Sarah Jean Anderson’s Road to Full-Time Artistry

Sarah Jean Anderson art show at Flashlight Alley
1507 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
Sept. 24, 7–10 p.m.

Sarah Jean Anderson, 31, has been at it for a decade — but nailing what “it” is can be a tad difficult. Beyond her life as a Grand Rapids-based painter, she hosts drag shows, comedy events and other artistically festive shindigs.

“When I’m not working on art I’m writing comedy or hosting a comedy show,” Anderson said. “I have a character named Rita I’ve been doing since I was 16. I’ve seen recently on YouTube one of my videos was translated into Italian.

“It’s remarkable to me that this character I’ve been performing — doing monologues, improv — has reached all the way to Italy and its inspiring people to make their own weird performance art dance videos,” she added.

But it’s not just her jokes that are crossing oceans. Thanks to the Internet and her large stock of vibrant original works, her paintings and pop illustrations have shipped all over the globe. “Etsy is wonderful,” Anderson said. “What I don’t like is recently they’ve started to censor artists, but I found that I can deal with that. Etsy has been extremely helpful selling my work worldwide — Italy, Canada and England.”

As for her paintings, Anderson often works with acrylic — she likes its ability to mix and layer. She also works with Sharpies, Prismacolor, paint pens, ink, glue, recycled materials, fabrics and spray paint, to only name a few.

“Something I particularly like to do is buy paint nobody else is buying,” she said. “I go to the clearance section and get the colors that don’t match or make sense together. I try to use them in a harmonious way. I like to limit my materials so I have to use my imagination more.”

A recent series of Anderson originals takes on street harassers and body shaming, it’s the focus of her current show. “I recently did one that says: ‘Oh my f*****g God, I don’t give a flying f*** what you think about my f*****g body, motherf****r.’ It got a good response on the Internet and it sold that same day,” she added. “I was really happy with that because I wasn’t thinking about it as being marketable.”

As always, when she’s not cranking out paintings, Anderson’s calendar is stacked with other creative endeavors. “I host Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, which is a live-drawing event we’ve done for six years,” she said. “It’s at Reservoir Lounge on Plainfield. We bring in a variety of live art models — circus performers, jugglers, male and female bodybuilders — all of these different people with elaborate costumes. We draw them with challenges we create. We may draw them as animals. It’s a wonderful place to find inspiration and meet other artists.”

And Anderson will be the first to admit Grand Rapids has been good to her. “There are still new opportunities,” she said. “I’m going to stay here until there’s nothing else to do. But there’s always something to do, so I’ll probably never leave. I don’t believe you have to leave. You can be the artist, comedian or actor you want to be in Grand Rapids.”

As for what’s next for Anderson, that too is a tad difficult to nail down.

“Next, I’m publishing some zines with poetry and stories, she said. “Next I’m going to do more, bigger and forever.” n

Visit Sarah Jean Anderson at