A Conversation with
Montana-based artist, Sarah Bramme Lives and paints from her heart. In this exclusive conversation with Cassens Fine Art, Sarah Bramme unveils the transformative narrative underpinning her artistic journey. With a deeply spiritual connection to creativity, Sarah's narrative extends beyond mere artistic expression, weaving together a story of self-discovery, resilience, and a commitment to intentional living. Through poignant moments and transformative events, she shares her path of healing, highlighting the pivotal role Montana and art has played in finding solace during challenging times.
Her exhibit, “Return to Nature” will be on display at Cassens Fine Art from January 1st to January 31st, 2024 with an artist reception on January 5th from 5-7 pm.
What inspired the creation of this show? Were there specific themes or concepts that motivated your work?
Well, the inspiration behind this show has been a long-standing theme for me, dating back to around 2016. It's all about our collective journey toward reconnecting with nature and embracing a slower pace of life. I found it fascinating how, amid the technological boom, there was also a rise in shopping small businesses, craftsmanship, and the farm-to-table movement.
I've always wondered about the potential for a more restful society if we took the time to ground ourselves, appreciating the smaller and more natural aspects of life. Recently, I came across a practice in Japan where, in one of the most advanced civilizations globally, people take a bullet train to nature weekly. They spend an hour and a half or two simply sitting or strolling in nature to find healing and grounding.
My personal journey played a significant role in shaping this perspective. Having experienced a traumatic past, moving to Montana provided the space and safety I needed to slow down and begin the healing process. It felt like escaping the constant spinning that comes with a busy and populated environment, akin to the childhood game where you're spinning with a friend and suddenly stop to ground yourself.
Montana became my refuge, offering the stillness and rest I craved. This show is my tribute to Montana, a heartfelt expression of gratitude for everything it has done for me.
It sounds like Montana played a crucial role in your healing journey. Can you elaborate on how it influenced your perspective?
Montana gave me the space to slow down and start healing. Coming from a bustling and populated area, it felt like a constant whirlwind. I liken it to that childhood game where you're spinning with a friend, feeling disoriented, and then suddenly, you stop, then let go to ground yourself. That's precisely what Montana did for me – it provided the stillness and rest I needed.
Considering the fast-paced world we live in, your show seems like a unique offering. Can you share your vision for it?
I envision this show as a tribute to Montana but also as an offering for those who need a break from the chaos. Imagine a world where everyone embraced a slower pace of life, appreciating the beauty of the small things. That, for me, is the heartbeat behind this collection – a desire to contribute to a more peaceful and grounded existence.
Could you guide us through your creative process, from the initial idea to the final execution of each featured artwork? What were the key stages, and what influences inspired each piece?
Let's start with "Reclaim Freedom." Montana is my ultimate muse, and when I create, I use photo sources and a photo editing app to layer images, allowing room for creativity while maintaining the composition. I often seek permission from local photographers to use their photos as references. These two images are from a local photographer who captured scenes at a lake by Sperry Chalet in the park.
In Montana, bears are iconic, symbolizing the essence of the state. I'm drawn to depicting big game animals because they teach us valuable lessons. Watching them in the wild, you see moments of speed and aggression, but more often, they're at peace, walking, resting, and taking their time to eat and explore. Bears, in particular, embody the spirit of Montana.
Green has been a challenge for me since art school, where one of my teachers wasn't fond of it. However, I wanted to bring it back in a unique way, using a palette that combines neutrals with vibrant greens. This piece inspired the color palette I'm moving toward, featuring phthalo green, gold green, and burnt sienna – capturing the natural beauty of Montana's wilderness.
I love playing with light, inspired by Montana's morning and evening glows. The way sunlight filters through the trees is therapeutic for me, and I aim to incorporate that into every piece, encouraging people to seek brightness in life while finding peace.
The composition of light is striking in your pieces. Can you share the technical process behind your work?
I begin with layers, using a photo reference as a starting point. Charging the canvas with an intention, expressed through an "I am" statement, sets the tone. I build texture with hard molding paste, then I create an organic underpainting with high-flow inks. The composition is established in this stage, ensuring it integrates seamlessly.
Moving to acrylics, I incorporate iridescent and glowing elements, creating depth. Oils add vibrancy, and I employ color theory to enhance the living colors' frequency. Warm and cool tones interact, giving the painting a dynamic, living quality. I finish with an oil wash, utilizing color temperature theory for depth.
Your process seems highly spiritual. Can you elaborate on the intentional and spiritual aspects of your work?
I infuse each piece with intention, charging the canvas with an "I am" statement that reflects the essence of the work. The textured surface and fluid inks contribute to an organic underpainting, embodying the living energy of the artwork.
I believe every artist's energy is present in their work, consciously or not. My intentional approach ensures that love, serenity, and calmness are infused into each painting. Taking time for self-care, yoga, and meditation before entering the studio ensures that positive energy translates into my art.
The energy and intention behind each piece become part of the collector's home, creating a connection that goes beyond the visual. I believe the painting finds its rightful owner and touches their heart, becoming a source of emotional connection. It's a deliberate and mindful process that resonates with those who connect with the artwork on a deeper level.
Can you provide insights into the emotions and feelings you aimed to convey through your art in this show? Is there an overarching narrative or emotion you hope the community picks up on when viewing these pieces?
Overall, my intention is for people to find a sense of peace within themselves, an inner tranquility. I firmly believe that it all begins within us as human beings and then reflects outward into our external world. Given the collective experiences of the world in recent years, there's a growing awareness that many are grappling with – the need to be still for a while and the uncertainty of where to go from there.
With this collection, I desire to inspire individuals on an internal journey, encouraging them to heal and reclaim inner peace. As children, we possessed an innate sense of freedom, imagination, and hope before the layers of societal expectations took hold. I want people to reclaim that childlike perspective, fostering love and a deeper connection to self, which can then resonate from our town and state to the broader world.
I firmly believe that the path to positive change starts with each one of us. I hope that those seeking inner peace will discover it through this collection, sparking a profound journey toward wholeness. Ultimately, I aim for the impact to extend beyond individuals to our community and, in turn, ripple out to the world. It's a belief in the transformative power of self-discovery and inner peace for the betterment of our collective existence.
Can you share a personal story or experience that influenced the creation of a specific piece, and how did this experience shape your artistic expression?
Oh, that's a good one. It all ties back to the experience of moving to Montana. Brace yourself – I'm originally from the San Diego area. I met my husband, a Marine stationed there, and when he retired, we made the big move to his family's home here in Montana. We raised our kids in this serene setting.
Given my traumatic upbringing, I never had a contrast to that chaos. It was my normal. But the slower pace of life here threw me off balance in the best way possible. It forced me to look within and confront the need for healing. I used to take my kids on backroads exploring lakes and finding new places to discover. Those experiences aren't tied to just one piece—they’ve played into every piece.
As I evolved as an artist, going through art school, it became clear that this entire journey, rather than a specific incident, was what inspired me the most. So, you could say that every piece carries the essence of that transformative journey.
Moving toward the colors, can you delve into the significance of these colors and how they contribute to the overall narrative of the show?
I aim for neutral, complementary colors in my palettes to create a harmonious blend. Take the piece on the left, for example; it's predominantly blue, but I balance it with neutrals and complementary colors, ensuring it doesn't feel overly saturated.
During the acrylic mixed media phase, which I forgot to mention earlier, I introduce elements like water-soluble graphite to infuse a certain moodiness. This phase allows me to experiment with various mediums, layering and mixing as I go. For added attention to light, I incorporate authentic gold leaf, which pairs seamlessly with the neutral tones.
Given that Montana is my primary muse, I stay true to the colors prevalent in the scenes I depict. While some pieces are brighter, reflecting Montana's vibrant sunsets and alpine glow, I strive to capture the essence of our natural surroundings. The motivation behind my color choices lies in authentically portraying the beauty and mood of Montana's landscapes.
Are there any underlying stories or connections linking certain pieces within the exhibition, perhaps beyond what you've already mentioned? Or you can elaborate further on those two if you’d like.
Yeah, absolutely. I try to infuse a consistent theme throughout my pieces, and one aspect I love are trees. However, I'm not into creating hyper-realistic trees. Since childhood, I've enjoyed creating drawings through fast scribbles, adding layers of sketching and scribbling like I do in my black and white pieces. I bring that technique into my trees, using brushstrokes to create depth and movement. I maintain this approach across all pieces.
I also love incorporating landscapes into my art, usually featuring a mountain peak or forest in the background with an animal or figure. This common element helps tie all the pieces together, despite different color palettes. The misty atmosphere, inspired by Montana's inversion days and low-lying clouds, adds a touch of magic. I witness these natural phenomena frequently, and I try to capture that enchantment in every piece.
You do an excellent job of capturing the enchantment of Montana. There's this almost magical essence that floats in the air around here, and I can see that come through in the misty element.
Yeah, it's true. Even when we're driving around the state for my son's baseball, there's something about Montana. It's unlike anywhere else. And speaking of the collection, as Montana becomes more popular, I welcome newcomers but encourage them not to change Montana. Instead, let Montana change them. I moved here too, so I'd be a hypocrite to say otherwise. The key is to let go, let the healing work happen, and unfold with the rhythm of Montana. It's a way to preserve this beauty for future generations.
It's like letting go and surrendering to the environment that can heal us. Those who want to change Montana may struggle with letting go of control, and if they surrender, that's when the magic happens.
I never thought about it that way. Yes, It's about letting go and allowing the peace and slower pace to seep in. I went through that adjustment too, coming from a place that was very fast paced and with more conveniences. It feels weird initially, but it's a shift that brings about transformation if you let it happen. It's about letting Montana in to change you.
Symbolism often plays a role in artistic expression, and we talked about the trees as a recurring symbol in your pieces. Are there any other recurring symbols or motifs in your artworks that hold a special meaning, and what inspired their inclusion?
Beyond trees, two essential symbols in my work are mistiness and light. At one point, in my past, I went through a deeply challenging time. When I was 15, I attempted suicide. It's a part of my journey that has shaped who I am today. I vividly remember the struggle, the note I wrote, and the decision to not be here anymore. However, a voice intervened and I told my grandmother, who I was living with at the time, what had happened. She took me to the hospital where they saved my life.
This pivotal moment in my life steered me away from an abusive relationship and an unstable home life. It fueled my determination to take charge of my destiny. I graduated early, was hired at a fire department at 17, and built a life of independence until I met my husband. This journey led us to move to Montana, a decision to live differently, to break the cycle.
Reflecting on these experiences, I draw parallels with the mistiness in my art. Sometimes, on a misty day in Montana, you can’t see the mountains. But, you know they’re there. You just can’t see them. And so I just think of my journey and my 15-year-old self. At the time, I couldn’t see past the mist. But that voice intervened and told me to keep going; that I’m not done, I’m so young.
So you just keep going until the light comes in more or the clouds shift and you can see it. And look at this, I’m in an interview with you right now for an art collection. It’s just mind-blowing to me.
Thank you for your vulnerability and for sharing that with me. I don’t take it lightly and I’m so happy you’re here. Your story adds a layer of depth to your art, and the symbolism of mistiness and light takes on even more significance in this context. It's inspiring to see how you've transformed challenges into resilience.
I appreciate that. Art has been my sanctuary, my tool for navigating through challenges and finding the light even in the darkest moments. I believe in the power of art to convey messages of resilience, hope, and the possibility of transformation. If my story and my art can inspire even one person, it's meaningful.
My husband is an Iraq war veteran, and the staggering reality of veterans dying by suicide is 22 a day - but that’s just what is reported. He has lost several brothers in arms to this tragic statistic. It's heartbreaking to think of all they missed out on and the experiences they never had. This reality is deeply personal, and it's crucial for us to live a life that pays tribute to their sacrifice and the struggles they faced.
Because of this, my husband and I make a conscious effort to live our lives with purpose. It's about embracing a life worth living for them. We find meaning in the small moments, the joys, and the experiences that our fallen comrades can no longer have. It's our way of honoring their memory.
Tomorrow is possible and you just have to wait for the mist to pass.
Yes, exactly. And look for the light to come in. A small light, even a small spark. Just look for the light.
There’s a quote from Cheryl Strayed that you just reminded me of: “Put yourself in the way of beauty.” - Just look for the light.
I love that. And I love that that's healing to our world. It's like the butterfly effect, you know if a butterfly flaps its wings, it could cause a storm across the world. And the same can be said about this too. The healing energy and the awareness and just the centeredness of this conversation could affect people in New York tomorrow. Who knows?
Now more than ever, with the way the world is at this very moment, we need that more than ever.
I agree. I do feel like we're at a precipice, and I have so much hope for the future. A lot of people look at it, and they're like, “Oh, it's so dark.” But it’s only with darkness that you can see the light.
I don't know where I heard this, but art has this incredible ability to heal and show up when it's needed most. It's fascinating how, in the world, art has consistently appeared at crucial moments. People might question its significance, thinking, "Oh, it's just art." However, it's during these times of uncertainty that we need it more than ever. It has this historical pattern of surfacing when there seems to be nothing left to do – a call to create, to express through poetry, painting, or any artistic form.
It's a universal truth. I'm currently reading a book that delves into the idea that the desire to create is often a response to an unspoken request, almost as if there's a yearning on the other side waiting to be fulfilled. It starts with this inner need, transforms into an idea, and becomes an inspired action. The result is the art itself. It's this beautiful sequence where the creation becomes the culmination of a desire and the fulfillment of that unseen yearning.
This collection is an answer to the way people are collectively yearning for a shift towards slowing down, reconnecting with nature, and rediscovering bonds within themselves and their families. It resonates with a broader societal desire to return to these essential elements. As I’ve been reading this book, I realized this is why I created this collection.
I was fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom and homeschool my kids. It gave me the privilege and the space for inner work, and now, I feel called to share an offering of healing and inspiration that I found through doing that work.
Time and place can significantly influence art. Can you share specific moments in your life or the world that had a profound impact on the creation of your artwork, especially for this show?
It's interesting because while it might be tempting to attribute it all to the COVID era, the true essence lies in how my husband and I consciously crafted our marriage and our relationship with our kids. It's far from perfect – we're messy, figuring it out as we go. But it's always been intentional, to build a close, tight-knit family.
To achieve that, I had to confront my own inner demons. Along the way, things would pop up, and it was crucial to ask why and bring it back. Shifting from a victim mentality to owning and understanding how I contributed to situations marked a significant shift for us. This transformative event began within me, and I aim to convey to others that whatever they desire in life—be it more peace, intention, or love—it all starts with their inner journey, manifesting in their outer world. It’s a retrieval of our power, calling it in and then learning how to yield that.
I love that. You change the world by starting with the world that’s in front of you.
Exactly. I used to think, “Oh, I want to heal the entire world.” It felt downright exhausting. I mean, how does one person achieve that, right? But then it hit me—maybe healing the world isn't this colossal task; perhaps it's just a conversation. If you can inspire even one person, even if that person is yourself, it's a ripple of change. I believe it's about mastering the art of picking yourself back up without constantly seeking external validation. Be your own cheerleader—start there. It's a powerful journey of self-empowerment that radiates outward.
I don't know if you know Gary Vaynerchuk, but he’s such a force for that. He’s all about loving yourself and not caring what others think and sharing whatever is on your heart, and sharing it with kindness, confidence, and authenticity because that’s what the world craves.
There’s a transparency hangover that can come with that, but who are we to judge what we have to share with the world? Our stories can help others. It all starts within; , if we don’t have self-love, we can’t love others. It’s kind of backward in some areas of culture where we want to serve, serve, serve, but we’re not serving ourselves. It’s so easy for it to be labeled as selfishness, but it’s one of the least selfish things you can do because it empowers you to be a more impactful force in society. It starts with yourself and then it ripples out from there.
Many artists find inspiration in various art forms. Did any literary works, films, music, or other artworks influence your creative process for this show?
I have one vivid memory that has profoundly influenced my creative process and it involves Glacier National Park. There’s this time in the spring just before it officially opens when the snow is being cleared and you can ride your bikes there—an incredible experience. It's etched in my mind, especially when I work with light in my pieces. I recall a particular moment riding my bike, a straightaway where my kids lagged behind with my husband and our group was ahead, leaving me in blissful solitude for a few minutes. The scene unfolded with trees, revealing an awe-inspiring mountain, a river, and the encompassing trees. Time seemed to stand still, and I can still feel, taste, and see everything in my mind.
This memory plays like a film in my head while I create. When I'm painting, especially focusing on getting the light to flow through the trees, I sometimes pause, close my eyes, and transport myself back to that moment. It helps me connect with the emotions and atmosphere I want to capture in my art. This mental journey aids me in navigating the next phase of the painting and ensuring that the intended feeling is woven into the piece.
One last question: What was that moment when you knew art was for you, that creating was for you, and could you take me there?
As I mentioned previously, my past was turbulent. I met my biological dad for the first time when I was 14. Despite not being a professional, he was a remarkably talented artist, and my mom always said, "It's in your blood." Being spiritually inclined, that resonated with me, and I felt a calling to be an artist. Art became my sanctuary, especially during the toughest times in high school. I immersed myself in multiple art classes, even becoming a TA. A mixed media class opened my eyes to various modalities, offering a sanctuary where I could zone out and find solace.
Navigating life on my own early on, I met my husband, and we had kids young. With them now being teenagers, I felt the urge to grow and evolve with them. In 2018, I discovered an artist whose work I fell in love with. Then, I realized she had an art school. In 2021, encouraged by my husband, I took the plunge and enrolled in the program, beginning my career and claiming my place in this world as a professional artist - not only in service to the world but as a statement to my kids that at 35, you can pursue your dreams and live with intention.
Embarking on this journey has been a returning to who I was as a little kid—free, full of hope, and enchanted by magic. It’s been a full-circle journey of healing and now serving in that way in our community. It’s why I’m so niched down to Montana. Montana has my heart because Montana gave me the room to heal.