“I started researching and creating art based on the concept of fear after my first graduate school residency. I did this in response to not wanting to speak about work I had created after difficult events. What I found when investigating fear in adults was that most of the signifiers I could come up with were manifestations of anxiety. We personify fear for children, giving it names such as “the boogeyman,” so what they are unable to conceptualize can become corporeal, and thus, avoidable.
“To me, adult fear—lacking such iconic personifications—became illustrations of things that embodied anxiety. Relying on a level of humor that allowed me to engage with this rather unappealing subject, I began creating my own iconography around fear, anxiety, coping mechanisms and other aspects of the ridiculousness that is part of being a human. I create ruthless scenarios that are so over the top that, although the characters within them are clearly in peril, we must laugh at the danger.
“Conversely, I create seemingly benign situations which become absolute train wrecks upon further investigation, even though the demeanor of the figures in the situations seem to be committed to perseverance. Like naming a scapegoat for children, naming anxiety as a culprit that can keep one trapped in a state of non-action has been an effective means for me to be more objective when it comes to how much energy I allow a worry to take from me. I largely use art to process ideas; a way of dissecting and observing things to understand what purpose they serve.
“'Might as Well Be' takes its title from the response my grandmother would give me when she asked how I was, and I told her I guessed I was okay. It focuses on high-functioning anxiety and, in part, the compulsion to remain effective and stoic while trying to discern if something should be perceived as a threat. In this piece, the picket fence alludes to the ideal life that we have come to believe exists within its perimeter. I have treated both the figure and the fence as a screen that is impermeable, but also transparent. Something that we can somewhat see through, but not something that invites us to understand what exists beyond it.
“The figure is poised and collected, and her sterile expression gives no allusion to how she may feel about us witnessing the scene that we have come upon. A thriving garden pushes out of the fence toward the viewer, but upon further inspection, we see that perhaps it holds more than vegetation. How we should feel about this, and if there is any threat from what exists behind the fence, is not clear. Elements of the piece—from the fractured, ideal blue sky, to the immediacy of the scribbled details throughout the plot and obscured structure—provide context to there being more to the scene, yet neither the viewer nor the figure can know if what is hidden is out of the ordinary.”
To view more of Sarah's artwork, visit www.sarahernst.art or follow her on Instagram @ambition_project.