About the Artist
Sarah Smelser received her BA from University of California at Santa Cruz, her MA and MFA from the University of Iowa. She taught at University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, Pasadena City College, and West Virginia University before taking her current teaching position at Illinois State University.
Smelser has been an artist in residence at the Vermont Studio Center; The Franz Masereel Center in Kasterlee, Belgium; Artica in Bilbao, Spain; Kala Art Institute in Emeryville, CA; Jentel Artist Residency in Banner, WY; Skopelos Foundation for the Arts in Skopelos, Greece; and the Ballinglen Art Foundation in Ballycastel, Ireland. Her work is in such collections the Readers' Digest Association, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the Jane Vorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, the Spencer Museum at University of Kansas, Hallmark Corporate Collection, and the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts.
Smelser has had solo exhibitions at Bridgewater/Lustberg & Blumenfeld in New York City, Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in New York City, Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI, Carnegie Mellon University, Bradley University, University of Wyoming, Diablo Valley College, and Luther College. Her work has been included in many invitational and juried shows, and been shown at numerous art fairs including Art Frankfurt, Estampa (in Madrid), the Affordable Art Fair in New York, Art Miami, Red Dot Art Fair in New York and Miami, Art Santa Fe, Art Chicago, EDITION Chicago, Boston Print Fair, Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair, Editions/Artists’ Book Fair, and the Los Angeles Art Show.
Smelser's work has been reviewed in Art on Paper: The Journal of Prints, Drawings and Photography, as well as Abstract Art Online, and has been reproduced in New American Paintings.
In 2000 Smelser co-founded Manneken Press with husband Master Printer Jonathan Higgins. Manneken Press is a fine art print publishing venture, currently thriving in Bloomington, IL, publishing the work of artists from around the United Stares and Colombia. From 2006 - 2008 Smelser acted as President of the Mid America Print Council, a national non-profit organization of artist printmakers and educators.
When asked about my work, I often say that it is about an abstract sensibility. This is an honest answer, but not a complete one. It is also about relationships, contrast, balance, and organizing space. I casually or perhaps coincidentally make reference to cartography, the body, cycles in nature, quilting and textiles, and mundane objects.
More deliberately, I consider the systems, structures, and patterns that are both natural and man-made in our surroundings. In the last few years I have traversed the United States several times and left the country for the first time in a decade. The motion of travel, the grandeur and subtlety of geography, and a welcome feeling of displacement have led me to consider the relationship between one’s sense of self and one’s sense of place. Specifically, I am interested in the way the landscape of childhood prepares the way one approaches the world as an adult. Having grown up in northern California, I carry the redwoods, eucalyptus trees and the sight of the bay with me, and use them as a filter through which to experience the vast openness, ferocious wind, and orderly farmland of central Illinois.
These ideas are present in the work, sometimes overtly, on the surface, and sometimes privately, deep down below. However, the imagery is also initiated by an urgent curiosity and is sustained by the excitement of studio discovery. Just as I compare and relate types of landscape, I examine types of form and the ways in which they speak to one another. I often categorize forms by placing them into opposing camps: fast or slow, solid or particulate, square or curved, impulsive or meditative. At times these forms of conflicting character simply exist together in a space and stand in contradiction to one another. Perhaps they read as different places, genders, or moments in time. Other times they relate, react, acknowledge one another, collide, veer apart, or perform an ambiguous task. My imagery is evidence of an interior dialogue. It is also an effort to tread a line between elegant and awkward, deliberate and intuitive, skilled and naïve.