we won't be held down series (in progress)

more to come here - series about women's health and reproductive rights

Community Voices: Project Rebound Art Installation

in cooperation with CSU - Stan Department of Education Graduate Program and Project Rebound......more here to come


I grew up moving from state park to state park in Appalachia, from a family that believed in the sanctuary of nature and its capacity to heal.  Natural forces have always been in my art, but have evolved over time.  After many travels I’ve taken a look at my childhood fascination with various flora and fauna and juxtaposed that with various opioids and street drugs – how the exploitation of resources in Appalachia and beyond paralleled that of people.  Opioids being a constant source of pain relief for loved ones, of coping, of addiction.  Focusing on plants and animals as symbols, conveying mutations, adaptations and put into an environment that is structured around what is left, what can adapt, mimicking what circumstances that people find themselves in as well.  This is a public health crisis intertwined with the intricacies of climate change.

I wanted to focus on the interplay humans have with the environment and the complex industries we create to help, heal, exploit and destroy one another. This series explores various natural habitats with pharmaceuticals derived from these environments which are ultimately synthesized to create opioids. Each animal and plant has a reference to the Sackler family, who has made their fortune off of opioids, specifically Oxycontin. The opioid epidemic has taken the lives of over 750,000 people since 1999 (Center for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/index.html).

I hope that the series will highlight the interconnectivity humans have with the environment and the things we consume for healing.  I also believe that this can yield catastrophic effects on humans and the environment if we do not honor ourselves and our surroundings. It is meant to show the beauty and the ugliness that is present in these circumstances.  I am hopeful that as we learn more about ourselves and our environment we can continue to address and work towards healing on all fronts.

I currently live in the Sierra Nevada foothills, after living in GA, PA, ID, VA, OR and WV.  I will always be a West Virginian in my heart, and head home to spend time with family every year.  I teach art in public school as well as teach for the Prison Arts Project.  My work can be found at: sarahannegraham.com and on Instagram at sarahthepainter. 

Life Cycles
A life cycle usually refers to an animal, plant or humans developmental changes that eventually result in the return to its starting state.  A life cycle breaks down the birth, life, death and rebirth of something into segmented stages.  This concept applies to many fields of study; psychosocial, economics and even software development.  

It also applies to the products we consume.  I decided to combine a product (i.e. trash) with a specific insect or animal to show the relationships each of these things life cycles have to one another and subsequently to humans.  Whether we choose to believe it or not, we are the stewards of the natural world, and are part of a larger web of life than what is immediately in front of us.  That is what makes the world wondrous but also bears a responsibility on our part.  Our comforts, costs and things – do they outweigh the price of the survival of one species we never see in our daily lives?

I chose to focus on depicting a few specific objects that are used for consumption and known to cause the greatest harm to various species and habitats. I wanted to show the relationships between these objects and various endangered species from ours skies to forests to oceans.  I used actual pharmaceuticals to allude to the role of these chemicals in our water and soil systems and their affect on the environment, as well as straws and cigarettes inserted into the paintings to further illustrate how this trash is intertwined, integrated and polluting our natural environments. 

 (According to the United Nations as of 2015, “the number of endangered species known to be affected by either entanglement or ingestion of plastics debris has doubled since 1997, from 267 to 557 species among all groups of wildlife.”)  Additionally, “of all marine species, 100,000 creatures a year die from plastic entanglement and these are the ones found. Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic. A plastic bag or bottle can kill numerous animals because they take so long to disintegrate.” – OceanCrusader.org

We have become accustomed to a “disposable” culture.  Not just in how we consume but also in how we think of others.  It is another symptom of a larger problem in how we view our relationships to all living (and non-living) things in our world.  As we enter into a 6th mass extinction globally, it is more important than ever that we do not turn our back on Mother Nature.

For more information:
Nat Geo article https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-animals-wildlife-impact-waste-pollution/
WWF https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-problem-with-plastic-in-nature-and-what-you-can-do-to-help

Nature journal – A quantitative analysis linking seabird mortality and marine debris ingestion https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36585-9
Center for Biological Diversity – Holocene Extinction https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/

About the Bucket Head Girls: 

The Bucket Head Girls current series explores the concept of escape.  Breaking free from confinements both mental and physical, Bucket Head Girl searches for a tribe and place, and in doing so, validation for the choices made that define her.  As expressed in last year’s artist’s statement, the bucket acts as a device to hide her from the “wider world” just enough for her to keep bumbling through it. Metaphorically it acts as a device to dull her senses and emotionally protect her from harm.  As she travels alongside other creatures, these things remain a part of her experience.

The “wider world” of late continues to be portrayed (somewhat accurately I might add) in a state of utter chaos and suffering, and this is on full display everywhere we look. The complexities of climate change in our backyard, shifting attitudes and beliefs in social and political spheres, continued revelations of misconduct by men in positions of power, and the denial of humanity to populations of people seeking refuge from the socioeconomic degradation of a failed state is happening around us; every day, with unrelenting reality.  The Bucket Head Girls represent witness to this, with uncertainty around how to fight against it; searching for peace, solidarity, and most of all escape.

But the world is also beautiful.  Remembering the beauty, especially in dark times, is important as a source of hope for a better future, and to help keep us fighting for what we love.  Inspired by travels to Japan, the Pacific Northwest and my native home of West Virginia, there are pieces of design inspired from Japanese Edo Period painting, flora and fauna and native animals in these works.  All convey representations of various different cultures and forms from the natural world, used in appreciation and in accordance with those cultures visual traditions.


             The new works include 50 different Bucket Head Girl figures performing a lot of different acts: serving, nurturing children, cleaning, cooking, eating, bathing, playing music, bicycling while juggling, being caged, thinking, crossing the Delaware, burning at the stake, fainting, crying, running, catching butterflies, painting, roller skating, walking with a cane and a chair on their head­–a reference to Goya’s Los Caprichos–and others.

Many of these new works include figures that are juxtaposed together with overlapped underpaintings of various motifs, objects, and animals. After speaking with viewers at last year’s show, I realized that the works are often interpreted very differently from my original intentions: viewers’ own narrative for the work are created and I needed to explore this subject further.  I was thrilled by this reaction and wanted to make Bucket Head Girls that showed the scope of potential narratives.  If art can fulfill the role of calling up an issue–whether social, political, and/or something uniquely personal for a viewer–I am grateful to be a part of sparking such an experience.

As I began exploring this approach so many events in the broader world started to occur around the role of women in the workplace, in the home, in relationships, in motherhood, in politics and in religion. It gave me renewed purpose and expanded the concepts I wanted to portray behind the work.  In particular, a concept I wanted to address is the wage gap.  As a feminist, I believe women should receive equal compensation for the same job performed by a man.  I imagine that part of the wage gap (compared to men women are paid on average 80 cents on the dollar, women of color receive an average of 60 cents on the dollar) originates in how we think of the sexes, particularly in relationship to the overlapping professional and personal roles women play. Acknowledgement of the importance and integrity of all forms of work, be that work domestic or professional, is not only of vital importance to equal rights for women, but indeed for continued establishment of communities and families that can support themselves and one another in order to thrive. (National Women’s Law Center, Sept. 2017)

How we think of women’s roles as lesser than those of their male peers, coworkers, and partners, contributes to a larger endemic issue within our communities– domestic violence. This is something that I am thankful has received more attention and sparked conversation on a national stage.  Domestic violence permeates our daily lives; we all have a connection to it – through a friend, roommate, or family member or have experienced it firsthand.  Men as well as women experience domestic violence, as it is part of the cause of unhealthy relationships that stretch beyond a “bad breakup.”  When one experiences trauma as a result of domestic violence it can lead to lifelong psychological and physical effects.  Wearing that trauma–much like a bucket on your head which helps to control your senses, to act as armor and to provide just enough sensory information for you to survive–is rarely acknowledged in our daily lives and neither is the aftermath trauma causes as a person heals and attempts to build new relationships. 

My personal narratives for the work are expressed here, some of them convergent and divergent in concept.  Women are resilient and powerful.  Women are multifaceted. They are capable of anything and deserve to be respected, loved, and admired. I hope the Bucket Head Girls divine the promise of progress toward equal rights, and reminds us that we are all worthy of love.


The bucket head girl image was derived from a photograph of a small child playing outside.  She put a pink, plastic bucket on her head, wore a purple princess dress and carried a bright yellow play bat.  I was struck by how funny, cute and powerful the image seemed.  I also thought it carried a variety of different interpretations, given the symbolism of a person with an object on their head that makes them temporarily blind, unable to speak or hear properly; and put there of their own volition.

Throughout the series the Bucket Head Girl encounters different tools (hammer, ax, gun) as well as different scenarios, some topical some fantasy.  Her bucket has become weathered, with holes and dents in it, some of those holes are self-inflicted from the tools she carries and others are a product of wear and tear.  This symbolizes our self-destructive nature, how we represent ourselves in various circumstances and what it means to purposefully render our senses powerless for the sake of survival. 

In addition, I added a saintly halo seen in Gothic Art depictions of saints to some of the Bucket Head Girls to make a correlation to self-sacrifice with that of self-destruction.  In popular culture, women are often shown as alluring by adhering to strict rules of beauty, socialization and gender roles, all of which can not only be harmful to physical wellbeing but can also erode the spirit. 

ROT: The Afterlife of Trees Exhibit - Corvallis, Oregon in January, and the World Forestry Center in May 2016.  Follow me on instagram at sarahthepainter.

Planet Tuolumne, a two person show with Zac Calbert will open December 2014 at the Ventana Gallery in Sonora, CA. The opening receptions will be held on Saturday, January 10th at 5pm.

River Reflections, Mokelumne River Arts Project will open in early 2015 and rotate throughout next Spring from Sutter Creek to Oakland, CA.  50 artists from many disciplines will be exhibiting works inspired from the Mokelumne.  Grand Prizes will be given out at the last show, for more details go to Amador Arts Council.
Here is a recent article about this exhbit:  http://blog.sfgate.com/inoakland/2015/02/17/mokelumne-art-exhibition-travels-to-oakland-to-share-rivers-beauty-and-raise-awareness-on-water-conservation/ 

Slice:A Juried Cross Section of Regional Art, Pence Gallery, Davis, CA.  June 29th - August 24th.  Opening Reception: Friday, July 11th, 6 - 9pm.

Sarah Anne Graham: TCAA Artist in Residence, Sonora, CA.  July 12th - September 12th.  Opening Reception: Saturday, July 12th, 5 - 8pm.

Standing With the Watershed show has moved to Groveland, CA. Opens March 15th. https://www.facebook.com/standingwiththewatershed

Work from the Rounds series will be in a group exhibition titled "The Consilience of Art and Science", Pence Gallery, Davis, CA. Show runs January 11th - March1, 2014. http://www.pencegallery.org/

Work about the Rim Fire and it's effects on the Tuolumne River watershed will be shown at an upcoming exhibit, "Standing with the Watershed", Sherwood Gallery, San Francisco, CA in December 2013. 

Work from Rounds: Inside and Out will be featured at the group exhibit titled "Gems II", at Benicia Arts in Benicia, CA in December 2013. http://artsbenicia.org/

Selected Artist in the Woods 2013 for the Stanislaus National Forest, an annual residency program in the Fall. Sarah was stationed in the Strawberry area, teaching oil painting in October. See the Trees portfolio for piece inspired from her stay up on Sonora Pass.