Sarah Dufresne: Art to Inspire Hope and Reassurance

Sarah Dufresne: Art to Inspire Hope and Reassurance 

By Leah Ching: Editor-in-Chief

Sarah Dufresne

Sarah Dufresne is a young local artist from Thunder Bay, Ontario who has burst onto the local arts scene with paintings that are both evocative and emotionally charged, demanding an emotional response from the viewer. With acrylic on canvas as her prefered medium, she also makes use of other objects and media forms like wire and moulding paste to create texture in unique and interesting ways. Dufresne’s artwork seamlessly blends warm and cool tones to create beautiful and thought-provoking atmospheric paintings.

Since bursting onto the local arts scene, Sarah Dufresne has had her art featured in Lakehead’s annual Juried Student Art Exhibition, for both this year and last. She has donated pieces to the annual Mozart and Martinis event held by The Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, and also has worked teaching an art camp to children at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.


Meeting Sarah at a local coffee shop for an interview, she arrives early and in impeccable spring style, with a white tee and a sherpa denim jacket. She talks about her art with honesty and passion, and the light and bubbly personality she brings to the conversation is easy to reflect back to the feel of her paintings.

Dufresne tells The Argus that it’s only recently that she’s gotten more seriously into art, although having grown up in a creative household and expressing creativity throughout her childhood.

As she grew older, she veered off a bit to pursue academics, and enrolled in Lakehead, working towards a degree and possibly career in Psychology. Being in the last year of her HBA Psychology degree at Lakehead University, Dufresne started taking Visual Arts courses at Lakehead as a way to mix things up a bit. “I was stressed out and tired of multiple choice exams. I was feeling a bit frustrated with where I was at, and art was a way to calm me down a bit. I started getting more and more into it after that.”

Dufresne found she was feeling stressed, uninspired, and lost after her second year in Psych and sought out art as a way of striking her balance, “I couldn’t get into the groove of it. I was scatterbrained and discouraged,” she said. After taking a drawing class, Dufresne ventured into painting and found she really loved it, which resulted in her taking a number of other painting classes. She tells The Argus, “the majority of my undergrad was focused around visual arts as well as psychology.” It was clear that art was a huge motivating factor for Dufresne throughout much of her undergrad.

After going through a creative block, Sarah and her father were able to set up a show at Bight, which helped boost her confidence and get her name out there into the local arts scene. “My dad invited me to do a show together and it was really an amazing experience. It opened up my creativity so much.”

Dufresne had her first display alongside her father, Guy Dufresne, at Mariner’s Hall last year. Pieces from the collection entitled “Our Journey” were on display at the waterfront hall last summer, and were met with an incredible reception from local audiences. The pieces in the father-daughter show displayed an artistic harmony that spoke to the depth of the relationship shared by the two painters. As they didn’t set out to portray specific content or subject matter, both artists were surprised by how well the pieces meshed with each other.

“We don’t live together, so it was really amazing when things fell into place so well,” said Dufresne. “We talked about things back and forth and really hoped for the best. It just kind of somehow worked. It was really amazing to see people connect with the art so much and have such emotional responses to it.”

Sarah spoke candidly about her dad, about growing up around art, and how it’s come to influence her in her own artistic journey. “My dad is also an artist, so I grew up around art in a very creative household.

She opened up about the inspiration for her art, and how personal experiences and themes of mental health undergirds strongly in what she creates. “My art does have to do a lot with mental health. I mean, what’s more personal than that? I’ve been able to use art as an outlet to fight through issues like anxiety and depression, and that’s huge to me. All of my paintings just come back to the emotion I was feeling at the time. What I felt, and how I feel people will feel when they look at it. Seeing strangers connect to my pieces has also been inspiring. It’s something you really can’t match.”

Dufresne’s abstract paintings feature mixtures of light and warm tones to create truly beautiful emotional pieces that are a sight to behold.  In describing her artwork, she reaffirmed that themes of light and hope were important to her. “Rather than up-front, and in-your-face content, I want my art to be thought provoking and invoke emotion and response from the viewer. My art always has a lot to do with light, light at the end of the tunnel, hope, and reassurance.”

In finding sources of inspiration, Dufresne cites her father, Guy Dufresne, as well as other artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Mark Rothko. In her early stages of painting, she also drew inspiration from the artist Julie Cosgrove. She also seeks out more contemporary inspiration from artists on Instagram and Twitter: artists that aren’t famous, but whose work she can identify with and find little things that speak to her. She creates
paintings that are profound and emotionally stirring, and her talent is demonstrative of a willingness to go outside of the box for artistic inspiration, and an emotional depth that is hard to deny.

After a highly successful opening, Sarah Dufresne is on the cusp of graduating with a Psychology degree from Lakehead, and is also keeping up with working on her art.

Dufresne currently has paintings hung up in both The Study Coffeehouse, and on Dean’s Row at Lakehead. Her art has seen inside of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, the Urban Infill exhibition, local restaurants, and the homes of many locals.

Just last weekend, Dufresne had her art installed at Urban Infill, Art in the Core 11, both as a solo artist, and part of a larger collective with other members of the Lakehead Visual Arts Department.  “After doing my first show, I basically started combining psychology and visual art and bringing those two worlds together. I’m thinking about getting into Art Therapy in the future, but I’ve decided I want to do another undergrad. I’ve applied to a few programs and have  OCAD (The Ontario College for Arts and Design) in mind.”

Dufresne’s ability to transfer such vivid emotions onto canvas reveals talent and emotional awareness beyond her years. After graduating, she is looking toward not only extending her artistic training, but toward a potential show over the summer, and doing more collaborative art with her father.

Sarah Dufresne and her artwork can be found on her instagram at @dufresh / @artfressh , where she posts new updates about the art she is working on, or where she can be
contacted for commissions.