Creating Joyful Art In The Sad & Oppressive World: Interview With Sarah Luna
Sarah Luna is a mixed media artist who uses vibrant color and elements of nostalgia to challenge society’s pull toward dark pessimism where hope struggles to surface. Sarah’s work celebrates the thousands of youth who challenge societal and familial norms and who inspired her in her years as a former high school counselor and advocate. Sarah’s natural desire for playful themes in her work serves as reminders to revolt and release ourselves from oppression and sadness that has reigned in society, especially during the mental health crisis in our current world. Her intention is to create a playful sophistication with the American symbol of mounted popsicles that demonstrate their automatic collective delight with their vibrant abstract designs, collage, mirrors, textiles, and rice bag papers, while my handmade fortune cookies sculptures evolve into messages of hope, respect for her Chinese/Thai family history discovered later in her adulthood and to honor and bridge the disconnect of her identity.
Join us in the conversation with Sarah Luna where she shares how she started creating popsicles one day to brighten her daughter’s smile and has not looked back since then, how fortune cookies started as a way to connect with her culture and traditions, her journey from working as a full-time high school counselor to now working as a full-time artist, how she uses her colorful palette to brighten up people’s faces and her intentions behind the striking DISCO collection. Read on to explore more about the interview.
1. Sarah, I love the popsicles and the fortune cookies. What inspired you to create such joyful creations?
Thank you! The pops were more driven by need because it was an especially hard school year for our family, and as my professional life grew increasingly stressful as the mental health crisis in the country was gaining a lead, I asked myself what was something I could create in my work that would guarantee a smile on my daughters’ faces? What I knew would bring authentic joy was a popsicle. Works every time. So created a 48×48 art piece in the kitchen that would automatically bring collective joy to us all, and it did. The rest is history. The fortune cookies came from my desire to connect with parts of my family history and ethnicity that is still, in many ways, a mystery to me. I didn’t fully understand my family’s history until adulthood, so creating Chinese and Thai symbols in my work allows me to honor my ancestors and connect with a big part of myself I wish I possessed a deeper understanding. It’s more of a longing to connect with these parts of myself and at the same time, a joyful celebration. Identity can be complicated and limitless, and I am grateful and honored to express this part of my humanity through my art.
My natural desire for playful themes in my work serves as reminders to revolt and release ourselves from oppression and sadness that has reigned in society, especially during the mental health crisis in our current world.
2. I understand you used to be a high school counselor. How did your path lead you from this to working as an artist?
Yes, and I loved the profession. I loved overseeing a department and the social-emotional programming for an entire school. Most of all, I loved studying and working with adolescents in their most vulnerable, powerful, and rebellious moments. I was in education for over 24 years, with 19 of them in an office counseling students and working with their families. However, in the last 7 years, I was also balancing an unexpectedly successful art business and uncovering the needs of my youngest daughter who faced severe developmental delay and a full box of learning challenges that required more of my presence. No one was really “winning” in my attempt to balance all of it and be “super mom.” Even I was suffering trying to do it all, and it took time to admit it until it was clear my youngest daughter was struggling with her self-love and sense of self. It was time for me to let go of one career and make my family and my art career the focus. It was the scariest and most fulfilling decision I’ve made in my career. Trading my office for an art studio has been a wonderful personal transformation and worth it.
3. I just love the vibrant color palette present in your work! What draws you to using such bright hues? What influences your color choices?
It’s a very internal pull toward these colors. I can challenge myself with dark colors in my work, but I ultimately gravitate toward colors that are clean, sometimes calming, and offer a vibe of happiness and joy. I love bright, and I love bold. My work begs for you to experience happy and bold living. The world can sometimes be oppressive and hard, and the colors I choose are to rebel against that sadness and heaviness. I think people are drawn to the colors in my work to match what they feel, wish to feel, or combat their own sadness and allow the work to serve as a reminder, and I tip my hat to them all.
4. I love the colorful popsicles but the Disco Pops are quite interesting. Can you talk more about this collection?
AH! I LOVE THE DISCO POPS! The disco pops remind me of letting everything go on the dance floor. I love to dance, although I am not a good dancer; I love to let go and shake it! The disco ball possesses such meaning and is another automatic joyful symbol, so I decided to combine these two worlds. I love when the light reflects from the mirrors onto the walls and extends the art beyond its hanging position. Just like on the dance floor. The mirror reflections touch everything in a room, and light must be present for this to happen…sometimes as well as darkness. I appreciate this relationship between light and dark and the joy that comes from this disco-pop series.
5. Sarah, how would you describe your work in three emotions?
confident, unapologetic, optimistic