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Creative Process: Sarah Teitel's Journey Through The Brain
"Inspired by her neuropsychiatrist husband, Teitel began to see the beauty in MRI scans"

Local artist Sarah Teitel is showing and selling works from her series ‘Brain Paintings’ at The Hangman Gallery on Queen East until July 15, and I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like them.

Inspired by her neuropsychiatrist husband who brought his work home with him, Teitel began to see the beauty in MRI scans. Taking a break from her usual abstract work, she decided to paint the human brain as it shows up (colourful and intricate) in these scans. At the media reception for the series, I was able to get up close to her eighteen paintings (two of which were already sold).

Leaving no detail out, Teitel captures the brain at its most vulnerable– exposed and open for doctors, artists, and now viewers to see. Once she’s recreated the shapes and colours, the rest of the piece begins to take form. Blocks of colour and swirls of shapes usually make up the backgrounds behind the brain. In a few instances, Teital pastes pictures of outside sources that she feels flows with the vibe of the painting. One example has four photos of Egyptian masks at each corner of the canvas. Another has the tiniest of skeleton keys floating to the side of a  blue and yellow brain.

“The colors that I’ve used in the pieces, I’ve chosen myself,” says Teitel. “What I did which was actually like an act of translation because I would remain true to the coloring of the scan by using my own colors. What the colours that the scan refers to are different parts of the brain so I wanted to keep that accuracy and not falsely colour anything.”

The first brain Teitel painted hangs at the very front of the gallery. It seems to have a very intimate, private connection to Teitel as the brain (a mixture of glorious golds, oranges, pinks and blues) is surrounded by bubbles of paper cut out from her journals as a child. During our chat, I find out that their inclusion was less about emotional history, and more about their own artistic transformation after Teitel’s mother spilled water on them while ‘not’ reading their words.  

“The water she spilled had made the Bick pens I used bleed into these really amazing colours,” Teitel says. “You wouldn’t have expected what they created. Like the black bled into these really beautiful pinks and purples that you couldn’t replicate if you tried. It was a perfect element to include.”

Besides painting and traveling through the corners of the brain, Teitel spent a short time painting hand-tooled leather for popular vintage store 69 Vintage

“I picked up a hand tooled leather piece at a yard sale and I painted it,” Teitel tells me. “When people started commenting on it, I went to Kealan and asked if she’d be into selling pieces like it. She gave me free range to paint any hand tooled leather pieces she had like purses, belts and cowboy boots. After a few were sold Six Shooter Records approached me and asked me to do a collection of cowboy boots for them.”

After the show wraps up, Teitel and her husband plan to celebrate with a trip to Costa Rica. On coming back home, Teitel says her house will feel different.

“The spot on my wall where four of my paintings used to hang is now bare,” she says with a small smile. “That room feels so empty now.”

Teitel’s show Brain Paintings will be running at The Hangman Gallery until July 15.


Bianca Teixeira writes about style for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @BeeLauraTee.

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