Former therapist peels back layers of her self, and her art

Artist Sabrina Armitage shows one of her paintings in her Manhattan Beach home. Photo

Artist Sabrina Armitage shows one of her paintings in her Manhattan Beach home. Photo

Sitting in her living room in Manhattan Beach, artist Sabrina Armitage traces her fingers over an island of wax on her self-portrait. She compares working with the wax to peeling back the layers of an onion. Or a person, which she has done in her past life as a social worker.

“You can scrape the wax away, but you can also layer and layer,” she said. “It’s representative of us as people: What do we hide? And what do we reveal?”

Armitage, 50, began working with encaustics, or the mixture of bees wax and resin tinted with oils, while a student at the Otis College of Art and Design in LA.

Before that, she made jewelry, some of which was used on the sitcom Will and Grace when the show’s stylist, whose children went to the same school as Armitage’s son and daughter, discovered it.

Armitage loves the medium of encaustics in part because it allows her to work with other mediums at the same time. She usually starts with a photo of something in nature, often in Wyoming, where she has a second house. Then she applies the warm wax on top, choosing what to obscure or reveal of the original image. She notes that it can be difficult or impossible for the viewer to know what the original image was.

“In the end, it’s really only about the form, the line, the color,” she said while looking at one of her paintings in the tiny studio on the fourth floor of her house that looks onto the Palos Verdes Peninsula. On her desk wedged up against the window was a small pot filled with cylinders of hard wax. Nearby were a couple of squeegee heads and a small wooden canvas.

She speaks of the association of the left side of the brain with thought that is “analytical” and the right side with thought that is “intuitive.” Looking at an image with just the left side of the brain, she said, a person can “miss all the lines, nuances of the actual item.”

Her work is “abstraction to the point where you can’t label it,” she said. “You’re only looking at it with the right side. You start to see things you would ordinarily miss.”

Armitage moved to Manhattan Beach in 1991 from New Orleans, where she lived with her parents, who fled Czechoslovakia after her father was blacklisted in 1948.

After having her children, who are both in high school and each occupy a separate floor of their house in North Manhattan Beach, she stopped doing social work and turned to making jewelry. That inspired her to study fine art.

She sees similarities between her current and past work.

“As a therapist, you peel off and uncover layers,” she said. “Now I’m physically doing it, rather than with the words. It’s therapeutic: As you uncover an image, you uncover parts of yourself.”

She describes both occupations as “the desire to communicate and connect with another.” But, she says, “Art is more communication with someone you haven’t met or ever will meet.”

Occasionally, though, she gets to talk to people who view her art, as she will get to do on March 26 at a showing of her work at Kellyidesigns in Redondo Beach.

She loves hearing what others see in her paintings. Once, a woman recognized her home state of Idaho in a painting with a deteriorating wooden post in the foreground and an open landscape in the background. The piece reminded her of her childhood. Armitage had in fact taken the photo in Idaho.

Sometimes, she said, what a person sees can be “completely different than my intent,” which also delights her.

“It’s fun to hear these stories,” she said. “It brings me joy to communicate.” ER



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Written by: Easy Reader Staff

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