By MELISSA WALSH Photos YANNI
Bright and vivacious with a child-like happiness is the best way to describe the effervescent art of Sara Catena. In fact, it’s the best way to describe the artist herself. Just like the bright yellows, burnt orange, vivacious pinks, reds and greens that jump off the canvas and spread happiness, so does the infectious smile of the peninsula artist. I know when meeting Sara that she has been through a lifetime of change in a short space, with her beloved husband passing away early last year. However Sara is resilient, and her beauty and inner strength shine through in each work of art she creates.
For Sara, a mum of two, the creative journey started in a small country town on the coast of New Zealand, where she grew up surrounded by traditional handcrafts, imagination and pots of tea.
“My parents valued resourcefulness and taught me a deep sense of caring for the land, community and creativity,” says 48-year-old Sara whose artistic awakening began during those early childhood years. “I knew that my parents both had a deep creative drive. My mother was a dressmaker, but my father was pushed into an academic career that went against this nature. He was told he had to follow a professional path so he worked as a dentist for his entire life, and I could see how it made him unhappy to the point of affecting him personally. Because of this, I made the decision to always follow my authentic path, and work at what my heart led to me, which in turn made me happy. You escape into a world that’s heavenly when you create.”
With one look at Sara’s artwork, you know that she is on the right path – and has been for some time. There is a profound sense of happiness that leaps off the canvas, a combination of the vivid colour palate she is not afraid to use, and a reflection of the artist herself with her hand-made, colourfully embellished outfits, and mane of curly blonde hair. Even Sara’s home embodies her philosophy of living with splashes of colour in her paintings, hand-made cushions and crafts, feature walls and table tops adorned with her famous floating characters.
And Sara’s commission artworks tend to tell a story, a process she has become renowned for, with many clients wanting her to portray their family life in a creative portrait form.
“My narrative work expresses a story or idea, filtered through the reality of how I see the world, and is poured out onto the canvas. I capture the spiritual aspects that dance around our ordinary experiences and add in these motifs to create artwork full of living, joyful, soulful symbolism. The large family commission pieces I work on, express a unique and personal family story in a very intuitive way. These pieces are a powerful and magnificent keepsake of the special bonds in a family, and will become heirlooms for generations. The families I work with cherish these commissions and I inevitably fall in love with the family in the process… it’s a very special area of my work and I feel incredibly blessed to do it,” says Sara.
A project Sara is working on at the moment is for a Greek family, and she wants to incorporate their passion for food, family get- togethers around the table and a fishing heritage.
“I like to go and spend time with the family, sit around their table and get a sense of who they are. I Listen to their stories…Then I go away and let it marinate for a while until I have a clear sense of the family,” she says of her working process. “With this one I am incorporating timber boats and the Aegean sea, along with the different personalities of the family around the feasting table, and the colourful fish hanging from the bottom edge.”
Working full time as an artist, Sara still finds joy and delight in the pure art of creating right through to the final result, just as she did years ago starting out as a visual artist in New Zealand.
“With a strong motivation from my father to work at what I love, and armed with a skill-set of textile, needle and thread from my dressmaker mother, I found myself cocooned in the happy world of sewing and art-making. I felt joy and delight in the pure art of creating right through to the final result, and have followed that path ever since, finding that people who view and buy my work also experience this same happiness and connection to their own feelings of joy.”
When you look closer at these incredible artworks, the symbolism and colour choices all reflect a special part of the narrative. Whether it is a family history or a philosophical understanding, Sara is an artist who tells a story.
“Instead of writing it on paper, I work with acrylics, oil sticks, thread and even recycled textiles,” says Sara, who even manages to make a discarded old apple crate look beautiful. “I was driving around Frankston and saw this apple crate sitting in a hard rubbish collection. I brought it home and made it into the ‘Shiny Shrine of the Apple Crate Madonna’. It is inspired by the fabulous Rumi quote ‘Shine like the whole universe is yours’ and I painted it as a colourful tribute to the fact we all have the magnificent ability to shine like the divine.”
Poetry, inspiration, and seeing beauty in the everyday is what makes Sara an artist in the most authentic sense of the word, and inspires her ability to encapsulate the very essence of people.
“Some of my paintings start with a poem I have written,” says Sara who has written poetry most of her life. “It has become part of my painting process. So I convey a meaning or feeling with the artwork, rather than the words.”
Sara also creates the lyrical ‘Nest of the Lovebird’ soft textile sculptures, made with found and recycled elements, threads, and fused plastic.
And her work certainly speaks to the heart of the viewer, creating an uplifting experience and touching hearts around the world and locally.
“I have a strong desire for my work to be a potent, visual reminder of happiness and love and truth that breaks through the often chaotic reality of life.”
To speak to Sara about her art or a quote for a commission piece, phone 9789 2398 or 0449 822 230.