Atlanta artist Sally King Benedict’s vivid paintings have a devoted following

She’s earned a national reputation, presented shows at prestigious galleries, and online sales of her famous faces series sell out in minutes
Sally King Benedict
Photograph by Patrick Heagney

Less than a decade after graduating from college, artist Sally King Benedict has earned a national reputation—becoming a favorite of regional publications like Garden & Gun and Southern Living, and landing on the cover of last summer’s Domino. Online sales of her famous faces series sell out in minutes, and she’s partnered with Serena & Lily, Marysia Swim, Mac & Murphy, and, most recently, personal accessories maker Lizzie Fortunato. She’s also presented solo shows at prestigious galleries like Atlanta’s Spalding Nix Fine Art and Charlotte’s Hidell Brooks. We met at her new Peachtree Hills studio to discuss her inspiration, her work, and how she’s handling all of this success.

When did you become interested in art?
When I was growing up, Doug Macon lived next door to my family on Peachtree Battle. My mom sold art for his gallery, and I got exposed to all these very contemporary artists like Todd Murphy. It opened my mind early. I would hang out at the gallery after school. And there were lots of events, even fashion shows. It was so fun.

What type of formal training did you receive?
I went to college a year early, so I wasn’t really ready for the intensity of art school. I wanted more liberal arts, so I went into the studio art program at the College of Charleston. The head of the department was Michael Tyzack, and my parents had bought some of his work in the early 1980s. Those were some of my favorite paintings, so I carried them into my interview and basically said, “Let me in here.” In college I worked for Kathleen Rivers, an interior designer, and Janet Gregg, a jewelry designer. They decided I was wasting my time working for them and hosted my first show in Janet’s studio on King Street. So I was fortunate to have a small network of really sophisticated people—professors, my parents’ friends who were collectors, family—pushing me.

Sally King Benedict
Benedict is well known for painting faces, but she also enjoys abstract compositions or patterns like this one.

Photograph by Patrick Heagney

Do you prefer painting abstract or figurative work?
For me, it gets harder to do solely abstracts—when you’re pulling from nothing, no space, no landscape, no figure. With nonrepresentational work, I can get to the point where I feel like I’m not making any progress, and I need to come back to some sort of form or figure or landscape. Since it’s easier to recognize what those pieces are, people may associate my work more with them. But I’ve really done about the same amount of both, and I think I’ll continue to do that. I’ve departed from strictly color-field or ethereal abstracts. I have never wanted to do the exact same thing. I like to evolve.

Sally King Benedict
One of Benedict’s paintings of faces

Photograph by Patrick Heagney

What is your favorite medium?
I have a thing with really beautiful paper. Paints can do so many different things on that surface. I feel like I have more freedom on paper than I do on canvas, though I do love the scale of canvas and the rawness of it—it doesn’t have to be framed. But if I had all the money in the world, I would just do these massive works on paper and frame them.

Are you planning more corporate partnerships?
I haven’t offered that many prints or done that many products for a reason. I don’t want to be too commercial. I want to keep the core of what I do fine art.

How has being a mother changed your work? [Benedict and her husband, George Read, have a preschool-aged son, River.]
Scheduling has changed. I only have a certain amount of time to “turn it on.” And I’ve always been an intuitive painter. I don’t plan my day around what I sketched the day before. A lot of the time I’m doing what I’m not supposed to be doing—I should be working on a commission or a show. But I need that freedom.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.