About Sara Steele
Based primarily in Philadelphia since 1959, her travels — from the Pacific and New England coasts, to the Hawaiian and Canary Islands, to the American Southwest desert — are evident in her large-scale landscapes. Steele’s close observations of the natural world reveal themselves in her floral work as well. Although some paintings can be read as botanical illustrations, her floral forms are actually the means to colorist and expressionist ends.
Steele enters each of her works through surprisingly varied and incremental pathways. Her deeply imaginative process and technically challenging medium complement and enrich one another. Cultural, natural and conceptual influences serve as her inspiration and seep into the terroir of her paintings.
Traditional Chinese medicine, philosophy and language are abstract tools with which Steele delves into her own psyche and what Jung called “the collective unconscious.” Her 40 plus years of study of the I Ching’s metaphorical language informs the numinous framework of her paintings. The primal logic and rich resonance of Chinese ideograms in her work are consilient with her expansive use of color.
Her fascination with traditional Chinese culture is integral to her annual calendar, now in its thirty-eighth edition. Her ongoing creative endeavors include a limited number of commissions each year. Steele’s original paintings are included in over two hundred public and private collections, and have been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States and in Europe.
Watercolorist Sara Steele approaches her work as sacred play that follows her meandering curiosity. She describes the act of painting as a meditative discipline with aspects of improvisation, or what she describes as “a conversation with the composition.” Watercolor needs to flow and working with it means moving with what can be guided but not be controlled. It is a medium that demands a respect for the accidental.
Steele has said there are two distinct aspects of these dialogues ¾ one of making, the other of looking. She is a native speaker of, and an empathic listener to, the fluidity of her medium.
Steele describes her art-making process as amplification of her vision, an intimate exchange, and of seeing of the colors behind colors. She experiences color as a nutrient.
“Indigo is almost black at full strength, it’s a beautiful blue-gray when pale, and mixes well with other colors. Although it’s a natural pigment that’s long been in use, I still find it mysterious to work with.”
These words describe the painter herself, an auto-didact who is strong in vision and flexible in exploring subjects. She applies ecstatic, undivided attention to her work inviting viewers to drench themselves in color and light. Perhaps because of her subject matter, she is often described as the O’Keeffe of her generation, but Steele sees her work as worlds apart.