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SARA VON KIENEGGER is a London-based Austrian born artist, photographer, painter and designer who made her artistic debut in the Middle East. During her time in Dubai, Sara was an understudy of Khalifa El Shimy, a well-known Egyptian artist and calligrapher. Her early exhibitions, ‘Victims of War’ and ‘Faces of the Middle East,’ were portraits of victims from the Syrian war in photography and abstract painting where she aimed to inspire people from different cultures like the Middle East and the West to understand each other, especially young women who are just beginning their professional lives with the aim of motivating them to pursue their dreams. Von Kienegger’s Arabic artworks continue to be widely accepted and coveted throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Von Kienegger’s most noteworthy installation, “Fallen Stars,” was a series about Hollywood celebrities who have taken their life or died from overdose. Using a keycard from her hotel room, she developed her unique style of abstract portraiture, creating her signature style of prominent vertical and horizontal brush strokes. At Art Basel 2014 her series, “Fallen Stars: The Mondrian Series,” was selected to be displayed at the VIP entrance at Art Spectrum and Art Mana out of over 140 young emerging artists.
Von Kienegger’s other projects include producing and art directing the feature film Actors Anonymous in collaboration with James Franco, and a donation of her piece “Mauthausen” from her Holocaust exhibition to the Synagogue for The Arts in New York City’s TriBeCa. Most recently, she spent time in Colombia where she designed her own limited bag collection with the brand, Cueros Vélez, as well as exhibited her paintings with Arte Loft Galería, a gallery that also represents the famous South American artist Fernando Botero.
“I think America is more accepting about being an artist, whereas in Austria people would be like, okay, so you paint? What else? Where do you make your living from?” —Sara Von Kienegger
How did you begin your artistic career?
I studied art in Austria and moved to Dubai to work in advertising. I got fed up with media and discovered I wanted to paint instead. When I had my first exhibition I saw that people reacted very well to my paintings and that I could make a living out of it. Among my favorite private collectors are: Chinh Chu (he has the biggest private art collection in the world!) and Asim Abdullah, who owns fashion label Emanuel Ungaro.
Where does your style and aesthetic come from?
My style developed in New York and took me to the next level. My work in Middle East isn’t even a comparison. For me New York is really important because it was where I made my breakthrough. I love Tribeca because it is just so different from Austria, there was always inspiration and art everywhere.
Explain your artistic process with the “keycard”?
My “key card” style developed when I had an exhibition in Los Angeles. I was so tired I didn’t have my brushes with me. I used to live in hotels at the time, so I used a keycard to paint my work—then after it developed into a style.
What inspires you?
The film community inspired me a lot. That was new for me at a completely different level. When I got to New York I met my agent who introduced me to film stars and small acting roles in movies. In Europe, we have royals, so those were the only stars. When I moved to the U.S., I got a little more educated about the film world.
What does art mean to you?
Freedom. Expression. I always get fascinated with how art enables you to transfer your own point of views. My life is all about art.
What has been the proudest moment in your career?
Upon my arrival to London, my painting got the highest bid alongside other British artists at the Beating Hearts Ball, which is kind of a big deal here in London! Sir Peter Blake auctioned as did Sotheby’s.
What is your favorite piece that you’ve ever created?
“Manhattan.” It is a very abstract piece that came from the time I lived in New York. It’s very dark and very gray.
If you could own any piece in the world what would it be?
Klimt. “The Kiss.” He’s Austrian too!
Name your favorite female artist.
Frida Kahlo! She’s represented throughout all my fashion collections, ever since the bag line. I keep doing commissions of her. People keep asking me to paint her in two portraits with different color. It’s very simple—I normally don’t like commissions but if it’s Frida, yes I’ll do it.
What is one piece of advice you can offer to emerging artists?
To go out there and don’t be shy. I know painting is so vulnerable and private, but don’t be scared of exposure and critics. Take criticism positively. I used to get upset and couldn’t handle it. For example, now I decided I am going to paint more hyper-realistic but people advise me to go back to my old signature style of painting with more distortion.
What has been the most challenging piece you’ve painted?
It’s the one I’m painting right now—a portrait of my friend, Emma Rigby. I met her on set in a movie with James Franco. It’s been taking me 6 months to complete. It’s hard because when you know someone really well you get really picky about painting features but that got to be the hardest piece I’ve ever one.
What should we be looking out for in 2019?
I like to do collaborations with other artists. I’m working with a dear friend of mine, Christian Hook (Gibraltarian Contemporary Artist), and Tony Kaye (Director of American History X)—we are looking to do an exhibition in London. Plus, I might take on film as well and go into acting as “myself” as an artist. I got requested to be in a movie from my painting—it’s interesting. I want to try a different medium to express myself which is could definitely be film.
Top Image: Photo courtesy of Jose Sarmiento.
Sara Von Kienegger is based in London. Visit her website: www.vonkienegger.com.