Brush High School Art Teacher Highlights Teen Girls' Experiences

Navigating high school can be tough, especially for teenage girls. There’s often stress from bullying or questions around identity, all in addition to school work.

“At the time it feels endless and that there truly is no respite from all of the worry going on,” said visual artist Sarah Curry.

Curry knows this from being a student once herself and 20 years of teaching art at Brush High School in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst district.

Due to the pandemic, Curry hasn’t spent as much time this year with her students in the classroom. But Curry’s work as an artist is very much focused on her students, particularly the experiences of young women.

"Tied Together" Painting by Sarah Curry

"Tied Together" by Sarah Curry is on view at Hedge Gallery in Cleveland. [Sarah Curry]

“I am taking tons and tons of photos, and then I take them back to my studio and do sketches and try to come up with an open-ended narrative,” she said. “So the viewer is able to allow their own imagination and their own experiences dictate the story behind each of the images.”

Sketching from photos of both her students and family friends, Curry works in mixed media, adding to and subtracting from the canvas.

“There’s areas where I lose my drawing, and then I have to rediscover the drawing,” she said. “Losing and finding the girls allows me more time with them and kind of investigating their future and this image that everyone will see with them as though we're partners in this.”

The subjects of many of her paintings had the chance to see themselves on the walls of Hedge Gallery in Cleveland as part of “Underestimated,” an exhibition of Curry’s work.

“People often think of, you know, young women as their drama or they're getting through things and they're not adults yet so we can't take them seriously,” said gallery owner Hilary Gent. She added that Curry’s work can help anyone who is not a teenage girl understand “some of the incredible struggles that they go through as they approach womanhood.”

Ruby Jackson poses for a photo in front of a painting of herself.

Ruby Jackson poses for a photo next to her portrait at Hedge Gallery in Cleveland. [Sarah Curry]

Ruby Jackson, the daughter of a friend of Curry's, said it was exciting to see herself in the exhibition after serving as a model for Curry a few different times.

“It's kind of crazy to think that, like some people might buy those, and that I'll just be hanging in someone's house, which is cool,” Jackson said. “That's what makes it real, makes me feel like I was the center of a piece of art.”

Within the exhibit, Curry also reflects on the social isolation of the pandemic through a recent series of paintings, “Unattached.” In these portraits, Curry features young women who appear to be taking selfies or interacting with their phones.

“I think that people falsely see girls taking selfies as vanity, where I think in actuality it's much more of journaling and documenting that time,” Curry said. “Whether it's an outfit, whether it's a mood, whether it's an environment that they're in, I think that this is really their diary of their experiences and their emotions at that very specific moment in time.”

Painting by Sarah Curry

"Tori" is part of Sarah Curry's "Unattached" series on view at Hedge Gallery in Cleveland. [Sarah Curry]

The “Unattached” series was done on wood panels with gouache paint and flocking, a fine material that adds texture when glued to surfaces. When applying the flocking, Curry covered the portraits of the girls with essentially a sticker to keep the flocking confined to the dark areas surrounding them. Peeling away that sticker later in the process didn’t go as planned with some of the panels. 

“I did ruin quite a few and had to start over again,” Curry said.

For the past several years, Curry has been highlighting young women in her art.  While she said she plans to continue in this direction, she may experiment with multimedia in the future. 

“Seeing these young girls show up at the opening, witness the work in person and see themselves was beyond my expectations,” she said. “It just cracked my heart wide open. It was wonderful.”

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