I was recently asked by an art historian and curator why I call myself an “Imaginist” artist. She said, “Isn’t all art Imaginist?” Not Really.
I don’t know how much flight of fancy goes into photo-realist portraits or representational landscapes, but the paintings I create come mostly from my own dreamscapes and internal archetypes. In that sense my work is considerably more imaginist than works by realist artists.
I am inspired by the paintings of Les Nabis, an art group from the late 19th century which included two of my favorite artists, Paul Gaugin and Felix Vallotton. They rejected realism in favor of symbolism, metaphor and personal interpretation, using strong color and flat, simplified forms.
Other artists that inspire me are the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity, German artists of the early 20th century who took figures and colors to another level, adding dark socio-political themes. Otto Dix is one of my favorite painters from this group.
I learned most of my art skills by copying the artists I saw in books. Matisse, Van Gogh and Vallotton were familiar to me, as well as children’s book artists like Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen. Underground comix were popular then too, and I had many issues of Zap, Yellow Dog, Mr. Natural, The Freak Bros. and Mickey Rat. In the 1960’s and ’70s, Chicago Imagists were playing with inspirations from surrealist art, underground art and outsider art. When I discovered these artists I saw that we shared many similar references. (Robert Lostutter, Chicago Imagist, top, Victor Moscoso, Zap Cover, bottom.)
Another LA curator said she considered me a ‘Female Surrealist.’ While that is not a bad category to occupy, I don’t feel the paintings I make are in the same arena as works by female Surrealists I admire like Leonora Carrington, Freda Khalo and Dorothea Tanning. I love those artists and draw a lot of inspiration from them (see Deer Maiden) but I’m in a different wheelhouse most of the time.
Circling back to the Imagists, I resonated with their name, styles and influences, but the movement had come and gone decades ago, and I wasn’t part of it. I’m certainly not a “Nabis” or a comix illustrator, and I don’t feel like a native Surrealist, but most of my ideas and imagery do come directly out of my dreams and imagination. Thus, borrowing slightly from the Imagists, I decided to call my work “Imaginist.” This covers a lot of the colorful, iconic, surrealist, figurative, symbolic, contemporary and narrative territory I feel my paintings, and their inspirations, inhabit.
Title photo: Feejee Mermaid, 30″ x 24″ oil on canvas, 2014, Sarah Stone