Sadie Valeri | Artist of the Week

Sadie Valeri is an internationally recognized classical oil painter based in San Francisco, California. Her work has been exhibited across the United States and Europe and featured in dozens of periodicals and books. Sadie has judged several national art competitions and has been a faculty member at the Portrait Society of America annual conference and a headlining presenter at the F.A.C.E Figurative Art Conference. Her work is in prestigious collections including the New Britain Museum of American Art.

Sadie Valeri earned her BFA in Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. She continued her education with living masters of classical realism including Ted Seth Jacobs, Juliette Aristides, and Michael Grimaldi; Studio Escalier in France; and the Hudson River Fellowship with Jacob Collins. Through her teaching studio, Sadie Valeri Atelier, Sadie has gained a reputation as one of the leading instructors of painting and drawing in the classical tradition in the United States.​

An Interview with Sadie Valeri

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a fine art oil painter based in San Francisco, California, primarily known for my still lifes.

Why do you do what you do?

I don’t feel I really have a choice. Once you dream of becoming an artist, the dream will haunt you until it is realized.

How do you work?

I paint full-time in my home studio.

What’s your background?

I was raised in Salem, Massachusetts, and lived in Providence, Boston, and Baltimore before moving to San Francisco, California in 1999. I majored in Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and worked as a graphic designer through my 20’s. In my early 30’s I returned to fine art painting and discovered Classical Realism. I was thrilled to find long-lost historic painting and drawing techniques and I continued to develop my skills with workshops with many of the greatest living teachers of classical realism. In 2006 I started a blog documenting my artwork and development, and very soon after that began receiving invitations to show at galleries and requests for interviews with the major art magazines.

What’s integral to the work of an artist? 

Time and mindspace. For me it doesn’t work to walk into the studio and command myself to get 8 hours of painting done within an 8-hour window of studio time, sandwiched between other demands. While I tried to do this for many years, now at age 50 I’ve accepted that I can’t produce paintings if my life is out of balance. I now arrange my life to support my overall emotional wellbeing, with plenty of time for connecting with family and friends, travel, and a healthy daily schedule. My artwork flows from the resulting calm and happy state of mind.

What role does the artist have in society? 

In the past art was seen as the expression of the artist’s entire culture, and artists saw themselves as working within a living stream of art history. This idea resonates with me more than the contemporary idea that artists are expressing only their own personal psychology from a place of isolation. When I look at any artist, historic or living, I want to know who their teachers were, and who their teacher’s teachers were. I ask where they grew up and who influenced them. We all work within a grand context.

How has your practice changed over time? 

I used to commit to making art or teaching art, or both every single day. I’ve softened this stance. I believe there is a time period as an art student when daily practice for several years is the only way to achieve a certain level of knowledge about your own artistic practice. But continuing at that pace for decades afterward leads to burnout. And if our artists are burned out, what does that say about our culture?

What work do you most enjoy doing? 

I love setting up a brand new still life, but even more than that I love finishing the last touches of a still life painting when the first vision I had when setting up is finally realized.

What themes do you pursue? 

Perhaps because I was a quiet, bookish girl raised in the very cold dark winters of Salem, Massachusetts, there will always be a certain moodiness in my work. But I am also a romantic idealist, perhaps to a fault, so the gentle fall of light on a beautiful object near a window will always for me feel like hope and comfort.

What’s your favorite artwork? 

I have been “fan-girl” level obsessed with Rubens for the last few years. At the moment I probably love most his droplets of seawater on the fleshy thighs of his sirens in “The Landing of Marie de Médicis”. Seen in person in the Louvre those droplets are a sight to behold.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you.

I watch the light and the sky and my environment constantly, and it inspires me every day. Just today the view from my car at the top of the hill looking down 17th street all the way to the Bay with the whole city stretched before me in the morning light took my breath away. I will probably have to become a landscape painter more consistently at some point in my life.

What is an artistic outlook on life? 

Constantly observing. Some people notice the branches on trees and wonder at their arrangement. Those people are probably some sort of visual artist. I imagine performers and musicians notice certain things as well.

What’s your favorite or most inspirational place? 

Paris, France. I first visited when I was 16, then lived there for 6 months at age 21, and I’ve returned about 10 times since. I can never get enough.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

Always be curious. It was my high school motto. We made fun of it endlessly as students, but it’s turned out to be how I arranged my whole life. I am most happy when I am learning.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

15 years ago I set many lofty goals for my artistic professional life, and to my surprise, I attained every one. But some of those achievements brought more stress than joy. Now… I prefer to live without goals, at least for a while. 

Sadie Valeri In Conversation with Frank Schaeffer