November 8, 2012
Preble artist draws on Cajun roots
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Artist Melissa Sarat of Preble at her studio in Homer on Monday.
Preble artist Melissa Barousse Sarat is living the good life, as she calls it.
The soon-to-be 61-year-old painter, married to lawyer Frank Sarat, has lived in many parts of the world and has little financial worry.
That, she says, allows her to focus her time on what she describes as “story art,” a type of painting that she says allows the viewer to think whatever he or she wants of a piece of art.
“Giving long names to art puts an order to things,” she said from her studio above First Niagara Bank on South Main Street in Homer. “I keep it simple — don’t get in the way of the viewer’s experience.”
The environmental activist and mother of two daughters says her artwork helps keep her feeling young.
Being in the studio makes her happy and relaxed, she says, laying down ideas that flow through her mind, then through her brush.
“I get to just focus on my work,” she said. “I’m not playing to any market. I’m not trying to please anyone with my work but myself, because if that happens, I’m happy.”
Sarat received a master’s of fine art from Louisiana State University, and has lived in Preble for 23 years. In between, she lived in Scotland for four years, and also spent time in New Jersey and Kinderhook, which is south of Albany.
Her reason for settling in Preble with her husband is simple.
“We have beautiful landscapes here, kind of New England-like,” she said. “There are historic homes everywhere, clean air and water. Those things are important.”
Much of her art has a Cajun theme to it, which she says is influenced by her time spent in Baton Rouge, La.
“I was reared on the grounds of East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson, surrounded by lush hill and ravine countryside an hour north of Baton Rouge,” she said. “Inspiration for my work still emanates from the ‘patients,’ wild boars, snakes, mossy magnolias, toad frogs, purple-fringed passion flowers, celebratory culinary delights and heady mystical symbolism.”
She added that both of her daughters provided a lot of inspiration for her work.
“I have been painting all the while I was a mother to my children,” she said. “I painted every day I was with them, and in a way I wanted to be a full-time mother. I wanted to be with my family and to see the world.
“I wouldn’t change any of that. The most important things in my life are God, my family and painting, in that order.”
Sarat began painting when she was 6, and says she uses a jambalaya of symbolic images to come up with her themes.
Her work has been featured at art shows throughout the country, and she has been profiled on National Public Radio. The bulk of her work and other information can be found at www.neworleanstable.com.
At the end of the day, though, Sarat just paints based on what is going on around her.
“I have to draw inspiration from everything and everyone I encounter,” she said. “That’s how I keep coming up with new ideas.”
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