Thursday, July 14, 2011

... in which we remember why Sanford Sanchez is not an artist

Many moons ago, yours truly -- Sanford Sanchez -- was an aspiring artist. Art school, beret, black clothing: the whole deal. Without exaggerating the merits of my art, making the work was extremely satisfying. But, how to make a living doing it? This was a bit tricksy. As you know, I moved to New York right after finishing undergrad where I had that ridiculously low-paid internship. Many of my art-school friends were there, but what they were doing as "art" was not exactly up my street. So, although I found myself at a bit of an impasse then and took a different route, I've often tried to find ways to keep on making things if only for my personal amusement.

Now, one such project along these lines is called "Flatpack Friends" in which I make friends, literally, out of cardboard and mail them off to humanoid friends, often at some lonely outpost in the back of beyond. So, driving home the other day, I happened to see a stack of these cardboard boxes. What to do with them, though?
One of my more humble creations of late has been this "scare owl," which would theoretically keep the raccoons and squirrels out of the vegetable patch. Totally ineffective, and also increasingly sad is this owl now that he has been repeatedly "softened" by the sprinkler system. Anyway, seeing the boxes and looking at the owl made me think about feathers. It would be cool, I thought, to make something vaguely to do with feathers.

So, while I had started to fumble around with ink drawings of bird wings—the pictorial model I had in mind being the wings of Caravaggio's Amor Victorious—I quickly reconsidered. I wasn't aiming to produce a beautiful drawing of feathers; what I wanted was a cool cardboard object. Within seconds, I had found an awesome image online of magnified feathers, which I then tweaked, flipped and combined in Photoshop.

Then, around 11 PM (Point #1 toward my title) I ran over to campus where I taped the cardboard box to the wall, hooked the computer to the beamer and traced the design onto the box with a marker. That took about two hours last night. Good fun!
I had a hard time sleeping last night, in part because I was so eager to keep working on this project. (Point #2 toward my title). So, first thing this morning, I took the delineated box out back and started painting in the background in black. All of that looked pretty cool. The palette of black on tan, however, was a little too close to "the day job." And I had been planning to use three colors anyway—well, two colors of pigment plus the tone of the untouched cardboard.
However, once I had watered down this acrylic burnt sienna to the liquidy texture I was looking for, it became this insanely orange hue. Hmm. That was not exactly the palette I had had in mind. And the more I painted in the mid-range, veinous patterning of magnified feather-fibers, the more I had associations with tiger-stripes, psychedelia, etc. Blech.

The only way I could think to save this—note the missionary fervor (Point #3 toward title!)—was by complicating the excessively simplified figure/ground relationship operative to that point. It just wasn't interesting visually to have these thick, uninterrupted cordons of bare cardboard with black and burnt sienna demurely cowering in their circumscribed quarters.

So, this meant inventing some centralizing light source that would bind the image as a whole (even though composed of the same image mirrored horizontally) and then using the orange as a fictive "shadow" on the underside of these feather fronds. (Curiously enough, this also reminded me of a strange painting I had done back in the day). Because I was spinning the box around on the table on our back porch, it created all kinds of cool drips and so on. But, I was also getting low on paint, the flies were coming out and, back to the title of this post, I was becoming incredibly obsessed and massively frustrated that I just! couldn't! get! it! right! with this project. An admittedly frivolous project, mind you, on a worthless piece of cardboard box that I'll mail to a friend to use as his leaving trunk!

So, an episode like this may serve to remind us why Sanford Sanchez is not who he used to be. Not that there was anything wrong with that young artist at left. But, the lack of sleep; the obsessive, unrelenting fixation on very specific visual problems; the absolute commitment to those problems and the exclusion of most other things ... well, those may be good solutions for other people, but this Sanchez needs to live by a different code. I'll tell you what.