Dan’s Papers cover artist Sally Breen finds the calm reflected in the world around her.
“My husband laughs at me,” she says, “because if I’m painting on a rainy day I use a lot of grays. The next day it’s bright out and the same painting gets covered in bright colors. He says I don’t have intention, but I like to let the paint do its thing.”
Her painting began as a personal retreat. “When my children were young I found myself painting to have something of my own. It was very frustrating because painting has a steep learning curve, but I enjoyed it because it was my own world.”
Her own world has since evolved into a soft, colorful oasis. She paints less to capture a subject and more to capture the colors of an experience, which is made obvious in her cover work, “East End Lace.” The work shows a crashing wave in whites and greens—common in the natural world, yet so rare in artistic depictions of the ocean. It’s no wonder that seas and skies of the East End have become her favorite subject.
“We live out here by the water and I see it reflecting color all the time,” she says. “It’s constantly changing. I paint the water because it’s luscious. I like the depth of the water, the full colors it gives you. With it you can also get this shiny light, these reflective colors. And with the skies too, you have atmospheric air and clouds and a depth of blue that goes on and on. Trying to capture those two things is really fun for me.”
How would you describe your style?
Well, I first fell in love with the Impressionists, at age 12. I saw a room full of Monets at the Met and fell in love with that use of color. That’s what I’m always attracted to. It catches my eye. From there…I just paint. Thirty years of painting from Impressionist to dots to Fauvism to Realism, just really responding to the colors that are around and responding to the oil paints. But I don’t really have a style.
Earlier in your career you experimented with different media. What were some of your favorites, and why did you settle on oil painting?
I tried a lot of other things before, and I always try to get away from oil paints because of the turpentine, but I just like the way linseed oil and turpentine dry and the colors that they keep. More than anything else, once you start painting the oil paint gets a buttery consistency that’s very fun to work with. It’s a full, soft feeling. Maybe you can do it with acrylic, but I kind of gave up before I got there. Watercolors are a whole different thing. You need to plan ahead. It’s a whole different process.
What inspires you to select your subjects?
A need for calm, I think. There has to be something calm. A lot of the time I feel very hectic inside, so its funny my paintings come out so calm. When I was in school, professors always wanted me to have higher contrasts in what I did. But I like to soften it out. I don’t know why, I don’t know if it’s as effective to the viewer, but I have a tendency to soften things up.
You’ve also done a great deal of work with The Gallery in Sag Harbor as well as with The White Room Gallery. How has working on the business side of art had an impact on your view of art?
Well, I understand the business side of it. You know, some people won’t buy [a piece of artwork] just because they’re looking for something blue.
We represent our artists at The White Room Gallery and when something doesn’t sell I get kind of nauseous. The artists have taken their time and its so disappointing, but I never know if other artists understand that if you hang something on the wall of a gallery it might not sell. I worry that the artists take it personally. It’s hard not to take it personally. You get to a point as an artist that you just need to understand that side of the business. It’s all part of the process. I just don’t like it when people are upset.
Learn more about Sally Breen and her artwork at sallybreen.com.