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28 DECEMBER 1997 STAMFORD ADVOCATE COVER ARTS SECTION
HAVE BRUSH, WILL TRAVEL
SANDY GARNETT GOES WHERE THE ACTION IS
By Beth Cooney, Staff Writer
Sandy Garnett is an artistic roadie.
Instead of hauling amps to for rock groups, Garnett lugs brushes and paints to his gigs.
His portfolio includes CD covers and promotional work for established rockers like Blues Traveler and Phish.
Last summer, he was the artist-in-residence for the H.O.R.D.E. tour, a caravan of bands headlined by the legendary Neil Young that made stops in 40 U.S. cities. Garnett rode in one of the 15 tour buses with a box full of acrylics.
At each venue, the Old Greenwich resident was on the sidelines, splashing a Chevrolet with colorful scenes of the American countryside as the bands cranked.
Sometimes he would rock along, painting Neil Young in rapid rhythms during his sets. "It gave me great discipline to paint under that kind of pressure," says Garnett. "When I got back from two months of this, I was fired up, filled to the brim with creativity. The paintings just started flying out of me."
This melding of music with palette has paid off for the young artist, who can say something unusual for a 27 year-old who studied literature and art at St. Lawrence University. "I've been making my living as an artist since the day I graduated from college."
"It's been hand to mouth a lot of the time," he continues, "but that's true for some very established artists. I'm a meal away from being a starving artist, which at this stage is gratifying. It's allowed me to honor my calling."
While the H.O.R.D.E. tour commission may be Garnett's most visible venture, his fine art has been making its own kind of noise.
His fourth solo show is on display in the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Gallery at Stamford's Rich Forum through January. His is workin on plans for at least two more shows next year and is keeping busy with commissions for portraits and freelance projects for his music industry contacts. Talks are in teh works for his return to the H.O.R.D.E. tour next summer. The car he painted last summer is part of the collection at the GM Museum in Detroit.
All of this activity is a stimulating end to a means for Garnett, who says he has built a portfolio of more than 300 paintings with the suste...
But more than anything, I want to make a contribution to fine art," he says.
"For a long time I had these 300 paintings that no one had seen. I have the need to show now, because I feel like I've really developed my own voice. I have something to say now."
Content is evident in Garnett's ambitious portfolio. His figures have evolved from studied, true forms to modernistic creatures with an edge. He is no longer afraid to stretch necks, lengthen a face, or exaggerate an expression to depict a mood.
Some of his early works include large three-dimensional faces that seem to have a strong Andy Warhol influence. Garnett acknowledges the comparison, but says he's over that phase.
"I feel like I've turned a corner in that I've achieved a fluidity I couldn't find in my commercial work," he says. He describes his style as eclectic expressions, stories really, saying, "There's a notion that art as a narrative has ended and I completely reject that. I try to put various genres together on the canvas. I think art should be a language like letters in the alphabet, and that's where I'm going. I don't have any trouble drawing on inspiration from other artists. I think new art is also a fusion of the past."
If Garnett sounds intense, it may be because he's in an insatiable phase now. He sometimes paints from dawn to dusk. At least once a week, he travels to New York City to make gallery contacts and view the work of others.
The artist says he is taking responsibility for his own art education because his undergraduate studies were lacking in that department. "I had to appease my family who sort of saw me going down a corporate route," he says of his otherwise fine liberal arts exposure. "I suppose I did that in my own way by marketing myself." Garnett had his own commercial studio by his sophomore year in college. He also wrote an unpublished novel as his senior independent project.
In between classes, he chases his artistic longings on the road.
He made the scene by hanging out backstage at concerts, pretending he was part of Blues Traveler's entourage. His timing was impeccable. Blues Traveler was on the cusp of making it big.
"I would just show up early, shake a few hands, sit on the amp and sketch," he says. He was never ejected. "Eventually, John Popper (Blues Traveler's distinctive lead vocalist) noticed me. He told me, 'Keep following us, it could work out.' After about 1 1/2 years of doing this, they started giving me jobs."
This persistence helped Garnett land one of his first commercial jobs. He did the graphics for Blues Traveler's newsletter for three years and got comisions for CD covers from the band's contacts in the music industry. The only drawback was that his contracts were freelance, usually with up-and-coming artists on independent labels. Once a band makes it, he says, they often have to rely on in-house record label artists because of contractual obligations.
Such was the case with Blues Traveler. Garnett says Popper dropped his name when Chevrolet was looking for a H.O.R.D.E. tour artist. "And I was back on the road."
Garnett has never considered seeking work as a record label artist, fearing it would limit his creativity. He like to choose his own bands, his own adventures. Still, he says, he will probably join the H.O.R.D.E. entourage again this summer. "I was afraid that two months on the road would distract me from my primary purpose, my art," he says. "But it seems to fuel me."