Sarah Curtis originally studied art at the Preston Institute of Technology in Melbourne (1979) and the Brera Academy of Art in Milan, Italy (1981) and has undertaken postgraduate study in London, South India and Northern Ireland. She completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne in 2007 and holds two Masters degrees.
Curtis’s paintings of the 1980s and early 1990s appropriate figurative imagery from iconic works of art to explore psychological themes of apocalyptic anxiety and Messianic fantasy. These explore the artist’s interest in how the formalism of nineteenth century European painting reflects the symbolic impact of the Protestant condemnation of religious art.
Many a lovely picnic has been spoiled by one act of disobedience (1988) depicts a twentieth century family and was painted during Australia’s bicentenary marking 200 years of European settlement and Indigenous displacement. The painting was in part inspired by Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the grass) (1862–63) and also references Liberty leading the people (1830) by Eugéne Delacroix. According to the artist, the Bohemian figures of Manet’s idyllic scene have been substituted with visual references from high and low art sources and the European landscape replaced by Norfolk pines to signify the history of Australian penal settlement. The family scene was derived from Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories (c.1930), a series of adventure-based morality tales that illustrated Christian values. The expression of the little girl is a reference to the gaze of Manet’s nude and is intended by the artist to signify the libidinal effect of the Protestant aesthetic.
Curtis’s work is held in collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Artbank, Monash University Museum of Art and several private collections.