Gestural Riots: The Artwork of Sarah Stolar

Sarah Stolar is an oil painter whose gestural riots comport with themes and imagery from medieval art history, fractured fairy tales, mythic “journalism,” and Old Master painting.

Sarah Stolar is an oil painter of magical-realist bent, whose meaty, aggressive brush technique is in the line of French Romantic painting, German Expressionism, and American Abstract Expressionism. Instead of the “galactic,” illustrational re-hash of many a magical realist cum “new age” surrealist, Stolar’s auras are grittily grounded in a terrain of paint as “pure,” plastic sculpting. What’s more, her gestural riots comport with themes and imagery from medieval art history, fractured fairy tales, mythic “journalism,” and Old Master painting.

Her formalist focus and proud regard for high, European fine painting make her a bit of “the heavy” in the Bay Area’s truncated and often ingenuous gallery scene. One of the reasons she took her San Francisco Art Institute MFA in new-genre arts, rather than in drawing and painting – which she now teaches at the Institute’s extension program – is that Stolar found the inherent chauvinisms of the Bay-Area painting “world” rather insufferable, while new-media arts seemed a freer arena. New media gave voice to her innate, “glam-sex” sense of wild-child theatrics, whether in the form of her digito-mechanical dioramas, doll houses, performances, or video pieces, where anything from porn, to the horror genre, from Vegas “couture” to Tinkerbelle or Bullwinkle, might conflate. Withal, her affinity for cinematic and stage art-direction (sets and costumes, lighting design, sound effects, editing, etc.) served her well, and today she continues new-media work, including performance-art commissions for the likes of Annie Sprinkle at the Venice Biennial.

But oil painting is Stolar’s first calling. Her mother Merlene Schain is a well-known painter and mixed-media sculptor in the mid-West, and their direct forebear was Adolph von Menzel, the famous German painter of the mid/late nineteenth century, who, with Caspar David Friedrich, is regarded as the summa of that country’s visual arts’ laureates of the 1800s. While her libertine character may be all her own, Stolar’s serious regard for informed oil painting is DNA dynamic. But it also imbues Stolar’s work with the gravitas and after-worldliness of Western “sacred” painting. From the Bible to ancient, Mediterranean mythologies, Stolar plants her hipster spirit in old milieus. One thinks especially of Venice in Stolar’s latest painting series: classic Europe in league with Arabia, Byzantium, and Asia – and of all their magical spirits and lores, long there, in exchange. A museum without walls.

Michael J. Miller is a thirty-year-career gallerist, who has held local and national director offices at some of the country’s largest art-gallery concerns, including that of National Sales Director at Dyansen Galleries and Merrill-Chase Galleries, and that of Director of Marketing at eBay/Butterfield’s auction houses. He is a Harvard-trained art historian and writer, who has authored many art-world publications. He is a poet, whose collected poems, Mexican Ivy, span the years 1975-2010. A close reader, he is currently completing a massive decoding of Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets.

Discussion and Comments

  1. Wonderful to see Sarah Stolar’s work reaching the public. We are all so lucky to have her in the world. Such a talent!