November 3, 2005
NAKED TWISTER BY Brita Belli for FFW
Sandy Garnett, one of the featured artists at the Loft Artist Association's Open Studios event this weekend, finds new ways to look at the figure... and fingerprints
By Brita Belli
“Let’s play Naked Twister” sounds like a drunken party suggestion. But artist Sandy Garnett has taken the proposal quite literally in his latest series of paintings, one so fresh he’s reluctant to show us the works-in-progress. His first “Twister Picture” rests on an easel in his first floor studio in South Norwalk, depicting two nude, slender young women delicately bent around one another like some adolescent sexual fantasy.
His piece that sold in New York - “Twister II”- is less soft-core than the first. The women pictured wear more defiant expressions, they seem posed in a warehouse (the artist’s New York studio), and there’s visible pubic hair. The 35-year-old Garnett is always working on four or five bodies of work concurrently, but when asked to indicate a common thread in his work the artist suggested that women are a unifying theme. “Women are the most beautiful things in the world and are the primary subjects of my creativity,” says the shaggy-haired, boyish-looking artist.
In his Reconstruction paintings, the more pliant-shaped women sit cross-legged in forests or contemplating. There is a movement and looseness to the lines of paint, like colored thread over the bodies, not found in the more literal, fluorescent glow of the Twister pieces. In his sculpture, Garnett has taken to turning a nude silhouette so that it faces all directions, looking at first glance like those icicle Christmas ornaments. His plan is to make an edition of 32 of the sculptures in bronze, a “Field of Figures’, with the financial support of his collectors, one of his most ambitious projects to date.
“I want to make things I’ve never seen before,” Garnett explains. “And I connect with collectors who respect this about me.”
Still, the series that stuck to Garnett most prominently is his work with fingerprints. He’s done giant, colored paintings of fingerprints. He’s carved three-dimensional fingerprints, like modern day totem poles, out of wood. He’s made recurring fingerprints and even put fingerprints on T-shirts. Fingerprints became his “thing”, his marketable, identifiable symbol. And, as an artist, he sees nothing wrong with branding.
It started when Garnett took a semester off from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York to do some soul searching about his career path. He says he started to see fingerprints everywhere – on glasses at restaurants, on windows and mirrors. Painting fingerprints became symbolic of his whole identity exploration, but also of others. The concentric designs were “representational portraits of individuals.” He also dismisses the idea that the thing he creates could become his pigeonhole.
“Just getting that ‘artist’ association is hard enough,” he says from an upstairs loft in the same South Norwalk building, another space he owns. “To make a body of work that people recall – that’s rewarding.”
Since Garnett was 19, he decided to pursue art as a fulltime career, and he’s treated it as such. He began by chasing bands like Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic and Phish, and ended with hundreds of projects for T-shirts and poster designs. That led to a show at the Palace Theater in Stamford, where he sold a number of pieces. Soon after, he found himself a studio with the Loft Artist Association in the antiques district of Stamford, where he’ll participate in the Open Studios event this weekend (though the rest of the year he now sublets that space). He’s kept his career afloat, not only though his constantly-evolving styles, but through his determination to run his art-making not as a hobby but as a small business. “There’s a perception about artists being free,” Garnett says. “Were all chasing the carrot of creativity. But there has to be a practical application to survive as an artist.”
He keeps an updated website, at sandygarnett.com, with hundreds of pictures of his paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures. He stays in touch with his clients and collectors and handles his own publicity. And he’ll take the occasional odd job, too, most notably providing gravestone etchings of lost loved ones for grieving families. It’s the kind of bizarre work that inevitably seeps into his personal art.
Carving has taken a larger portion of his output lately, as Garnett sought to make the figure, and the fingerprint, take shape in a new way. He’s immortalized his own family, both their faces and fingerprints, in totem-like columns from small-scale versions to several-feet-high wooden poles. Unlike many contemporary artists of all fields, he doesn’t feel limited by what’s come before. Instead, he says, “it’s important to build bridges between the genres, and in order to do that you must master a number of ways of seeing.”
As he’s taken his work to galleries as wide and far as Rebecca Hossack Galleries in London and the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, bought studio space in South Norwalk, and rented another space in New York City, Garnett’s focus has shifted away from the community of artists at the LAA building in Stamford. But he still takes comfort in the community there, and at heart, considers himself an “artist’s artist”. “My favorite thing is to talk shop,” he says. During the 12 years he spent there honing his craft among other artists, he says “The LAA offered a community that was supportive and cool.” And, he adds, “It’s one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever been in.”
The 26th Annual Loft Artist Association Open Studios is located at 737 Canal St., Stamford. Over 70 exhibiting artists of all mediums open their studios for viewing, talking and purchasing. Sat., Nov.5 & Sun., Nov. 6, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 323-4153 or visit www.loftartists.com for more information.