Behind the easel: Painter Sarah Daughn

Nov 10, 2019

Sarah Daughn was baking a quiche when a handful of visitors showed themselves in to her studio.

The Art Drive — an open tour of artists’ studios that normally takes place over the summer — held a once-off fall event on Saturday, and guests had been trickling in all morning.

Daughn welcomed them in and described her artwork, which was hanging up in the round studio overlooking the Slocum River at Russells Mills Village.

“I call them fractured landscapes,” she said of the large, colorful pieces. “I like the idea of fracturing the scene, because it changes the space. And it makes the canvas more active, because you can go back and forth in it.”

Daughn has been making art nearly her whole life.

The Boston-born painter received a bachelor of fine arts degree at the Rhode Island School of Design, and now teaches art at the Wheeler School in Providence.

She moved to Dartmouth just under two decades ago after looking for a place to retire. 

“It was just like a railroad car ranch, and the site is just so unbelievable,” she said. “It’s gorgeous. Watching storms and things in the winter is pretty spectacular.”

Viewing the landscape from her glass-fronted house gave Daughn the inspiration to change the themes of her artwork.

Earlier pieces, now framed under glass and hanging above the more recent landscapes, show figures in urban environments peering into glass shop fronts and other reflective surfaces.

“I was focusing on reflections,” she said, adding that the less abstract scenes allowed her to hone her craft.

But after moving to Russells Mills, Daughn started on abstract landscapes. 

“I couldn’t sit in here and paint reflections,” she said with a smile. “It’s looking out.”

Some of the pieces take two weeks, while some take as long as two years to complete.

“Oil has to dry if you want to change anything,” she noted.

And although she draws her inspiration from the Slocum River and nearby beaches in Westport, she invents most of the landscapes she paints in her head.

“They’re just abstract water views,” she said. “I did a lot of practice realistic scenes before I dove into all this…[But] this is all from my head.”

Daughn added that she’s recently come back to painting figures — but in a more abstract way.

And the people she paints are also invented, many with blurry facial features and ominous symbols, like one woman with a crow figuring prominently.

“I wouldn’t like to meet them,” she laughed.

As for the Art Drive event, she said, she was happy with how it went.

“I’m impressed I got some people, frankly,” she said with a smile, before running in to the kitchen to check on her quiche. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.”