Associate Professor Sarah Williams is proud to call the rural Midwest “home.”
So proud, in fact, that she recently finished a sabbatical dedicated to exploring new rural areas and investigating structures there in a studio artist residency program.
“I’ve always been drawn to the sense of place associated with the rural Midwest, where I grew up. It’s a sense very specific to the small town I call home—the structures there and the atmosphere that surrounds them—and I’ve spent the last several years trying to capture that identity in my paintings. It occurs to me that embedding myself into other environments is the next step in expanding my work. I believe that by trying to understand other rural regions of the country in terms of the landscape, the structures and town layouts, I can better see what makes the Midwest unique and ‘home’ for me,” says Williams.
Williams proposed her sabbatical leave to expand her current research in painting and produce bodies of work to be used in both scheduled solo and potential future exhibitions. “Both require a large number of new paintings so new resource imagery, taken in the form of photographs and sketches, and time to produce the work was imperative,” says Williams.
After receiving her first Sabbatical Award for the spring 2020 semester to pursue this research, Williams attended the Studio of Key West Artist Residency Program—one of three applicants chosen. “Artist residencies allow access to regions that would be difficult for me to work in and fully investigate otherwise. Participation in residencies provide me the space and time to continue my studio work and the vital opportunity for it to grow through immersion in the new geographic areas,” adds Williams.
The work Williams created during this time has gone toward a number of solo exhibitions. The first of which could be seen at The Moody Gallery, in Houston, Texas. The exhibition, titled “Off-ramp Communities,” ran in August and featured 18 of Williams’ new paintings. Another, at Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco, “Twilight Towns,” featured 12 of her new paintings and ran in October and November. Most recently, Williams had a solo exhibition open at the Blue Gallery in Kansas City on November 5th, and it will be up through the end of 2020.
Currently, Williams is working toward two more solo exhibitions based on works planned during her sabbatical. The first will be in Los Angeles, to open in April of 2021, followed by a solo exhibition in New York City, to open in September of 2021.
Williams sees her time on sabbatical relating directly to what she teaches in class. “I’m a firm believer that it is imperative that those who teach art continue on their own journey through trial, error and growth associated with the art-making process. Experience in the art world is the backbone of the art education profession. As a practicing artist I can teach the necessary aspects of a formalized visual arts education while being able to relate closely to the things students are experiencing in the art making process,” adds Williams.