At 29, Sahara Longe Has the Art World at Her Feet

Still, her career as an artist wasn’t a foregone conclusion. After leaving Heathfield School in Berkshire, she enrolled at Bristol University to study art history, but after realizing she was “really bad at writing essays,” dropped out after less than a year. Eavesdropping on a stranger’s conversation in a café about the Charles Cecil atelier in Florence turned out to be “life-changing.” She googled it, realized “this is exactly what I want to do,” and in 2015 headed to the prestigious painting school, where she spent the next four years. It’s an experience she describes as “tough, and probably a bit weird, but I loved the discipline and the complete madness of the whole thing. People would leave all the time as it was quite hard, but I just love that it really teaches you how to paint.” She left in 2019, but success was slow to follow. “Most people who go to Charles Cecil leave and do portrait commissions. But if you’re not really, really good, then you’re never going to make it. And I wasn’t very, very good,” she says matter-of-factly. It’s a statement many would disagree with, but she insists: “I was very slow, and so I found it very difficult.”

And so she went to Sierra Leone for five months and came back to Suffolk just as lockdown was about to hit. “And I just kind of gave it up. I was like, God, this is so tough, maybe I’ll do something else.” It was a year before she started painting again “just for myself,” with social media ultimately leading her back to the art world. “Everyone was on Instagram and looking at work, and that’s when people were like, ‘I really like this,’ and I actually started selling stuff.” During that time, she also messaged numerous galleries about representation; while most failed to respond, Ed Cross did, with Timothy Taylor following. “Nowadays, I sit next to people at fancy dinners and suddenly realize I messaged them on Instagram and they didn’t reply,” she says, sounding slightly horrified. “So I quickly go and delete the DM!”

To say those galleries must be kicking themselves now is an understatement. Longe’s large pieces command six figures, and there’s an endless line of ardent collectors waiting to get their hands on her work. “I know, it is quite cool,” she agrees somewhat sheepishly. “I’m still so shocked that anyone actually wants to buy anything.”

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