Artist moved from biology to painting, developing her voice in the District

Sarah Koss has studied biology, conducted lab research and published work in The Journal of Neuroscience.

And now, she creates art.

Her wall drawing, the centerpiece of a recent show in the newest gallery in Smith Hall, shows this understanding of science and the human condition. The first-year graduate student created the larger-than-life piece with ink and charcoal, as part of a series in the gallery titled “Inspiration, though, is contagious and multiform.”

Smith Hall of Art will feature art shows organized by professors in this new gallery – a former printing room – every few weeks.

In her piece, “Something, something, Laocoon,” Koss draws on a variety of influences – from biology, history and art history to perceived disconnects in modern life.

The title “Laocoon” references the myth of the Trojan priest who warned soldiers to reject any horse-themed gifts from the Greeks. The mural features an outline of a statue of the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons, as well Hellenistic and Egyptian icons. Koss’ work also makes industrial and biological references. Her emphasis on biology, including a rendition of the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates basic functioning, is a nod to her undergraduate work.

Koss graduated from Virginia Tech in 2007 with degrees in psychology, biology and studio art. After publishing work and continuing lab research, Koss realized medical school – and her “life plan” – was not what she genuinely wanted to do.

“Lab work is monotonous. I was interested in the ideas of what we were doing, but the actual day-to-day work was just boring. So I threw out all of my life plans. It’s actually a scary transition from a straightforward path into this life, but it’s what I’m passionate about,” Koss said.

Koss’ style is realized in her approach to the creative process. Instead of forming a specific idea and molding a piece to fit that conception, Koss references photographs – typically pictures from art history books – to create a piece she finds “visually interesting.”

“I work with the work. I let it take on a life of its own and then I try to respond to what it’s telling me,” she said.

Koss’ second work is a reconstructed Go board, the board used in the two-player Chinese strategy game. Made of two Masonite boards with gesso, nails and paint chips, the work simulates how complex the game’s configurations can become.

“I found it interesting that by playing the game, you negate the game. The board gets so confusing that you digress from a game with very specific rules into just playing with the board,” she explained.

Koss said since the University is not known for its art programs, she was allowed to develop her own voice.

She said, “D.C is a great city for art, and since (GW) isn’t an art school I have the freedom to develop as an artist. Art schools seem to have very specific ideas about what the right education entails, but here I can find myself and move freely.”

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