What does being an artist mean to you?
Thirty years surviving by making and selling my art means hard scrabble freedom to do exactly what I want in life, which is to learn various tools and materials and make timeless art objects. My art survival is very much attached to my existence and the way I see the world. I have to be okay with never knowing how to cover as a state of being, so this requires a fair amount of stupidity, courage, and an inordinate amount of cosmic faith. I can’t begin to explain how many times I’ve been on my last legs and went to the easel, asking the universe for assistance. It has always come in the strangest of ways. I don’t have a net. I’ve been standing on the edge and have to look at my spirit hard in the mirror every day to find the answers.
How did you get started, and what’s the first work you sold, or were paid to do?
The first work I sold was a watercolor to a classmate for $10 at the age of 14. A best friend in life and I started selling my tee shirt and poster designs in Grateful Dead parking lots when I was 15 and I started making art for local bands in high school. In college I made art for local bands and got in with Blues Traveler and all the jam bands of that time. I made hundreds of pieces of art for bands while in college. By graduation I had three cd covers under my belt, which for me was some important qualifier. By hook or crook I was going to make art for a living, much to the dismay of my parents.
What is the medium you most enjoy working in right now?
I have five or six lifetime series of paintings that I always circle back to which revolve around identity (traditional and abstract), the female form, and cityscapes/interiors. I also like to sculpt in multiple mediums. In the grand scheme of things I enjoy juxtaposing one genre to the next. I’ve written about Reconstructionism and have been thinking this way for over twenty years. As a first generation Reconstructionist I see genres as letters in the alphabet, that when combined artistically create new words and stories, the best of which represent the zeitgeist during which those art objects are made.
Which particular artist, or work of art, has had the most influence on the work you do?
The Austrian Expressionists, the Pre-Impressionists, Art Nouveau, some of the Surrealists, hundreds of artists, architects and musicians are in the soup.
How does your particular environment impact what you see and feel?
I have spent my career on the outskirts of New York City, where I now live and work half of the week, so the pulse of New York City runs through my veins. I have created my art career outside of the commercial gallery system for better or worse, so I’m not very influenced by current trends. I’m always trying to create an art object that will stand outside of time. What is timeless art? This is a question I have been asking myself since my first painting, 1360 paintings ago.
How do you know when you’ve completed something good?
Sometimes it’s a sharp snap and sometimes it’s a flirty dance, but usually I belabor the ‘finish’ of the painting. I agree with fellow creatives who feel that art is never quite completed. I’ve driven off a cliff on a lot of art, so the key thing is to get 5 or 10 feet from the edge and stop. I usually reflect positively on my old work. John Prine just passed away and I like what he said. If you write a song you better like what you make because you’ll be singing it the rest of your life. I don’t have to paint the same picture, but when I look back on my archive the greatest frustration I have is that I destroyed or painted over a number of paintings that I would like to see again. I don’t look back on much of my creative output and curse myself. The interesting thing about looking back on a 30 year-old piece of work that you haven’t seen before is fun. My friend sent my first Central Park painting that I painted twenty plus years ago and it was like looking at an old friend who I had not seen in decades.
Did you ever have any doubts about going down this road?
No. I decided on my Arizona walkabout at age 19 that life is short and I should do what I love. That decision came easy once I got my head screwed back on right, but I knew the rest would be the hard uphill battle part.
Is there another career you ‘almost’ chose?
My mother a few years back said for the first time, ‘I always thought that you would be an architect.’ What? She’s right, I do love architecture, but I have been able to play with that by doing public art projects and lighting some buildings, which is plenty technical for me to geek out on. I’ll design and construct my own studio one day, but doing that for other people would probably drive me crazy.
What makes you smile?
My lovely wife Kate, my family, music, dogs, learning about new art processes, playing with my tools to make new art objects, the a-ha moment when a creative idea pops out of nowhere or coalesces, old friends who bring great stories and irreverent humor.
Favorite music for working?
I used to listen to tons of music while painting, but for years now I usually paint and sculpt to movies that have a lot of language in them so that I can ‘listen’ to them and glance at the screen here and there. I like ‘talky’ and inspirational movies.
Favorite movie, and why?
The Shawshank Redemption is my favorite film. I play this film when I am circling the finish on a painting. Morgan Freeman talks about the time and pressure of stone, about his innocent best friend’s miraculous escape, Andy’s artistically conjured wealth, his well deserved retribution, his inspirational newfound freedom, and how Andy teaches Red to have hope again. I believe in lifetime best friendships, loyalty, good karma, emitting good energy even when the chips are way down, and a lot of my art career is on my own (with my collectors) tilling the earth, doing my time, remaining hopeful that I will see another day as a professional artist.
What’s you go-to post work meal (and beverage)?
There is a great family-oriented bar a two minute walk away from my CT studio called ‘O’Neill’s’ after the brothers who bought the land and built this institution from scratch. I painted the large mural on the side of the building. This is my Cheers bar and I’m often on the regulars corner for food or drink or both. After I finish a day’s work I often go there for an onion soup and some wings, paired with either a red wine or cocktail.
Anything else you would have liked me to ask you?
When the market fell apart in 2008 I turned to book making; archiving, writing, illustration, book design, publishing. I put out two art catalogues of my work in hard cover, I finished and published my first book Baloney Express, and finished my first two Rainbow Riders kids books. Baloney Express is a daily diary of my 128 day walkabout in Arizona, best thing that ever happened to me. In 2010 I wrote a journal entry a day (365 entries) of what it’s like to be a professional artist, and titled the book ‘The Year of an Artist.’
AND, website and info on how readers can hire/buy stuff from you?
My website is sandygarnett.com – my email and phone are on every page of my website. People can buy prints of all mediums, sizes, and frame styles directly from my website. I also welcome email inquiries and calls regarding my 350 painting inventory and any painting, sculpture, and public art commissions. I understand that not all inquiries work out, but it is the art of the dance with collectors around the flame of art that always puts a spring in my step – the journey, not the destination.
Bio: My mother’s family is New York City by way of the St. Lawrence River towns in upstate New York going back to the late 17th Century, and my father’s family is Greenwich by way of Virginia, also an old American family.
My parents moved around for my father’s insurance job and they finally got a chance to settle in Connecticut, where I was mostly raised, with the exception of a mind expanding two years in London (8-10 years of age).
I was making architectural things out of toys on the patterned carpet of my bedroom when I was two or three for hours at a time, and I was constantly drawing. My NYC mother majored in Fine Art at Skidmore, so she was always playfully encouraging the artist in me.
Early on I associated art with media and ‘gigs.’ In second grade I did a caricature of our principal that ran in the school newspaper. It looked exactly like him but I don’t think he was totally amused like the rest of the school was.