Sarah Prescott’s sunny Orient studio is bursting with life and color. Vibrant prints in vivid hues, in large, 20 x 30 and 16 x 24 sizes cover every surface as the artist, a study in energy and motion, shows a visitor various stages of the show she’ll be debuting Saturday.
The show is a preview of the “Get Paused” pop up installation, which will also be featured in East End Arts’ JumpstART public art exhibition on August 7.
This weekend’s test run takes place Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m. on the lawn of the William Steeple Davis House and Studio, located at 230 King Street in Orient; Prescott is the year-long artist in residence at Steeple’s former home. The pop up gallery viewing begins at 7:30 p.m. with the projected slideshow of work scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
During her time at the studio, Prescott is working on her JumpstART project, which she’s creating for the East End Arts exhibit in Riverhead this August, and printing her work independently for galleries, as well as developing her websites, www.sarahprescottart.com and www.getpaused.com.
Her project, “Get Paused: A Survival Story with Photographs,” is a book Prescott created to describe how she survived a brain tumor and stroke. “Each series shows how my art changed my life and my illnesses changed my art,” she wrote in the introduction to the book. “Being sick forced me to slow down. Pausing allowed my perceptions to change. If I didn’t get paused, I would have walked past these images without photographing them. My illnesses have been a blessing in disguise.”
The JumpstART exhibition will feature a pop up gallery and also, a the projection of all the images in the book onto a 12-foot screen. “Each chapter talks about where I’m at emotionally and how it relates to the art that I’m working on at the moment,” she said.
JumpstART helps guide artists through the whole business of the art world, teaching them how to market their work and raise funding to mount an exhibit. The JumpstART curriculum is an intensive, six-month program designed to teach artists, in all fields, the path to making a living through their art.
To that end, Prescott has launched a Go Fund Me account to support “Get Paused.” So far, $230 of her $1,500 goal has been raised.
Art, she said, can transform a community such as Riverhead.
Prescott moved from New York to Greenport in 2006, where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In 2010, she began having grand mal seizures, and in 2011, she had surgery to remove the tumor. In the years since she’s had a stroke and other surgeries, and yet, she’s survived, and turned the negative into a positive as she’s been able, once again, to create — to tell her story, through her vivid, dramatic photography.
Before she became ill, Prescott worked only in black and white. After, she discovered digital color photography, which helped her to capture more quickly the ephemeral moments in time that last only an instant and are then gone forever.
She moved back to New York for treatment but then, found the yearning to return to the North Fork and last year, received the William Steeple Davis fellowship.
The book, she said, was born of a desire to share her experience with others and help them see that they are not alone when facing great challenges. It resembles an artist’s statement in its form, an image-based reflection on her journey.
“It’s not my story to keep,” she said. “A lot of us have had experience with illness. My parents died of cancer while all of this was going on. I was really sick, but through it, I created this art, which really helped with my healing. It’s not my story to keep. It’s my story to share.”
Art, she said, brings people together in their universal journey. “By telling my story, they tell me things that have happened with them. I felt so strongly that my story needs to be shared, to be made public. The sharing of stories opens people up.”
The book, she said, is meant to be affordable and accessible for everyone; the prints will be sold as well, on her website.
Today, Prescott, 55, said when she was first diagnosed with the tumor and began to have seizures, “My life completely changed.”
Before her illness, she was an art director and stylist for films and television in New York. “And then, I couldn’t work,” she said. “I had no money. I couldn’t work on my art. My whole life just went in this crazy direction. I went from making $700 a day to $700 per month.” She was forced to rely on welfare, food stamps and disability, she said.
Now, four years later, “I have this life,” she said. “I can’t even believe it. It’s amazing. I never thought, four years later, I would be walking around and talking like this. I was in a wheelchair; I walked with a cane. I had trouble talking. It was like rebuilding. Emotionally, it was a life-changing experience.”
Moments in the hospital were frustrating, she said, when her head was so swollen she couldn’t even put on her glasses. She needed a magnifying glass instead. She had to see a physical therapist, where she could not even life one-pound weights, and speech therapist, where she found herself an artist who could not even name ten colors.
“I thought my life as a photographer might be over,” she said. “But here I am.”
She still needs to wear two pairs of glasses and still has the seizure disorder, although she’s seizure free now.
Even during the darkest moments of her illness, Prescott found hope in thinking of Greenport. “I just wanted to go back to Greenport and do my work,” she said. “I thought, ‘If I can do my work, I can be happy.’”
And when she did return, the sense of community overwhelmed, with friends cheering her on as she rode a bike for the first time and others standing by her side as they had throughout her illness. One funny memory, she said, was when she had to walk up the stairs after returning from the hospital in New York and a friend urged her up those stairs with a chocolate-dipped biscotti from Aldo’s, which friend and owner Aldo Maiorana had sent to the hospital.
Her artwork has won international awards and, looking to the future, Prescott’s goal is to begin finding representation and a gallery, with the goal of a multimedia exhibit.
Whenever she’s feeling overwhelmed by financial or any of life’s challenges, Prescott remembers where she was, four years ago. “It right-sizes me,” she said.
Glancing around her bright studio, Prescott smiles. “My life is full of miracles. I’m here, working.” The secret to her inner fortitude and the continued opportunities, which sometimes come, literally, knocking on her door — a woman visiting a friend stopped by and turned out to be someone who offered the opportunity for her to exhibit in East Hampton — is one that she’s embraced as her new life has emerged, Prescott said. “I keep showing up for life — and life keeps showing up for me.”
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