Some artists may suffer for their art, but Sarah Treanor makes art from her suffering. She uses writing, painting and photography to share her stories of grief, beginning with the loss of her mother when she was 9 years old.
“That was a huge change in my world,” she said. “That was the time I started to use creativity as kind of an escape from the things that were going on.”
Initially, she wrote and drew to help give herself space from the pain she felt. Then, in 2012, when her fiancé suddenly died, she turned again to her art to help her process her grief.
Sarah started a blog detailing weekly where she stood at that moment. In addition to her writing, she began using her photography to express her feelings more visually and specifically.
“My main motivation for starting the grief photography after he died was because I wasn’t able to find anything like that out there. There were tons of books about grief, but I’m a visual person and I wanted to see what it looked like,” she said.
The project, “Still, Life,” (streanor.com/stilllifeproject/) developed into a way for Sarah to explore those feelings and show the hard parts of processing grief, she said. When she started, she didn’t have any particular goal to even show resolution or a redeeming conclusion. She just let the project unfold as it did, one black and white photograph and essay at a time.
What she found was that with each post, she heard more from other people who had dealt with similar experiences. Being able to use her photography and writing to help other people express their feelings gave her even more purpose in her work and her loss.
“Just hearing people and what they got out of it too, and how it made them feel less alone in what they were going through – that gave so much meaning to his death for me,” she said. “It helped me with healing and working through things, knowing that in a way he’s still here, and he’s still continuing to help me do new things that help other people.”
One piece that speaks to both Sarah and her readers is a black-and-white photograph called “Sanctuary,” in which she curls up deep inside a large bird’s nest, a visual representation of being in the middle of her grief, she said.
“You feel very fragile, almost like you’re a child,” she said. “You’re trying to figure out how to navigate this whole new world.”
The photo resonates with her personally because of the hard physical work that went into it, collecting grapevines and building the nest herself over the course of about four days in the hot Texas sun.
“There was something that mimicked the whole process of grieving there, and it made me think about the idea of how, when we’re in a very vulnerable place, it’s an active process, building that nest,” she said. “It’s not just going to appear around you.”
Sarah, who now lives in Akron, finished her work with “Still, Life” after 40 images and essays, and has shown her work worldwide, from her original hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, to Rome. But she’s not done reaching out to help others. She currently teaches an e-course called “Meaningful Making,” where she walks students through using art to cope with loss. She also works with Soaring Spirits International, a community for widowed people, and has been invited to present her work at their fall conference in Toronto.
“I’ve always wanted to work with other people who maybe aren’t in touch with creativity to teach them how to use it, because it’s helped me,” Sarah said.
Sarah’s work and information about her upcoming shows and courses are available at her website, at streanor.com.
Kyle Brown is a freelance journalist who tries very hard to understand art. He is available at kbrownwrites.com.