Style Profile: Sarah Paton

Sarah Paton

In the elegant setting of Sarah Paton's home, we discussed her fascinating dual roles as a self-taught artist and seasoned medical professional, delving into her journey and her unforeseen achievement of becoming a Lester Prize finalist.


Sarah Paton


Your style, both in art and fashion, is distinctive. How would you describe your personal fashion taste, and do you find any parallels or crossovers between your fashion choices and your artistic preferences?

Do I have a fashion style? I'm not entirely sure, but when I reflect on what I wear, unless it's for a specific event, it tends to depend on my mood. I often combine colour, comfort, and pieces in an 'ad hoc' manner. I particularly enjoy wearing pants and am drawn to great fabrics, designs, colours, and the stories behind designers. As a young teenager, I used to take myself on the train to Army Surplus stores in the city to find army cargoes that cost next to nothing, allowing a unique look to evolve—this was way before it became fashionable, if it ever did. Later, my mum bought me Jag denim, which I loved for its incredibly soft fabric that I wish would make a comeback.

I almost pursued a degree in Architecture due to my love for drawing and artistic design, which has always been inherent. Sometimes, I'm fascinated by my choice of Physics, maths, science, and then medicine instead. However, art has always had a place in my life. Growing up post-Twiggy era was about being thin and over-plucking eyebrows, reflecting a trend of under-eating. I worked hard to avoid those patterns. Twiggy's influence on the androgynous aesthetic fascinated me, aligning with my desire to express 'my own way.'

Beige Collared Longsleeve Top by Pleats Please Issey Miyake. Rose Velvet Perch Pants and Rose Ballet Shoes by Uma Wang.


Sarah Preston


Now that I can afford to buy, I'm attracted to individual pieces without always planning a complete ensemble. My wardrobe is full of matching possibilities, including several matching pyjama sets. I appreciate good design and clever ways fabrics are worked, such as Issey Miyake's pleats or others utilizing fabric waxing that almost feels sculptural. I embrace an artsy comfort, focusing on colour. If I'm wearing black, I often pair it with a pop of pink, orange, or cobalt blue—my favourite paint colours. While I appreciate the aesthetics of a great pair of shoes, I tolerate wearing them, as I'm essentially a barefoot person at home, and I don't wear heels.

Steel Velvet Anthea Dress and Steel Blue Anaya Dress by Uma Wang. Pe Pacifico Cognac Diamond Necklace by Rosa Maria.


Sarah Paton


Being selected for and winning a commendation at The Lester Art Prize is a significant achievement. Could you share the inspiration behind the artwork and your frame of mind while painting the work?

Being selected as a finalist and winning a prize has been life-affirming, giving me the confidence to call myself an artist and realizing that I am good enough. Prior to "Memento Mori," my first self-portrait, and excluding portraits of my mother and the family dogs, all previous representational pieces were deconstructed and abstract. Thus, this marked a complete departure from my usual art practice. The inspiration for this piece came from a moment captured in time.

Earlier this year, just weeks after my 95-year-old mother passed away, I was rushed to the hospital with a rare, serious illness—an infection of the bones at the base of my skull and upper neck spine. Upon returning home from the hospital, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and found someone I almost didn't recognize. I snapped a photo, and the haunting look in my eyes struck me. I had seen that expression on my patients but never on myself, prompting me to capture it on canvas.

Given the intimacy and personal nature of the piece, I initially decided to work on it in secret. However, my husband, Peter, discovered what I was doing and ended up loving it even more than I did. My mindset while painting was one of focus, aiming to accurately encapsulate what I saw in the dark eyes. Through many iterations, the process evolved, proving to be wonderfully cathartic.
Encouraged by Peter to enter the Lester, the unexpected result has been a surprising silver lining to a challenging year. The most extraordinary aspect of sharing this personal painting has been how much it resonated with many, which has been an extremely emotional and humbling experience.

Pink T-Shirt with Red Bow and Red Bow Ribbon Stud Earrings by Simone Rocha. Dark Ruby Sonam Skirt by Christian Wijnants. Tapestry Low Tennis Shoe by Uma Wang.


Sarah Paton


"Growing up with my modernist great aunt's art on the walls of my family home has greatly influenced both my clothing and art choices. Her colourful abstract deconstruction has inspired me to embrace abstract forms, colours, textures, and mix genres. I often start without a plan, allowing something beautiful to naturally evolve."

White Patchwork Long Sleeve T-Shirt Dress by Simone Rocha.


Sarah Paton


Are there specific daily or weekly rituals you engage in to navigate challenging days more smoothly?

I frequently discuss with my breast cancer patients the importance of finding daily or weekly moments and rituals for mindfulness. This not only helps them navigate challenging days but also, over time, assists in reducing the fear of recurrence. Do I practice this myself? To be honest, not enough. While I love my work, some days are more challenging than others, especially when dealing with emotional and difficult illnesses.

Upon returning home, I am greeted by my dogs, though sadly now only one, who shows unbridled joy at seeing me and offers unconditional love. Each evening, I take a walk, leaving my phone at home to embrace moments of silence. In the car, I opt for music playlists over the radio as a conscious effort to disengage from world news.

On our family table, there is always a canvas with organized paints. It is liberating to apply paint to that blank white canvas, allowing shapes and colours to develop in front of me. This process becomes a means of processing the day, its conversations, and stories. The act of brushing on paint itself is cathartic and meditative.

Ruby Demino Sleeveless Dress by Christian Wijnants. Jet Beads & Steel Chain Earrings by Jean-François Mimilla.


Sarah Paton


How do you approach your painting process, and is there a deliberate intention to convey a specific message through your artwork?

Being self-taught provides the freedom to create as I wish, without rules. Although my art apparently falls under the definition of Naive Art, I do not appreciate labels for myself or for anyone. I paint without the boundaries of what is defined, and it gives me wings.

As a doctor, I am honoured with thousands of stories, most of which I can never tell. However, they inform and shape my creative process almost subconsciously. At times, I have fun with hidden symbols and messages, often incorporating breasts into my pieces. "Memento Mori" unexpectedly became about me, a deliberate attempt to paint what I saw in that look and those dark, unfamiliar eyes. It was also about loss and the multitude of things we all keep locked away.

Art has the power to tell stories that can impact us in a way that nothing else can. It gives a sense of 'knowingness' that transcends all barriers, reminding us that we are not alone in our human experiences—but only if it is seen.

Pink T-Shirt with Red Bow and Red Bow Ribbon Stud Earrings by Simone Rocha. Dark Ruby Sonam Skirt by Christian Wijnants.


Sarah Paton


Transitioning from a successful medical career to pursue art is a unique path. Can you elaborate on the challenges and rewards of taking on a new artistic venture after establishing yourself in another field for so many years?

As I currently have no immediate plans for retirement, I feel that instead of transitioning from a successful medical career to pursue art, I am adding to it. This process feels natural to me, considering that I have been involved in art throughout my life and have been painting for several years. The recent public acknowledgement has prompted me to formulate a plan to carve out time for art in the future. This commitment will increase as I inevitably reduce my work commitments over the years to come.

The combination of Medicine and Writing, as well as Medicine and Art, appears to be a perfect marriage to me. A significant part of being a doctor involves engaging in privileged conversations about patients' fears, emotions, and hopes. Art has the power to open, enable, and enrich these conversations, fostering empathy and understanding. It inspires a sense of community and belonging. Given the substantial connection between physical health dysfunction and mental health issues, social dislocation, and isolation, the incorporation of art in all its forms motivates me to continue painting.

Ruby Demino Sleeveless Dress by Christian Wijnants. Jet Beads & Steel Chain Earrings by Jean-François Mimilla.



Who would be your dream subject if you painted for The Archibald?

Only with my recent success in the Lester competition have I even considered the possibility of entering The Archibald. I would like to paint someone who is of great personal interest to me, someone who has made an impact on others' lives, possesses an interesting face, and has an inspiring story. I have a few individuals in mind, and perhaps even a self-portrait. Should you watch this space?

 Sarah Paton Lester Prize

Sarah Paton, Memento mori, 2023. Acrylic, pencil and ink on canvas, 69 x 89 cm.
Highly Commended Prize winner in The Lester Prize 2023.
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