Sarah Lederman’s famous fans read like a who’s who of the art world. Selected by renowned art collector, Kay Saatchi for Saatchi’s famous ‘Anticipation’ exhibition, she’s also won the prestigious Catlin Art Prize. Recently her work was displayed alongside world-acclaimed artist Tracey Emin, as part of the ground-breaking UK travelling exhibition, The Body in Women’s Art Now.

As Sarah’s first solo exhibition, ‘A Notion of Longing’, at the ROLLO Contemporary Art Gallery, draws to a close, we take a look at the meaning beyond the brushstrokes…. In this dreamy set of paintings, the female form is still the basis of her work. It’s the canvas for drips of lust, smudges of desire – and as the title suggests, frantic brushstrokes of longing. Delicately outlined female forms jar beautifully against colourful blotches, and shadowy eyes peer desperately. As she details when we meet at her London studio, it is this sense of longing which turns the female form into a battleground, a war-torn space for fighting taboos. Sarah’s figures are watery, smudged - bodies quivering with the need to break out of themselves and give themselves to something, someone: “I’m really interested in ideas behind otherness, and people completing you. A lot of them are quite lonely figures in the paintings, but there are lots of pairs, so that there’s that sense of being completed by someone else, but that’s a kind of impossibility – that’s where that notion of longing comes in.”

Sarah Lederman. Siren in Hampstead Ponds.

This search for a seemingly impossible completion is something that Lederman has often spoken about as beginning in adolescence – her previous works explore this period as a tentative time of experimentation, filled with the first pangs of yearning. Many of the gently curved figures in the paintings simply wear just sheer tights, of which she says: “For a while it was about how there’s that bit where they’re really uncomfortable and they don’t fit properly. Like at school – that awkwardness of adolescence. But now I just really like the shape and the fact that men find it so ugly, but I think it’s quite beautiful.”

Similarly, in these currently displayed works, waif-like figures rip through the entrapment of early adolescence towards the taboos of adult desires. She says: “The new paintings are less adolescent; I think they’re more womanly. They’re more about the body bursting forward from containment. Adolescence still does interest me because I am interested in desires, but it’s the taboo which interests me. The idea that it’s not allowed, but it’s the time when the mind really starts to fantasize and fascinate – fantasies of breaking taboos.”

Sarah’s own adolescence was spent at a Jewish school – a time in her life which has proved to have a hefty influence on her output – except possibly not in the way that her Jewish Studies teachers imagined: “It was a definite influence when it comes to desire - the whole ‘Oh you can’t eat this or that, you’re not allowed. If you touch someone you’ll see the world through rose-tinted glasses. You touch a sense of reality if you sleep with someone’ – all that stuff really inspired me but I don’t think they meant for it to be taken like that!”

Sarah Lederman. Sirens.

This sense of restrained sexuality has filtered into her work not only through her own experiences, but also through her study of female literature, such as Angela Carter’s eroticised fairytales. In pieces such as ‘Sirens’ and ‘Siren in Hampstead Ponds’, dark fissions filter through the dreamy fragments with a similarly implied sexuality. A fan of Waterhause’s work too, Lederman says she painted ‘Siren in Hampstead Ponds’ as winter drew in, as “a memory of the summer”, when she used to go swimming in Hampstead ponds. Vividly sun-speckled and misty, the painting glistens like it could fade away into legend at any moment.

The artist herself is set for an MA at London’s prestigious Goldsmiths in September, and we’ll also be seeing her on television shortly as part of the imminent Sky documentary ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman.’ As for the wistful figures in her paintings - are they all portraits of her too? “I think they can be anyone – they’re an emotion. I don’t see them as self-portraits - they have their own personality. I want people to think that it’s something that gets them in some way, I don’t want people to think ‘that’s Sarah’, I want them to think, ‘that’s me.’

For more information on upcoming shows, see