From her high waisted jeans depicting a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., to her pair of embroidered Converse, painting and drawing senior Sarah Ulm immerses herself in art from head to toe.
For Ulm, art is part of her identity. In her work, she embraces her womanhood and southern roots, whether it’s through her vibrant oil paintings, which are heavily influenced by southern imagery, her illustrations on vintage clothing, or even her pen drawings of popular internet memes.
“Who I am is what my art is,” Ulm said. “I’m just trying to always put my own stuff onto the things that I wear because then every part of what I’m doing is something that I created.”
Ulm’s idea for using clothing as a canvas started with doodling on her jeans three years ago. Now, she has expanded her doodles into full-fledged multimedia art featuring pen drawings, painted animal patterns and embroidery.
In these works, Ulm plays with bold lines and black and white, but also includes satire and social commentary. She alludes to religion in the South by painting prayer hands on a plaid school skirt. Her “Black Lives Matter”-themed jeans feature a Martin Luther King, Jr. portrait on one leg and cow print on the other, since King’s initials said together sound like the word “milk.”
Scouring Baton Rouge thrift stores, like America’s Thrift Stores near Cortana Mall, Ulm finds inexpensive, well-made denim jackets and pants with name brands like Wrangler and Levi.
While art had been a part of Ulm’s life from an early age, she was hesitant to pursue the avenue professionally. She switched her major from nursing to painting and drawing two and a half years into college. When spending this time away from the craft, Ulm recognized her true love for it.
“Once I wasn’t doing [art] for so long, I realized that I needed it,” Ulm said. “A lot of me growing up was figuring out what’s the line between doing what I wanted and doing what other people wanted for me.”
The 23-year-old attributes the switch to the rapid personal growth she’s experienced in the last five years. Having grown up in Mandeville, Ulm began to see how different the rest of the world was when she moved to Baton Rouge, she said.
“I broke out and saw that things were different and it shocked me,” Ulm said. “I went through all these crazy experiences in order to learn, and through that I was able to see life a lot differently and I was able to grow up.”
Ulm slowly became more confident in her identity, embracing her individuality rather than comparing herself to other people, she said.
“I just embrace being a woman,” Ulm said.
Her work plays on this full-scale embrace of womanhood and grapples with societal perceptions of women, particularly a phenomenon she calls “the inevitability of decay” — how women are considered to be most beautiful and valuable when they’re young. In her art, she uses items such as eggs and a dripping popsicle to symbolize “the melting of something good,” she said.
The work of one of Ulm’s major influences, Canadian artist Chloe Wise who does still art of women, plays with the notion of women “in their prime.” Both Ulm and Wise use puns and satire in their work.
Ulm also draws influence from powerful female musical artists such as Colombian singer Kali Uchis. Observing how these artists live and see themselves affects how Ulm sees herself, she said.
Upon finishing her undergraduate degree, Ulm hopes to go to graduate school out of state to expand her horizons and influences as an artist, she said. She aims to work in the film industry painting sets, as she is drawn to the idea of traveling and being part of a large-scale production.
“I would love to go to grad school and just go crazy with what my concept is and blur the lines between reality and my art concept to where that’s all I see,” Ulm said. “That’ll be the ultimate goal.”