Combining art and science with Sarah Fabrizi

Canadian artist Sarah Fabrizi just couldn’t decide- both Biology and Studio Art are her passion, and so, she decided to study both. While that doesn’t mean that she spends her days painting flowers, she uses the organizational & structural skills gained from lab work & Biology courses to plan her paintings.

Last month, Sarah I met via Zoom and talked about the joy of building your own canvas, the many emotions that the creative process holds in store for you and why just getting involved can sometimes be enough to start a lifelong journey. Enjoy!

Sarah Fabrizi in front of one of her paintings, 2022


Please present yourself quickly for those who don’t know you.

I’m Sarah Fabrizi, born and raised in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. I am in my final year of university in the Bachelor of Arts and Sciences program at the University of Guelph, studying Biology and Studio Art. I just couldn’t decide. I’ve always enjoyed being creative, even as a kid, but it was at the end of high school when I couldn’t really decide if I wanted to strictly stay with science or strictly stay with the arts. I was going into post-secondary with the mindset that I would be going into sciences as a career, but my gut was telling me: don’t forget about art, don’t let it go.

You are studying both Biology and Visual Art, which is not very common, could you please talk a bit more about it?

It’s a pretty unique program actually, one of the few anyhow, that allowed me to do Biology as well as Studio Art Painting at the same time. I’ve enjoyed both sides. For the most part I pretty much filled the science requirements of my degree with the botany courses offered here, which were fantastic courses, they were fun. Something that does happen a lot is that people often ask: are you trying to combine them in your artistic practice sort of a thing? Does it influence your artistic practice? What I would say, is: In terms of content? No! In terms of planning and the way that these paintings are created: it absolutely does. Because the structure and organizational skills I gained from certain courses and lab work I was able apply to the process of creating a painting.

I’m a logical, straight-forward kind of person, and I think that translates to how I make my paintings.

Untitled, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 66

When looking at your paintings from 2022, they seemed almost like prints to me. Could you please share with us your creative process, from an idea to a finished piece and comment a bit on that print-like appearance?

Yeah, absolutely! Recently I’ve been trying to loosen up with my process. So, these paintings look very, very different as time goes on. At the beginning, the first goal honestly is to get rid of all the white on the canvas. It’s intimidating, so I’ve been just throwing paint, pouring paint, using a non-dominant hand. I will look at splatches on the floor for initial shapes and forms, just anything to remove the white. From there, it just becomes kind of intuitive- I know that’s kind of a lame answer (laughs)– but from there it’s really a balancing act of where to put things on the canvas.

So, if there’s a form there, I’ll put an opposing form somewhere else, or if there’s a certain colour in this section, I’ll use the colour complementary in the other section. Once I’m kind of happy with the established shapes and forms, I will start to ornament them, using patterns or line work. That’s the most time-intensive part of the process. I think it’s in that part of the process where they start to look like a print or something that is flat, geometric. It is funny you mention that because I recently have been trying to not make the paintings so flat, so that’s what I’m working on right now and we’ll see how that goes.

At the beginning, the first goal honestly is to get rid of all the white on the canvas. It’s intimidating, so I’ve been just throwing paint, pouring paint, using a non-dominant hand.

Untitled, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36
found it on the floor, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36

Could you describe how creating the paintings makes you feel?

It could be any emotion under the sun. At the beginnings of the paintings, my God am I embarrassed! I feel absolutely horrible about them at the start sometimes. The beginnings are tough, to establish those forms is the most difficult part for me. Where to put the paint and why I’m putting it there, justify where I’m putting it, that’s always the most difficult part. So, there’s apprehension, anxiety for sure, and then there’s kind of a moment where I just say: ok enough, this is good, let’s start going with the details. And from there, it’s just focus. You could be standing behind me and I would not even notice you. It is fun, though, I do enjoy it. I hope it doesn’t sound like I don’t (laughs).

At the beginnings of the paintings, my God am I embarrassed! I feel absolutely horrible about them at the start sometimes.

Creating these large paintings is a very hands-on process – what does working manually and analogically offer you in a world where many artists venture into working digitally?

I’ve never actually tried digital art, I’m not someone who is great with computers (laughs). With painting, I really enjoy the whole process. I really enjoy making the canvas, actually starting from scratch with the wood to make the stretchers. That’s a process that I’ve come to recently really, really love now that I know how to do it properly. Being able to cut the wood, stretch the canvas, prep it the way that I want to, and then being able to work with the material. I feel proud that it’s an entire physical thing that I’ve made with my own hands from scratch. I have been asked about the line work specifically, and why I don’t use like a paint pen or something. It’s the tension of the brush bristles that I like to feel, and you kind of lose that with a pen where it’s a flat, rather static or mechanical application.

I really enjoy making the canvas, actually starting from scratch with the wood to make the stretchers.

Over and under, under and over, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 66

Your paintings from 2021 are quite different from the ones from 2022. Could you talk a bit how you got to make your most recent paintings and how, if so, they are influenced by the paintings from 2021?

2021 now seems like a long time ago (laughs)! Those tapestry paintings you’re referring to, those big 4 x 7 feet paintings…I mean, Medieval art, Medieval History has always been a huge interest of mine. I’ve probably taken almost every single Medieval art history course that’s offered at this university. I just think it’s interesting, I’m interested in medieval illuminated manuscript research, and so that influenced that body of work. That was one year ago, and it was that interest in Medieval art, in ornamentation from those time periods, that I now use in my abstractions. I always knew that I wanted to break into abstract painting, I just wasn’t sure how. The background of Medieval knowledge made me a bit more confident to try, and I was able to make some sort of object-painting hybrid that would also combine that interest. It gave me a sort of conceptual backbone so I at least had some idea of what to do.

You do a lot of jobs in the field of arts, besides painting, like organizing exhibitions, engaging in student networks and more. Do you enjoy these activities and if so, what do you enjoy about it?

I do, I do really enjoy it. I only started to consider art as an actual career in March 2022. You know, you’re coming to the end of your degree, you’re thinking about what you’re going to do, and I had the mindset that I would be going into sciences/lab work, or labour. But then there was a moment where I thought: wait a minute, I don’t want this to stop. Why should I let it stop? And I had some really, really great support systems and mentors at school, helping me along, giving me advice, which was awesome, and I thank them very much for that.

And then from there, knowing that I didn’t want to give it up, that’s when I started to tell myself: okay, how do I make this happen? Who can I talk to, who can I ask for advice, how do I get my work shown? That was all kind of the launching point during this past summer and past fall. Sometimes you just have to get involved and things start to happen. I mean, it would be nice to do just one thing, but that’s not possible. You have to be able to do all sorts of things- you have to talk and write and network, advertise and market for yourself, as well as paint, find a space to paint. There’s a lot of things you have to make sure you do, and by joining arts clubs, networks and organizations I was able to build a more complete tool kit of skills.

Sometimes you just have to get involved and things start to happen.

Untitled, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16
poked and prodded, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 50

Any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

In the spring of 2023 I have my first solo exhibition at the university campus gallery, Zavitz Gallery. That will be in March, so that’s what I’m working on right now. I have some big paintings that I am trying to get done for that. Then, I also have a solo exhibition at Necessary Arts Gallery Space, which is downtown Guelph, but that’s in October 2023, so I got some time.

The word “style” comes up very often in the visual arts and “finding their own style” is something that is much talked about among emerging artists. Is that something that is important to you?

Absolutely. I mean it’s hard, there are influences everywhere, there are inspirations everywhere, and things change all the time. What I’m working on right now, in preparation for this show in March, I’m hoping will be relatively different from my current work. I also understand that it’s probably not too wise to keep doing the same things over and over again. You just have to try pretty much everything, which is what I’m trying to do now, to figure something out. Hopefully, something will stick.

You said before that you got valuable advice from your support systems- is there any advice that you’d like to pass on to fellow emerging artists?

Yeah, and that would be: do things! Get involved, join a club, find a group of creatives. A year ago, I wouldn’t have done any of this stuff, I was so shy. I wouldn’t have joined the campus arts magazine or the arts network that I’m part of now. I wouldn’t have applied to a mentorship opportunity that I’ve been granted recently, which was a fantastic experience. I had a mentorship with a new contemporary gallery in Guelph, Lalani Jennings Contemporary Art. So, yeah, get involved. Look, some people aren’t going to answer, and you’re going to get turned down from a lot of things but you’re not going to get hurt, it’s all fine.

If you’re turned down from one thing, maybe you’ll get the next one. Keep putting yourself out there.

a little bit obnoxious, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 26 x 24

Any fellow emerging artists you’d like to recommend?

Yes, I’d like to recommend Paige Quinn, Marjan Kaviani, Chanel DesRoches.

And last question: what are your hopes for the future?

After my undergrad I think I am going to be taking a bit of a break. I’d like to break into some residencies which could be really beneficial for me. I also have to find a studio space that can accommodate these big paintings, so that’s probably my first step. A couple of years down the line I would like to pursue an MFA. I think that’s a necessary step for the end goal, which would ideally be to teach, to be a teacher at a university. I’ve had some great experiences going through university and I would really hope to one day do the same for another person, because it really meant a lot. There’s also a lot of teachers in my family, so I guess education runs in the family. But yeah….let’s start with finding a studio first.  

Thank you so much for talking to me today!

Sarah Fabrizi in her studio in Guelph, Canada, 2022
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All Photographs courtesy of
Sarah Fabrizi
Written by Sarah Fabrizi & Nina Seidel
Edited by Nina Seidel

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