Working across collage, sculpture and installation, Sarah Contos references popular culture, eroticism and art history. In 2017 she was awarded the Ramsay Art Prize with her work Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye (2016). She describes her artistic process as 'inhabit[ing] fantasy roles to reflect on female experience, [creating] self-generated mythologies that evoke dichotomies synonymous with being a woman.' (1) Sarah Contos is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and STATION, Melbourne.
Part 1: Kalamunda High
Kalamunda Senior High School was a Special Art school and all the snazzy kids went there on Saturday mornings… sitting around drawing from nature, shaping clay and being all crafty like- it was a hills school. My submitted folio had been rejected and so Saturdays were spent solo at home - mucking around with DAS clay on the kitchen floor or watching films on the couch…acting them out later- privately behind the fence of the house.
Mr Reid - the head of Special Art (but just my regular weekday art teacher) was probably the first artist I knew that fitted the ‘artist stereotype’. He would wear a beret and his face a tangle of wiry tobacco stained hair. He smelled like oil paint, had big sculptural hands and tapped his Blundstone wearing feet excitedly when he talked. One day in class we smoked a little pot and he pointed out the ‘negative spaces’ within the eucalyptus trees. It blew my mind. I was always hurt that he didn’t choose me to be in the Special Art gang but that day he had changed my perception of the ordinary and so I forgave him for it. At the end of Yr10 we sold our house and moved from the hills to the city. I never saw Mr Reid again.
Part 2: Mount Lawley Senior High
Here I reinvented my 16year old self from a fat surfy kid to being everything that was grungy and cool. School days were spent wearing corduroy, Chuck Taylors, nana cardigans and purple sunglasses…the typical 90’s stoner uniform. I had a new set of friends and we wrote hundreds of letters filled with drawings and collages to each other. Everyone smoked a lot of weed. I didn’t do the Western Australian HSC equivalent, so my average school day ran something like this:
Period 1: PHOTOGRAPHY
Period 2: APPLIED ARTS
Period 3: ART 2
Period 4: MEDIA STUDIES
Period 5: THEATRE
The school was great but my main art teacher was not - Mr Banks. He disliked me and my feelings for him were unequivocally reciprocated. Terms were filled with calligraphy, stained glass, landscape oil painting…we even did a semester on Times New Roman typography. It killed me…I wanted the Dadaists and the Surrealists (who didn’t at 16?), the Louise Bourgeois’s and the Sonia Delaunay’s. We never went on any excursions, no guest artists came for a visit and we worked mostly in silence.
Vikki Papadopolomoulus (something like that) would always get the highest marks. Her wow factor photo-real paintings were, well - like photographs. Her folio headlines neatly written in silver pen and all backed on black card...snugly tucked into pristine plastic envelopes. Mr Banks would hold her work up regularly as an exemplar of excellence. My folio was a beautiful car crash. Wild palette knifed oil paintings, painfully over-stitched tests on found fabrics and huge amounts of investigative ramblings scrawled around intricate drawings - cross hatched in my trusty Artline 0.4 nib. Bored and hungry - I was way outside of Mr Banks’s dogmatic regime.
I never got an A. Ever.
Only C’s and D’s.
After graduating, Mr Banks had given me an awesome “I’ll show you!” chip on my shoulder which - for a while - initially fuelled my drive to be an artist. I was thankful to him for that.
– Sarah Contos, May 2018