Sara Jean-Baptiste is a Brooklyn-based visual artist who creates illustrative work inspired by strong and confident Black women that uses vibrant images and bold colors to produce a dramatic yet calm feel. Her work sends a message about strong, ambitious Women of Color who are often overlooked in our society. Jean-Baptiste studied illustration at the Fashion Institution of Technology. After graduation with an AAS in Illustration, Jean sought out to continue her career in art. She works at live events in which you can find her creating images based on the flow of the audience and in her studio where she is often creating work based on pop culture and/or contemporary issues in society.
Tell me about your background as an artist and how your artistic practice developed?
I identify myself as an illustrative painter. I have been focusing on work surrounding portraiture in traditional and digital art since I was in high school. I began by drawing cartoons like most children did but I got more serious when I started doing portraits of neighbors, and after getting accepted to LaGuardia HS, I saw glimpses of potential for a career. I graduated with my AAS in Illustration from the Fashion Institute of Technology and have been working ever since.
How did studying fashion illustration in school influence your art?
Fashion illustration is all about movement and making a statement. Less is more. Shapes and line are strong components in a piece. When I use watercolor, gouache and ink, I love to restrict myself to a few colors and work spontaneously to capture the essence of the subject. I use that same approach when I work in acrylic and oil. Contrasting hyper realistic details with abstract elements in an area of the painting have been a signature style that I've been focusing on mastering.
What inspires you to start a new project? How often do you create a new art?
My paintings have usually been influenced by what's going on in pop culture and contemporary issues in society. Over the past year, I've been studying aspects of mental health and exploring aspects of personal relationships. These past three months, I have been creating nonstop since stepping away to rediscover where I stand and what I want to say now. I have a goal to work in a series of at least four paintings in diptych style. I'm always taking illustration jobs on a rolling basis as well.
Holistic black women have been hidden figures in our society for so long. I feel like it’s my duty to create work that I can relate to and be empowered by. Growing up, I was fascinated with white male master artists from the High Renaissance. Everything I liked was commercial and reflecting what I was told was appropriate, which often times did not reflect my heritage or uplifting images of black women. So this desire has a lot do with looking for mirrors of myself out in the world. The more I began to withdraw from societal norms such as “going natural” and investing in small business products from my local community, the more everything I did became about digging deeper into all things self-reflective.
On your website, you mention that “art should not only be captivating, but have the viewer thinking and feeling something that leads to a change.” What sorts of messages for change do you hope come from your own work?
As a young artist, it’s my goal for my work to inspire many generations and demographics. I often see my work tagged by young poets writing to my art and I am always thrilled with how they connect to what I have created. I don't want my work to be about pure vanity without conceptual layers for people to pick apart. I'm excited to develop these aspects further in the body of work I'm currently developing.
What informs the color palette you use in your work?
My heritage has always been a major influence. My parents are from Haiti. When I have visited, all I see is saturated colors from the houses, to the “tap taps” (taxi buses). The older I get the more time I spend trying to reconnect with myself including my family’s heritage. I see it as a tribute to them. I love vibrant fashion and the swagger about the busy streets of New York. The combination of my culture from both places definitely influence my taste. After working as a paint assistant and color mixer for Jeff Koons, my sensitivity to color has gotten even stronger. I mix my own swatches ahead of time!
How does creating art at live events differ from the work you do in your studio?
When I'm painting live, I pull inspiration from both my imagination and focus on the energy from the event itself. It feels like I’m being put to the test to stay sharp, to understand how I will navigate the painting process in a given amount of time. It's always humbling and satisfying when the people around share their views on the work in progress. Working in the studio is like meditating and therapy for me. I can decide what my deadlines are and I work on a few pieces at a time.
How do you think being an artist based in Brooklyn differs from being an artist based anywhere else?
Brooklyn is one of a kind because it's so eclectic and diverse. There is so much talent and underground vehicles to use as a platform for your work here that it allows artists to connect in very unique ways. You can go against the grain and find success on your own path.
Interview compiled by Nicole Halley