HERcultivation With Sarah Sweeney

Raised in Westchester County, “the cornball suburbs”, as she describes it, was always just a train ride away from the gritty streets of New York City. I was inspired by her racy paintings and wanted to know more about them, dig deep, and nurture nudity on a different level. Her exhibition, named “SIDEWALK CLOSED, USE OTHER SIDE” is a nod to Ms. Sweeny’s special times in New York City. A time when one might stumble upon a scene on the sidewalk which might make you want to cross to the other side of the street. This follows the success of her “DARKSIDE OF NEW YORK PIZZA” one-night show at an LES pizza shop— and is a continuation of all things classic New York also curated by Derrick B. Harden. This exhibit is a time capsule of objects, events both public and personal, that true New Yorkers will understand and enjoy, but everyone can appreciate. A true celebration of NYC Americana in all its dysfunctional glory.

As Sarah prepares for the launch of her exhibit, she talks with The REVEAL Mag about her inspiration, contrast and drawings.

Tell us about your background

I’m white

What inspired you to start painting?

Well I started drawing at a young age, and I feel like painting was a natural progression to drawing. Drawing was a hobby since as far back as I can remember. Also I got very lucky to have a great high school art teacher named Elise Curry. She introduced us to oil paints. She was a dope, wonderful, quirky lady who really cared about kids and art. Sadly art class in public schools just aint what it used to be.

Your breakout piece was called “Whiny White Guys”, tell us about that experience.

I was young, like 18. It was for a project for my one year at Parson’s School of Design. It was from the title on a Village Voice cover – I’m not even sure what the story was about, maybe some politicians of some sort, but I just thought it was such a great title, I ripped the three words “Whiny White Guys” and stuck them in the paint and painted like a generic businessman with a briefcase around the words, with donuts falling out of his pants. I let my boyfriend, at the time, hang it in the Porto Rico Coffee shop he worked at on Thompson street, but he got fired, it’s since closed – so I have no idea what happened to that painting. Fucking dudes!

Are there any artist you admire?

I really admire Kehinde Wiley’s insane photo-realism elaborate wallpaper-y portraits. He’s otherworldly. So much discipline. I also really admire Patrick Martinez and his bodega inspired- “Cheeto’s” hood-art, with babies breast feeding from soda bottle titties… how dope is that?!?! and of course the classics: Robert Crumb. Lucien Freud…

I have seen some perverse pizza paintings what was the inspiration behind that?

Oh! Darkside of New York Pizza? That started because I went to my friend Jamie Story’s BIG MACK exhibition at Rizzo’s Pizza in the LES. I met the owner Bugsy that night and we became friends. I just said “give me a show at the shop!” and he agreed. Then I realized I had to come up with a show, and I had nothing. I thought it be funny to involve pizza in the art. Yea I’m that simple. So, I started coming up with titles that could involve pizza like “Pizza Party, Pizza Face, Death by pizza….” But the drawings were really fun for me to do after I came up with the names, they just kind of flowed out.

How much time does it take to produce one of your paintings?

Ummm… for this show? Probably 4-5 days, several hours a day … and then I have to stop myself… But a painting could go on forever, and ever, and ever… if I have no deadline, haha. It’s a problem.

How do you prepare for your shows?

I work. Hard. I don’t socialize much. I focus on the work. “go into the zone” so to speak… try to take care of myself, cause I’m a night owl by nature but I try to not pull an all-nighter. Cause it’s not healthy. Just like “go to bed, bitch!” You can get up and continue tomorrow.
What should we expect from your solo exhibition “SIDEWALK CLOSED USE OTHER SIDE”?
A GOOD fucking time. Lots of scenes from the Eyewitness news at 10 but from the 80’s.

Do you have any particular style to your art?


Um, I dunno. I love doing paintings as much as I love a pen. I like lots of contrast. Contrast contrast!! I love a thick black line. Black lines matter!

What’s next for Sarah Sweeney? Any other projects coming up?

I’m going on a trip to Wildwood, New Jersey, to relax, but also to shoot scenes with some of my girl friends. maybe some nudes, with food, in seedy atomic style retro 50’s motel rooms, all as reference for my next show which has a working title of: Thru The Looking Vag.


Sarah Sweeney, DARKSIDE OF NEW YORK PIZZA & current exhibition “SIDEWALK CLOSED USE OTHER SIDE.” all curated by Derrick B. Harden @dearderrick_bk
“SIDEWALK CLOSED USE OTHER SIDE. is on display through May 28 at 103 Allen Street, LES, New York City.