skip to main content
Art & Art History
University of Mississippi

Q&A with BFA Painting student Sarah Browning

Give Sarah a follow on Instagram @sarahabrowning and Twitter @sarahabrowning

Introduce yourself and tell us where you are from.
I’m Sarah Browning and I am a Bachelor of Fine Arts student with an emphasis in painting. I’m from Hernando, Mississippi. I am a senior and getting ready to do my thesis.

What attracted you to the University of Mississippi Department of Art & Art History?
It wasn’t too far from home and I heard about the art program and one of my friends came here a year before me, ally, she was a painter and I saw the work she was making and she talked so highly of it so it inspired me to come here and pursue art.

What made you get into the BFA program?
I was only thinking about BA for such a long time and I was telling myself it wasn’t worth the extra work for the BFA and I didn’t know what medium I liked, yet. Then I took my first painting class with Brooke Alexander and loved it so much. I fell in love with the palette knife but I don’t even work with it anymore. But that’s when I fell in love with painting.

What type of artist do you consider yourself?
It’s funny. Jackson said I need to talk about the categories, I’m not just abstract there are other things. But, overall people are going to view me as an abstract artist. It is the only adjective I have to describe myself.

What type of artwork do you create? Are there any influences?
I’ve been focusing on abstracting the human figure, figurative work in general. But I never knew how to go about it until [Philip] Jackson mentioned Cecily Brown. I researched her and Joan Mitchell. But mostly with Cecily’s work even though we don’t have similar themes into what we are trying to talk about, the way she is able make objects appear as if they are there but never fully there consistently fleeting throughout each painting. That’s what drove this thesis show and the other body of work I’ve been creating.

Could you talk about your BFA Thesis?
They are very large paintings. I started with 11×14 scale paintings to jot my ideas down and then Jackson said, “No, you should go as big as wall.” And so, I did! I realized how much more I fell in love with the idea of using your body to create these gestural movements instead of being so meticulous at a desk and I think that’s what kind of gave my paintings more life in smaller scale. Each one has to deal with a different memory and the emotional attachment to that memory. And how over time just like a painting a memory changes the more time goes on when you think about, the more you work on a painting.  So, one of mine, I started creating it and it was about a really happy memory and I came back to it a week later and my thoughts on what I was painting about had changed because I was in a sourer mood. Each painting is a documentation of time and an attachment to something.

How has the art department fostered your growth as an artist?
Each medium that I have gone to and each teacher that I’ve had has ensured that I individually have the tools that I need to not only work on the projects they assign but what I’m doing in their classes influence my overall ideas into my emphasis. so, whether it be photography, graphic design, ceramics, sculpture, it has always been very important to them to make sure I’m still enjoying what I’m doing with them and how I can tie what I do with painting and I think that is really important.

Which professors inspired you?
Obviously, [Philip] Jackson. He is the best guy ever. The way he can see things that most people can’t when just looking at the most normal painting, it can be a still life, and he is able to break it down into so many metaphors. Kind of like your high school English teacher with a poem. They can see things that you don’t. But I’ve really tried to train myself to think how he thinks. Dr. Kris has been great too. Her outlook on art and how important it is and how it influences everything has helped develop my perspective on art.

Could you tell us some of your favorite classes?
There are two. Plein Air with Philip Jackson, that was my first painting class I had with him. That is when I knew I wanted to work under his guidance. Even though the class dealt with painting landscapes, he still helped in training my eye to see things. The other is Art Theory and Criticism with Dr. Kris Belden-Adams. The way we talked about art influences the real world and how the real-world influences art. I never knew how to think that way until I took that class.

Were there any Visiting Artists that inspired you?
Sophomore year, Nick Peña visited and he talked about why he does what he does and how close it ties into his personal life. That sort of opened the door for me and I thought, “Okay, it’s okay to make art that is hard to talk about.”

Did you Study Abroad?
I went to Paris, France for painting, still before I tried out for the BFA. I just had to travel abroad. That also heavily influenced my portfolio to try out for the BFA program. It was very loose with Calcum Fraser from London. He was more of a classical, renaissance painter. He would take us places to paint. We visited Versailles, The Louvre, Rodin Museum, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, and Petit Palais. We would take our palettes and easels and we would just paint. He never told us what to do and how to paint. It was more so up to us and the style we created. That class helped me realize how much I needed guidance. I hated all of my paintings except one. I was trying very hard to paint people realistically and get skin tone correctly. I didn’t master it but I got it down to where I wanted but then realized how much I hated it. That class was necessary for me to realize how much I didn’t want to do realism.

Could you describe any good experience(s) here at the art department?
I don’t want to be corny but every day. This place has a certain smell and I love my studio space. This place is kind of a sanctuary, even though it is school and this is a place to be stressed, but being an art major helps take away from the stress from other academic classes and the outside world. You’re always with friends. You walk down the hall and you know everybody.

What does the art department mean to you?
It is a close-knit family. When you graduate you really don’t want to leave.

Do you have any plans after graduation?
Apply to grad school. Look for jobs just in case I decide not to go or not get in. It’s all a big “question mark” but I guess that is the beauty of it. I’ve applied to UT Austin, University of Houston, and Tulane.

Would you like to share some advice for incoming art students?
Definitely try your hardest in the beginning classes. Not a lot of people like to draw or do 2D. It is very important to build your portfolio through different mediums, even if you don’t like them. It is to show you have promise. Even if your work isn’t good, at least attempt it. Because that one thing I really didn’t really do in Drawing I, I was terrible art student freshman year. I truly don’t believe how I got into this program. It is quite startling actually.

Can we find you on social media?
Yes! @sarahabrowning on Instagram and Twitter.

What are you listening to right now?
Snail Mail, Djo the band made by Joe Keery who plays Steve in Stranger Things, and Tennis, they just came out with a new album.

Are you binge watching anything?
Love Island UK, so good! I’m not a reality TV show girl at all but this show is addicting.

Favorite Oxford hangout spot?
City Grocery.

Go-to restaurant in Oxford?
For sure Pick Thai.

Interviewer: Frank Estrada | Photographer: Olivia Whittington