Sahara Longe's dream of becoming an artist only came true when she gave up on the whole idea. In the last year, her bold, figurative paintings have seduced the art world on multiple continents. But the backstory of how she got there is a map of the strange and complex journey to being an artist.
Longe started out by drawing on the walls of her bedroom in a 550-year-old crumbling wattle and daub farmhouse in rural Suffolk. Her English dad, Marc, and her Sierra Leone-born mother, Didi, had moved the family there from London when Longe was six. Farming their 300 acres and restoring the house left little time for active parenting, and Longe and her three younger sisters grew up doing more or less whatever they wanted. For Longe, a shy, quiet child who was something of a loner, this included reading Agatha Christie and Private Eye, whose cartoons and caricatures she copied on the walls, floor to ceiling, of her bedroom and other spaces throughout the house.
"I was a complete weirdo as a child," Longe tells me. "My sisters and I had a piano teacher named Mary who was about 80 years old and lived next door. She wore tights tied around her head and she ate only fish and chips that were wrapped in loads of greasy paper, and after the lesson, she'd give us pens to draw on them." Sahara, a dark-haired beauty with an infectious smile, is at the farmhouse in Suffolk. She has a studio in the big, old threshing barn, with a stone floor and arching beams. It's much larger than her London studio in Brixton, and she's using it to make the paintings for her New York debut, at Timothy Taylor gallery in May.