Painter Sarah Emerson’s sweeping landscapes explore the concept of place

Her exhibition, The Unbearable Flatness of Being, is featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia
Jesse Creger
Artwork by Jesse Cregar

For the past year and a half, Atlanta painter Sarah Emerson—who has worked with Living Walls and Whitespace Gallery—has been filling 72-by-76-inch canvases with undulating waves and dark pools, along with wide-open eyes, colorful spikes, stylized tree branches and clouds, and other images. The resulting 18 paintings, which together create one pano­ramic landscape, push not only the boundaries of the genre but how we view place. Her exhibition, The Unbearable Flatness of Being, is the latest in the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia’s Working Artists Project series, and Emerson says it depicts the chasm between space as we imagine it and as it exists in reality. “In our memory, we have to combine beautiful things with terrible things,” she says. “Two very opposing states of being become altered in our minds.”

The artist on . . .
The inspiration for this series
“The [2010 Deepwater Horizon] BP oil spill was a defining factor, [along with] the Japanese tsunami. We were inundated with media imagery of all these big black [spaces] and waves coming in.”

The use of black
“The blackness allows the viewer to see themselves in the space . . . The darkness represents both possibility and terror.”

How she began painting
“I started out [studying] photography in college. When I was introduced to painting [at age 19], I found this whole new way of manipulating imagery that was very exciting.”

The Atlanta art scene
“It’s nice to be part of the [community]. Realistically, it was a smart place to settle because there are a lot of opportunities.”

On the calendar: See the new series by the Atlanta painter at the Museum of Contemporary Art from December 12 to February 6.

This article originally appeared in our December 2015 issue under the headline “Reimagining Reality.”