Whereas 'The Year of an Artist' documents a journal entry a day through the year of 2011, 'Bloodsport' will talk more generally about Garnett's art survival as a professional painter and sculptor for 25 years, living off the land of fine art for every penny of his existence. 'The Blood Sport of Art' is scheduled for 2018 release and will be Garnett's third autobiographical book.
This book will recount Garnett's story about the full contact blood sport of professional fine art and how he has managed to be a full time professional at it since college.
THE BLOOD SPORT OF ART
© By Sandy Garnett
When I was little I had a knack for conjuring things in my mind and seeing them out in the physical world through patience and perseverence. There was a blue carpet in my room with a textured, curly pattern woven into it that served as the road map for my match box cars and small plastic animals. I would build zoos and roadways out of lincoln logs, tinker toys and these transluscent plastic squares that would fit together to form compartments for the animals. My mother would wonder what I was doing and she would find me hours later in the same spot, working away on my construction, two or three years old.
I had the same interest in drawing. When I was four I copied a children’s book illustration of three mice running with an oil can. I also copied a Sesame Street pillow cover with all the characters. My nursery school teacher thought I had traced them, and she didn’t believe my mother when my mother told her that I had freehanded them at the kitchen table by looking at the originals.
I could sit and draw for hours. When I was three or four Action Jackson and G.I. Joe came out. These guys were so cool, imagining them in different scenarios of manly danger. I would draw narratives of these action figures and the wars they fought. In 1976 Star Wars came out and so did the little figures that we all played with. We had fun creating narratives out of these little toys and I started drawing space wars and Star Wars characters.
I remember getting my first record album at Stoler’s when I was seven years old. It was a double album of the rock and roll band Kiss called Kiss Alive II. These guys wore gothic, metal plated costumes and Gene Simmons had a lizard tongue to help him spit blood and fire. The stage shot flames and the band rocked. I started drawing rock art and band logos at the age of seven.
I was also into cartoons. I found the work of Chuck Jones brilliant and hysterical. Chuck Jones did the best Bugs Bunny, he created The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Marvin Martian, and brought a serious adult humor and hilarious facial expressions to the above and Daffy Duck, Elmer Fud, The Bull who Fights Bugs Bunny, The Crusher who wrestles Bugs Bunny, The Witch who terrorizes Bugs Bunny, and so on. Chuck Jones also did the animation for Dr. Seuss’s Grinch Who Stole Christmas, which adds all the humor to this timeless animation. Dr. Seuss was an early influence on cartooning, the word play, the creativity. I liked Maurice Sendack, the Berenstain Bears, Richard Scarry was brilliant.
My mom grew up in New York City like her mother and her mother's mother. My mother went to school with Nina Hirschfeld, whose father was the famous caricaturist Abe Hirschfeld. My mother had been over to their apartment and had sat in the dentist’s chair from which he created his timeless illustrations. Every Sunday I would look for the Ninas hidden in the Hirschfeld drawings on the covers of the New York Times Arts and Leisure section. Drawing for me was about line. If I could get the line right I always figured the color could follow.
We moved to London for a couple years, and there I found Tin Tin and Asterix and Obelix. These two series of cartoon books were funny and very smart. The illustrations and writing pushed my sense of narrative at the ages of eight and nine, the writing was good reading for my age, the humor kept me laughing and the art was excellent, particularly that of Asterix. There were some other cool handbooks that were made by English presses, like ‘A Spy’s Handbook’, with countless small, color illustrations. I found these to be equally interesting, although I don’t have the references.
When we moved to London in the summer, before school started, my brother and I spent a couple weeks building miniature WWII models at the Veteran’s Museum on the Thames. We were lined up on benches and we made various battle scenes with these tiny plastic soldiers. We would make the landscape out of dirt and clay, coat the landscape with moss for grass, small trees, and set up these little battle scenes. We could also paint our little soldiers. All of this was fascinating to me, creating these small historical narratives. I continued to paint tiny models when I was in London. There was a castle that my parents gave us for Christmas when I was nine. This was accompanied by World War figurines that my brother and I played tirelessly with.
I drew one of these soldiers, an English infantry man from the 18th century, from a cartoon reference I found in one of these illustrated books on proper military attire. This was a strong copy at age 8. I also drew complex castle scenes, medieval turf wars, and I started to draw monsters in England along with some fellow classmates; if not dragons then the more contemporary ghouls the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, The Mummy and so on.
In London we were introduced to Legos. We visited Legoland, which blew my mind. Matt and I spent a lot of time building all sorts of things out of Legos. There was an early, battery operated version of a lego engine that propelled itself on wheels, so we did cool things with that. There was also a wire that we used, so that legos could be hauled on a wire from one spot to the next through the air. Space legos started to come out and we were hooked on space legos and little villages with small people, lego style.
I was always drawing. One morning I drew my father’s hands and feet, which I still have. My mother loved these drawings, the only ones I think really made it back from London that were saved.
Before we moved back to the States we visited Germany. We stayed with my father’s associate Mr. Strasser. He had been a little boy during World War II and could whip off these amazing drawings of German soldiers running alongside these Panzer tanks, visions of his old childhood. He told stories of going out in the battlefields and finding weapons. He told stories of how some of his friends had died in these fields by handling weaponry that had misfired or charges that had not gone off properly. In England we picked up a bunch of Smurfs, which had permeated Europe and England. When we returned to what I consider my hometown stateside we were the first Americans to have these little guys for three or four years, which I found interesting. I learned early on that if one moves around one sees things that people in other places have not seen.
Star Wars had evolved its line of figures by the time we had returned from England. I remember our parents gave us the Millenium Falcon for Christmas and we were beside ourselves with joy. I continued to draw and found myself doing these very complex mazes, which mirrored the hedge labyrinths we had walked through in England and were a precursor to my lifelong Fingerprint Project.
My father broke his leg and rode his favorite chair for six weeks one winter, during which he taught me backgammon and chess. He kept meticulous score of our running series of matches. I got him a couple times in backgammon but there was no chance in chess. Early on I found a lot of creativity in the strategy of a chess board, imagining a battle or a narrative.
We got some early video games, which were fun but did not take up all of our time. We played sports and were outside a lot, so the inside time remained creative. I kept drawing. I fell into the board game Dungeons and Dragons for a short spell because I liked painting the figures, which I also started to draw. My brother and I got into comic books for awhile. I was interested in books, comic books, making my own books, so I would saddlestitch construction paper together and start books that I rarely finished. I liked Mad and Cracked magazines for their cartooning and humor, and I also liked the medieval element of books like Conan the Barbarian and Elfquest, an interest that had been awakened in England and mirrored my fleeting interest in painting Dungeons and Dragons figurines.
I started taking an art class with the one art studio teacher who I really enjoyed, Bob Lavigne. Bob coincidentally moved with me from middle school to the high school, so I was fortunate to have him for six years in a row. In seventh grade he told my mother that I could make a living as an artist, something she never told me until I was well into adulthood and making a living as an artist.
In high school I quickly became interested in the Grateful Dead, the most famous sixties San Francisco psychadelic band that continued to tour and build a massive national following after the Woodstock years had gone by. The iconography of this band was equally interesting to me, the imagery, the art, the history of Haight Ashbury and all of the other sixties bands. I started making rock art that riffed off of the Haight Ashbury artists, who had riffed off the Art Nouveau artists from Paris of the 1890’s. I designed and printed tee shirts and posters that I sold in the parking lots at Grateful Dead shows in order to pay for my concert tickets and travel expenses. As one of the ‘high school artists’ I started doing art related things for the school yearbook and local bands. I did a couple posters for music events in high school. I fell deeper into graphic arts, illustration, and hand lettering, partially inspired by the hippie buzzes that fueled these kaleidoscopic acrobatics. I painted one acrylic on canvas picture before college, a primary color study that was interesting but does not survive.
I grew up looking at Norman Rockwell, who I maintain is one of America’s best painters, certainly one of it’s best portraitists. I was always dazzled by realism, and as I got into rock art, record label art, I started looking at all of the Surrealists and graphic engineers who would play with the eye. Dali came into focus for his technical superiority and for his ability to stretch realism, Magritte did the deadpan thing and had an everyday element to his surrealism that appealed to me, Maxfield Parrish was fantastical in his graphic precision and luminous color. M.C. Escher was top of the heap for his dogged explorations of reverse worlds colliding and interweaving in woodblock, a feat that makes him one of the very best in the 20th century. There were a lot of graphic designers and illustrators from the San Francisco Fillmore scene that I studied, like Rick Griffin, Mouse and Kelly, the cover artist for the progressive rock band Yes named Roger Dean, and other rock art legends.
When I got to St. Lawrence University I found the studio art department boring and uninstructive. I had an art teacher whose idea of strong art was to take Louis Benuel and Dali’s silly ‘Un Chien Andalou’ film and repeat it 15 times in 15 languages. I saw no point in the film and no art in this professor’s appropriation of the film. There was another art professor whose idea of strong painting was to staple his socks to a canvas of splattered paint. I found refuge in the art history department under the patient tutelage of the late Elizabeth Kahn, whose passion for history helped me to realize that if I wanted to make original things I would have to see what had come before me.
I started making art for the college bands and did some tee shirt designs my freshman year while I coasted, as I had through high school. I was busy partying my face off freshman year, so upon return for the summer I got in trouble and spent a hard summer in Mesa, Arizona, where I found humility and the calling to be an artist. This coming of age story is chronicled in my first book, entitled The Baloney Express.
When I was on my walkabout I decided to make art for a living. I must have been malnourished as I walked the Mesa highway that fateful summer because this path, the path of the full time professional artist I would not recommend to my worst enemy. Friendly weekend painting is one thing. Painting to pay the mortgage is another level of insanity, and less than a fraction of a percent of the artists out there can ever do that, regardless of their creative firepower.
When I was away I decided to make art for a living, for better or worse. I came home with passion, focus, my head screwed on properly again. I designed a business card, thinking deep into the future with my new company name 'Graphics 2000', I returned to sophomore year at St. Lawrence and threw myself into art making for muscians. I made art for the college bands, I started doing tee shirts for college related gigs, I did some of my own tee shirts that I sold on campus, and I started chasing East Coast bands around that I wanted to work for. This was really the beginning of my art career.
There were a lot of bands that started to get a name for themselves when I was at college. My friends went to high school with the guys who made Blues Traveler, and I had gotten hooked on their three song tape demo, which was the standard format before the ipod blew the music industry up a decade later. Blues Traveler played at our fraternity house my sophomore year, I met the guys, showed them my art, and they told me to follow them, which I did. I made a bunch of spec work for this band and chased them all over the place. I would get to the venue so early that the club would let me right in. I would wear the same black on black outfit so the band got used to seeing me sidestage, sitting on some stacks, out of the way but busy, writing. The band would come in, the crew would set up, I would not move from my post, so I would never get asked if I had a backstage pass. This was how I got in with Blues Traveler. I’d try to get a handshake in, I’d show some art, then I’d drive five hours back to school. St. Lawrence is in Canton, New York and hugs the border of Canada, so every trip was a long one and that is the deal for St. Lawrence students.
One night, after I drove seven hours down to see Blues Traveler play at Wetlands, I stood in line with my portfolio over my head in the rain. The place was packed. John Popper, lead harp and singer for Blues Traveler, waded through the front of the club, probably because it gave him a good buzz before the show, and took me by the arm. We walked through the sea of people, up the stairs, past the big bouncers to Dave Prescheur, Blues Traveler’s manager. Popper said, “I never want this guy to wait for one of our shows again.”
That was a turning point in my brand new, one year old career. That night I got my backstage passes, the hallowed laminates that allow you to go wherever you want with a band, and this street cred got me work with Blues Traveler and their friends, many other bands in the region in a growing scene that produced some major acts. I spent the rest of college working for a bunch of these bands, maybe 50 in all, doing cd covers, concert posters, backstage passes, mailers, and so on. All of this work was done on the drafting table with black rapidograph ink pens, the hybrid ones with cartridges, before the disposables came out. I made hundreds of very intricate, symmetrical looking pieces of artwork by hand, incorporating art nouvea and sixties inspired lettering into these works. The time and obsession involved in these graphic images interest me most when I look at my archives. The focus to detail is something that can be traced throughout my twenty years to this book. I think the willingness to put time and focus into detail are important factors in growing fluent with any discipline, to let the clock tick and fall into the rhythm of a passion.
Another important factor in growing fluent with an activity is not wasting time. In college I spent thirty to fifty hours a week working on my studio while doing full time college. St. Lawrence was not top of the food chain academically so this was easy for a sober minded overachiever who had slacked off in high school. When projects were in I would spend more time, and I spent a lot of time driving around and meeting new bands as I was not in some cultural center like Manhattan. I had to go find clients to work with. I would do my school work, the weekend would come, I would take off and go see new bands I wanted to work with, or existing bands I had as clients. For my twenty-first birthday I got a fax machine that could handle oversized sheets of paper. This was right before everyone had a computer in his or her dorm room. I borrowed my brother's first mac my senior year to write my Baloney book on, and I started to realize the importance of how computers would eventually be an important tool in my studio.
This is a work in progress