Amy Sabrin knew she was an artist by the time she was three years old. Not a scrap of paper in her house was safe from her early doodles. She continued to pursue artistic interests both as an art history major in college and in her adult life as a recreational painter. But it was not until she retired from a distinguished career, first as a journalist and then as an attorney and partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, that she came into her own as a painter.
“I retired with the intent to spend time painting,” Sabrin says. That time has been well-spent, as can be seen in her current Touchstone Gallery show, A Fresh Look. The paintings reflect her love of the outdoors and water as well as her strong sense of shape, color and light.
Sabrin divides her time between Washington, D.C. and Bethany Beach. She enjoys plein air painting late in the day and frequents wildlife reserves, marshes and watersides in both areas. A Fresh Look was born of an outing to paint on the beach near her home in Bethany. The unusual shape of a curved gully caught her eye, but the work she created on site didn’t quite capture the moment, so she took a lot of pictures and headed to the studio. An attempt to paint the scene realistically wasn’t satisfying, so she painted it again. And again. And again. With each iteration, the image became more abstract.
Solving Nature’s Puzzles
“The angles and lines moving through space took over, and I began to see the whole scenery at the beach that way,” she says. She applied the same process to other views around her home: plein air painting followed by a distillation of colors and shapes in the studio. Her paintings became diagrams—a diagram of a beach, a diagram of a gully, a diagram of a marsh. “The things I do onsite I wouldn’t show to my mother, because they are not that good,” she says, “but I don’t think I could have painted the paintings that are in the show without the plein air experience of immersing myself in the scene and the setting and the light.”
The feeling, the concept and the idea for the composition and colors for her paintings come from nature. She solves the puzzle of fitting all together in the studio. “I try to reduce the shapes and values to their essence in order to capture the moment of how the light felt.” She hopes the paintings will remind viewers of being at the shore. “A lot of people say going to the beach is very relaxing, and I want them to have that relaxed feeling of being immersed in the atmosphere and maybe hearing the water in the background. I want my art to make people happy. I want to paint things that people feel happy to live with in their homes.”
Sabrin says that the act of painting gives her great pleasure. As an attorney, she spent her days talking, arguing, and engaging in very linear, word-oriented activities. During that time, painting provided a form of relaxation and an opportunity to do something nonverbal using the right side of her brain. Her life is less intense now, but she still loves being alone in her studio.
A defining moment came when she finally understood the need to take risks with her art. “For many years, especially in watercolor, you work so hard to get things right. It takes so long to paint one painting. Towards the end, you have invested so much time that you are afraid to take a risk because you might screw it up,” she says. “I had to get over that.” When she did, her paintings became more abstract, more brightly-colored and more satisfying. “My watercolors are not what you think of as traditional watercolors. I am never going to get into the American Watercolor Society. The big breakthrough for me was when I gave that up.”
As Sabrin’s work has become more abstract, she has also been drawn to acrylics. She is currently working on an acrylic series called The Night Garden inspired by her visits to public gardens in the fall when things are dying and drooping. True to form, she paints on site, takes tons of pictures and then retreats to her studio to sort it out. “The paintings are completely abstract. There’s nothing recognizable,” she says.
Sabrin continues to be struck by the beauty in nature and everyday things. “There is a lot of beauty in the world, and you don’t have to look very far to find it,” she says. “I want to call people’s attention to that.” A Fresh Look invites us all to see the world in a beautiful way.