Sally Rachelle Neilson is an artist from Utah who illustrates, sculpts, and paints. Sally is best known for translating story concepts into visual art, and many of her creations are rendered with found objects. A performer as well as an artist, Sally has engaged in fire spinning, acrobats, trapeze, cliff diving, and she has even done some stunt work!

Sally credits her life experiences as being a direct influence on her artwork and, to date, she has enjoyed eighteen solo shows and partaken in thirty-five group shows. She has won awards and has been featured in two different magazines.

She is currently working on her first children’s Book, which author Linda Gardner wrote and she is illustrating, titled “Jungle Sleep.”

Sally recently discussed her experiences as a performer and artist in a recent Interview.

Art, galleries, and style

Meagan Meehan (MM): What prompted you to become a fine artist and who are some of your biggest influences?

Sally Neilson (SN): My love of creating things visually is what prompted me to be an artist. Colors, textures, the way they can intermingle and crash into each other is thrilling. I can’t stand working for anyone else or having my time used in any way I don’t choose to. I love having my days free to create what I choose. It is the satisfaction and joy of that process that compels me toward it.

I’ve always done art. Both my parents were art teachers in high schools, and my mom is also a professional artist, primarily Plein Aire. I’d say they were my biggest influences for sure. Growing up was enthralled when surrounded by oil paints, watercolor paintings, glazed tiles cooking in the kiln, and being spun around in circles by my brothers while sitting on the potter’s wheel.

MM: How did you initially get your artwork seen publicly and are you represented by any galleries right now?

SN: I applied to several galleries once I’d decided I wanted to be a professional artist back in 2002. I received about twenty-four rejection letters and decided to heck with it, I’m going to do my own art show and asked the GLBT Center here in Salt Lake if I could do a one-night show at their space, to which they agreed.

After that, I found places that were more agreeable to show an emerging artist’s works.

Everything from coffee shops to independent restaurants, to a couple of pubs. From there, I looked into which galleries participated in the monthly gallery strolls, found out their deadlines, and applied. My experiences have grown since then as I’ve gathered more information, learned about various art contests, got on board with the state art division newsletters for alerts, and other art opportunities.

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve done eighteen solo exhibits, thirty-five group shows, previously represented by two galleries, and I have one piece that is on tour right now throughout the state of Utah for the next three years.

It’s been quite the journey!

MM: How would you describe your unique artwork, how many pieces have you produced, and do you have any favorites?

SN: Good question, I would say my art is contemporary, and since it evolves constantly, I don’t know that I would describe it as. It's certainly not set to any particular medium or style. I started working primarily with oil pastels, moved into oils, took on acrylics for a long while, and right now, my focus is often on the found object art work I am doing.

A blend of sculptural and painting worked onto a canvas for a 3D effect using spray paints, sometimes stencils, and some acrylics. I’m a big fan of the Steampunk genre, and I would say that has had some influences with the found objects being so appealing to work with.

I have an affinity toward animals, which are represented a lot in my works. However, I have done other represented things like a train, a mechanical heart, and a series of art deco style female figures for example.

I’ve made 432 pieces of art to date, and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite. I fell in love with my most recent found object piece of an angler fish entitled, “A Light in the Dark.” I am delighted by the fox found object piece, “Winter Watcher.” And I enjoyed creating the koi fish “Apparitions” artwork by using spray paints, a carpet grate for the texture, and dripping the paint on top to make the figures stand out.

Stunts, creativity, and children's books

MM: What has proven to be the most rewarding aspects being a professional artist and what are some of your major goals for the future?

SN: Working for myself has been one of my greatest joys in being a professional artist. Sometimes I am digging the inspiration that comes up during the day. Sometimes the day calls going for a walk in the park, taking care of bills, etc., and then it is the quiet of night that calls my attention, and I sense a real connection to what I am doing. So, it various a lot for me when I do my art.

My dream is to be able to travel the world more with my wife. Experience other cultures, blend that into my work, feel completely immersed in the creativity and beauty of what I see in other places. I am working toward having my art in galleries across the U.S., and it would be fun to see my work brought out commercially on t-shirt designs, coloring books, coffee table books, etc.

MM: You have gotten involved in some really cool things in your life--cliff diving, fire spinning, and acrobatics among them! How did you get into these activities and where did you perform?

SN: I was a cliff diver at a restaurant that was called The Mayan. It was loads of fun, a dream job and I loved being a professional athlete this way. From there, my friend and I took some aerial classes and learned trapeze.

The Mayan wanted to beef up its shows, so we started doing duo trapeze acts together. About that same time, they had also hired up a fire troop to perform as well. I was completely mesmerized and wanted to learn how to do that and other stunts! I met my wife through this mutual friend.

She also had a love of fire, so really, it was the fire that brought us together.

We have been a performing fire duo for the last four years performing for audiences of all ages and sizes. Everything from backyard parties to weddings, to corporate events and festivals. We've been with a local troop called Fire Muse Circus, performing for the city of Afton, WY., Roots of the Rock Music Festival, Utah Pride Festival, Wyoming Woodstock Festival, Nudge Event, among others.

As a duo, we go by LUMINOUS. We have been integrating acrobatics into our routines and completely enjoyed the dynamic it creates! We have gone on tour around the western U.S. with the Lantern Fest, performed with locals: Voodoo Darlings, The Salt City Circus, the Caress Circus, & Burlesque Circus.

We also do acrobatic yoga, stilt walking, LED light spinning, and we're starting duo trapeze as well.

MM: You've also done some stunt work, so where did you land those gigs?

SN: The stunt work I did was when I was a chorus singer in the Utah Showdown at Tuachahn Amphitheatre in St. George, UT. It's a spectacular outdoor theater, and I had the opportunity to train on the teeterboard. Think of it as a seesaw where I stand on one end, someone jumps off of a platform on the other end, and it shot me up about 12' in the air to do a back-flip. I also got to cross over from being a pioneer in the show to switching to a Native American role halfway through, throwing torches and shooting flaming arrows at the fort--really fun!

MM: How do you feel your performance work has impacted your artwork?

SN: I would say my performance work has greatly impacted my personal artwork because it showed me I was boundless, free to try anything. I defied stereotypes on how life should be lived or what I could do with myself. So, it is the same with my art. I heard many things, tried many things, about how to be a successful artist. Like, you need a consistent body of work, you have to find your style, your niche, and stick with it. And I eventually thought, why? I am constantly evolving as a person, why would that ever stay the same. And I do have a nice body of work, in several different mediums and styles now. It has been so much fun to explore and try new things, and that will be the consistent thing in my life.

I get to choose how I want it to go. I get to enjoy it regardless of the outcomes. I am much more empowered in my life than I previously thought I was.

Performing definitely helps with that. To stand in front of an audience, to entertain, to be raw and vulnerable in your expression, to be seen, and hold steady within yourself, flushing out all the anxieties and worries in order to be present to what you are doing and why. It is the same with my art.

MM: You are currently writing a children's book, so can you tell us a bit about the characters, plot, and the inspirations behind them?

SN: The children's book is called "Jungle Sleep, " and Linda Gardner writes it and illustrated by myself. I have about four illustrations left.

It's about a boy trying to fall asleep and the adventures he goes on; a super cute tale with lots of fun and whimsy! It’s very well written, and I like squeezing some humor out in a visual way. It's been a joy to put my artistic flair into a kid like perspective. It's another fun thread I've explored, and it's inspired me to want to create my own book. All we really need now is to find a publisher.