve bought to paint.  Then I do the photography until I arrive on something that just shouts out ‘paint me!!’ I print it out on A3 paper, and then begin to sketch out the composition in yellow acrylic on the canvas.  I scale up entirely by eye, and once that’s done, I roughly block in all the colour, again using acrylics. Having this underpainting means I can reference the photo less as I work in oils, during which I enhance and exaggerate all the elements, so that the oil painting takes on a life of it’s own.

Budgie Love, 2014, (oil on canvas) Sarah Graham / Bridgeman Images

4. What painting or project are you most proud of and why?

Probably ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, painted in 2009 for a special exhibition in Harrods celebrating the 70th anniversary of the film.   The Wizard Of Oz is one of my all time favourites, that moment where Dorothy lands in Oz and you see munchkin land in glorious technicolour, I do believe influenced my work from a very young age.  To be invited to paint a piece in homage to that film was an absolute joy, and I think is one of the best paintings I’ve ever made.
Graham in her studio, photographed by Sharon Cooper

5. You were commissioned by the Kaiser Chiefs to create the artwork for one of their album covers, how did that come about?

I was approached by Ricky Wilson, the lead singer, he had seen my work at an exhibition in Leeds, and loved it. He had the idea for the stick of rock with the bands name and album title running through it, then it was down to me to create the painting of it.  I remember he emailed me when I’d finished it, simply saying he thought it was ‘phenomenal’!
Planet Robot, 2007, (oil on canvas) Sarah Graham / Bridgeman Images

6. If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?

My hero, Gerhard Richter, who’s painting ‘Betty’ inspired me to do photorealism.  Grayson Perry, I love that he himself is a walking work of art, and I find him & his work fascinating.  David Hockney, his exhibitions stay with you as they fill you with a sense of joy and wonder, which is what I try to do with my work.  Georgia O’Keefe, her work influenced me a lot at university, I was inspired by her bold use of colour. Vincent Van Gogh, so we could all tell him how he changed art history, and that his paintings have actually sold since his death…pretty well!!
See more of Sarah Graham's artwork on Bridgeman Images here.
Lollipop Gang, 2011 (oil on canvas) Sarah Graham / Bridgeman Images


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