“I never gave myself another option,” he says, sitting in his Norwalk studio on a recent morning.
That conviction took root some 25 years ago, when at the age of 19, Garnett says, “I asked myself what was important in life for me, and that’s when I said I want to make art for a living.”
And he has, in multiple genres and styles. There are his fingerprint portrait paintings and totems he has created with their unique whorls and lines. Traditional portraits hang alongside famous faces delivered in pop-art style. A surreal, elongated figure stretches out on her canvas. There are the Garnett Girls — his distinct take on the female visage and form. His coffee table is sandblasted from beneath, a technique he learned to etch images and portraits on gravestones.
“I’ve done a thousand of those,” he says of the gravestones.
“The hardest thing was to learn how to think in different genres at the same time,” he says. “In the beginning, it was torture, but now it’s just how I think. … It’s very fluid. It’s been my life’s work for so long now, it’s just what I know.”
It is the hustle to find clients, markets and opportunities, and to take on different styles and materials, however, that is an art unto itself. It is this story that fuels his most recent creation. “I thought it would be interesting to write a daily journal entry of my art survival to answer the question that people always ask me, ‘What’s your day like?’”
“This book was a little bit about putting to words the fact that I have to look into the mirror, not because of my ego, but in order to see what this studio needs in order for me to stay here,” he says. “This is a reminder of what it takes.”
Artists are often asked about artistic inspiration, but Garnett delves into a more fundamental query. By sharing what he does each day, he conveys the inspiration behind the pursuit of the profession itself. It is not a how-to, but rather a glimpse into struggles and successes, time management and the fear when bills loom large and the next payday seems far away.
He hopes the book is helpful for someone who decides to set out on a less conventional life, or that it resonates with friends and family who foster and champion professional artists in their midst. He also has heard from small business owners who relate to the struggles — kindred spirits in the challenge of running an operation that is so tied up in self-worth and self-preservation.
Garnett has grown with his art since he was a student at Darien High School. He made silkscreen T-shirts and posters that he sold at Grateful Dead concerts to net him the income for concert tickets. As a student at St. Lawrence University, he began following bands, including Blues Traveler, making posters and backstage passes, which led to work with Bill Graham Presents. That led to CD cover art, and ultimately a 35-city Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere tour (HORDE, originated by Blues Traveler in 1992) in 1997, during which he painted two GM cars during the performances.
Garnett’s early art education was a handful of studio courses at St. Lawrence University, while his main passion was art history. He double majored in English and writing. “I took refuge in art history. If I wanted to make original work, I thought it might behoove me to see what came before me.”
Garnett occupies an intriguing intersection. He relishes in sharing his artistic inspirations, but is as animated when talking about the processes behind his works. As an art historian tracks the evolution of art objects in stylistic terms, Garnett is diligent in cataloging how one project leads to another and how lessons learned in one inform the next.
“The more I live my dream, the more it makes sense to me,” he writes in “The Year of an Artist.”
“Although my life is not one of luxury, my mind lives in the luxury of my own creation, with no boss, no system that I have to mold myself into, and the more I live the more people ask me about how I have managed to do what I have done, live a life by my creativity.”
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