Written by Taryn Newton-Gill

Sandra Acosta has always been fascinated with faces. The artist, who describes herself as an “expressive portrait artist,” has had a passion for drawing since she was little, and faces – especially female faces — are what have expressly brought her pencil to the page time and again. “I really loved to recreate what I saw from a young age … I enjoy capturing the strength and beauty of the human race [and] am especially inspired by women, the complexity of their emotions, nature, cultures, and beauty / fashion.”

At a moment when feminism has been thrust back into the national spotlight, Sandra’s artistry couldn’t be more timely. Drawn in black and white with purposeful pops of paint in brilliantly bright hues, the color-contrast in Sandra’s work makes for a distinct style that is intensely alive. “Raw,” is the word Sandra uses to describe her work, explaining that the feelings she shares in each piece come from a deeply personal place. “I select a photo reference that best captures my emotion at the time and create a piece with more emphasis on getting the emotion rather than focusing on an accurate representation of the face.” 

For Sandra, her color choices are a key component of the very human meaning behind her work. “In a world full of distractions, we tend to lose emotional connection,” she explains. “I feel that the pureness of black and white allows people to look at the subject's face or eyes in my paintings without the distraction of color and can provide a stronger emotional connection with the subject. I choose to add a pop of color to show that, in life, we will always have some sort of distraction and we have to learn to look past the distractions and still find emotional connections.”

But color (or lack thereof) is just one way that Sandra creates these emotional connections. Another way is by depicting her subjects in striking poses that range from strong to soft, but always with a depth that transcends their two-dimensionality. She says, “I feel that females wear many hats and are very complex, but are mostly seen for their appearance. I like to try to show beauty/emotions and character traits in my portraits.”  

One particularly common theme that Sandra shows in her portraits is women in states of being bound, either by ropes, braids or with a cloth around their eyes. “The rope and braids can have many meanings depending on who is looking at it,” Sandra says. “For me, it is a metaphor for restrictions we as women put on ourselves. We "bind” ourselves by trying to fit into molds that we think our modern society dictates, instead of being our true selves and feeling what we want.” She goes on to say, “Though the feminist movement has given women many freedoms, I also feel it has bound them even more, and has caused many women to feel "tangled" trying to balance between just being a woman in the traditional sense (feminine and natural) and what society through the feminist movement dictates.”

This exploration of freedom as a female and as an artist comes up for Sandra in both her final portraits and her artistic process. “I feel that sometimes artists get stuck in a specific style and are afraid to leave that style because that's what they are known for. Why not just do what you like because you enjoy doing it? Why does it have to have a certain look, or why does it have to have a certain meaning?”

Currently, Sandra’s aesthetic style comes from a mixed-medium approach to her art, but she is open to other possibilities as she evolves artistically. “I am still experimenting to find what I love most, but I mainly use watercolor, pastels, color pencil, graphite, and acrylic. My last paintings have all been watercolor and I am enjoying the fluidity and also unpredictability of it. I don't currently dabble too much with other forms, but I would like to … with sculpting / pottery and digital art.”

While feminine themes will likely always play a lead role Sandra’s art (whichever medium she uses) she is also passionate about exploring other parts of herself and humanity. “In my older work, I did a series of pastel portraits of members representing different tribes / cultures around the world, mostly African [and] Indian. I have always been intrigued by rituals done around the world.”

Whatever she's exploring, Sandra makes sure to keep the human aspect of her work at the forefront. Although she sells her work, Sandra says, “Why treat it like a business? If it’s something you love, then do it. If you can make a business out of it great, but don’t stop doing it if it fulfills a part of you!”