Culture

Painter Sarah Delaney

Words by Sara Harowitz

Photography by Scout Shmygol

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Sarah Delaney sees life in paint colours. When the Vancouver-based artist is out and about, she will often spot a hue—maybe its wallpaper, maybe its a strangers nail polish—and then mentally figure out how to create it with her paints back in her studio.

“If I paint all day for multiple days in a row, I have painting dreams,” she says, “and I live painting to the point where I’ll go out and see a colour and know how to make it; I can visualize what paints of mine I would use from the tube to put together.” Those who are familiar with Delaney’s work know how important a role colour plays. Her layered, abstract paintings use complementary shades to convey a feeling, a place; the pieces are beautiful and striking in their mix of texture, movement, and brushstroke, with action acting as a form of communication.

“I always wanted to be a painter,” Delaney reflects while curled up on her sofa in her earth-toned home, some of vitruvi’s After Oil sore-muscle blend (made with Lavender, Eucalyptus, and more) freshly rolled onto her shoulders and neck. “In Grade 3 we had to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I drew myself with a tam and a little smock and paint brushes in my hands. That was the plan.”

Delaney grew up in Kenora, Ontario and moved to British Columbia to study art at the University of Victoria. She fell in love with the West Coast lifestyle so much that she never left; now, her adopted surroundings often inform her work. “It’s so easy to feel happy here, I think,” she says. “I have a big appreciation for the Pacific Northwest; I’m really happy I made it my home.” Her natural backdrop doesn’t show up in literal translations, but rather in colour and motion and sentiment—soft blues hurriedly brushed over each other conjure the depths of the ocean, while a mix of thick greens evoke the cacophony of the forest.

That said, Delaney usually has no idea where a painting will end up when she begins it. “It usually starts with a feeling or a place. Or a palate—but that’s usually inspired by a place or a feeling or a season, and it goes from there,” she explains. “It doesn’t always stay that way—sometimes I’ll cover those colours—but that’s usually how it starts.” It’s an intuitive process, and that process is the part she loves the most. “I don’t paint for other people; I paint for myself,” says Delaney. Still, the reality of the situation is that in order to survive off of her work, she needs to sell it.

Refreshingly, though, Delaney doesn’t have grand visions of meaning that she needs her clients to get from her work; rather, she’s just happy that they’re happy. “I don’t need them to see things or read into things; sometimes people will see things in my paintings and I’m like, ‘I didn’t intend for there to be wolves in the corner,’ but they see that and that’s cool. That’s not what it’s about, but if you see that, and you like that about it, then that’s great,” she reflects. “And if you like that the colours match your cushions, that’s cool too. I just want them to be happy when they have a piece. On the best level I want them to enjoy it so much that it’s amazing, but also I secretly just want them not to regret that they got it.”

Being an artist and an entrepreneur means walking that delicate line between art and commerce, which Delaney offsets with her favourite self-care activity: Pilates. “I’m not sporty at all so it’s kind of new,” she says of Lagree West, the local spot that she frequents. “It gives me another place to be besides my house and my studio and the grocery store, which are within a three-block radius. That’s my number one thing, number one self-care and mental-health tip. You’re not thinking about anything else except where your body is.”

In a way, staring at an immersive painting has the same mental benefit as doing an intense workout—it transports you to a different place, it forces you to focus, it takes you out of your own head. Delaney’s only hope might be that her clients don’t regret purchasing her work, but it seems more likely the only thing they’ll regret is not buying more.