Freeze Frame: Captured connections of John Sanchez
By Rachel Galvin
A shadow, a muted line, a blurred shape, a moment too quick to be crisp. Faded and fuzzy like the memory it represents, each John Sanchez drawing or painting is a freeze-framed moment in time.
Like a crafty lepidopterist on a quest for the rarest butterfly, he wanders the world in search of beauty to catch it and preserve it for others to see. His sense of beauty, however, comes in the often forgotten or passed over moments ... cars lined up at a stop light, clouds reflected in a puddle, the circular glow of stop lights on a pitch black night. Although seemingly mundane, common experiences such as these, according to Sanchez, are the ones that should be cherished most because they are too soon gone. Part of the common human experience, these moments are precious because of the unity they bring, he believes.
“Everyone has seen sunrises, sunsets, stopped at a red light, seen an airplane, trucks. They can understand,” said Sanchez.
Each piece is reminiscent of something he grew up with, a piece of his blue collar background, his hometown or a place seen on his travels.
“I look for the New Jersey I grew up in everywhere and anywhere. Some pictures are of Florida, North Carolina, Chicago ... anywhere I travel,” he said, adding, “I grew up with divorced parents. I spent weekends with my dad and we were always drawing. I have always had a penchant for drawing. It was sort of a social way for me to make friends.”
Seeing art more as an outlet than a career, Sanchez struggled with job after job, but nothing seemed to bring him happiness. Eventually, he found an anatomy for artists class at the Art Students League of New York and began studying there before and after work.
He didn't realize that he could really make money from art until seeing his teacher, Peter Cox’s, art show.
“My teacher invited the students to go see one of his shows. I had no idea what that meant. We saw his jaw-dropping art and saw red dots next to some of them. We found a book that showed what the colors meant and the prices. A red dot meant sold. Looking at the prices, I didn't understand. This isn't $50 on something you'd buy on a whim. This is substantial money, money you can live off of for a while. It was so impressive to me. Here is someone living this,” he said.
After that, he decided that animation might make a good career fit and he found a school, the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.
“I dropped everything and moved to Florida,” he said. “I broke off a long-term relationship. It was a big change. I started all over. I went for a short while and then transferred to (what would become) the Art Institute in Miami. I left after a few semesters. It was all heavy computer-based. It was not my original intention. I wanted to draw. I quit school, but then went back to Miami to get a fine arts degree. It was the only program heavy on using a piece of paper and a pencil, as opposed to point and click.”
In his pursuit to gain insight into the art world, he made his way into working for a major gallery.
“I got lucky,” he said. “I got an internship at the Dorsch Gallery (in Miami). I mopped, swept, cleaned toilets. I wound up living in the gallery in an apartment. I rented it in exchange for helping to put up shows. I was showing my art anywhere and everywhere, including the pop-up shows. My resume filled up quickly. Once in a while, I would sell something.
“Then, something crazy happened. An artist backed out of a show. This had never happened before at the Dorsch. The owner came to me and asked, 'Want to have a show?' I was already hugging him. Of course! It was my first solo show.”
Sanchez already had paintings available, but wanted to create a cohesive show. But the theme eluded him, until something happened. While sitting out back, beer in hand, thinking, a 747 flew overhead. The noise was booming. The plane was certainly not unusual; after all, they were in a direct flight path. But something about the timing and the loudness of the plane made him take notice.
He explained, “My father was a pilot in Cuba during the aviation heyday. He passed away in 1993. I'm not particularly spiritual. But, mentally, I took it as a sign. That's when I started doing an airplane motif. The show, Take Off, was a very successful run for the gallery and for me. After that, I thought 'I guess I'm going to do this.' Thanks, Dad.”
That was in 2005. Today, Sanchez's paintings and drawings have been shown in multiple galleries and museums and he is an adjunct professor at numerous universities, including Broward College, the University of Miami and Miami-Dade College, among others. He specializes in what he learned first – anatomy for artists. He also went back to school and got his graduate degree in fine arts.
His work won the South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Artists Fellowship’s top award of $15,000, which he is using to not only sustain himself, but also to help take care of his 3-year-old and 4-month old children.
With a full schedule as a professor and a dad at home in Weston, he still squeezes in studio time in Miami. He is unable to go there daily, but works when he can.
“Once I know what I want, I paint very fast,” said Sanchez. “But planning where everything is going to be placed on canvas is slow. Some take a week … or months, others an hour. Rooftop Reflection took years because I hated it so much. I had it in the studio facing the wall. I didn't want to look at it. I had to be in a different place in my mind; then, I could look at it.”
His color palette is inspired by one of his teachers, who stuck with hues from 19th century paintings, an era of art that inspires him.
“I am a big fan of 19th and 20th century art,” he said. “I have a huge respect for artists like George Bellows, George Inness, John Singer Sargent. I love the Barbizon painters in France.”
He doesn't have a favorite piece of his own work, but finds favorite pieces within his paintings.
In View From Asheville Winter Walk, there is an overall heaviness to the piece – the suffocating snow, the unmovable house, the bone-thin branches stretching up to scratch the sky. But the despair and desperation of the scene are broken up by a small patch of light in the dark skyline. It is a sense of hope seen in many of Sanchez's pieces. This is his favorite part.
In I-75 Sunrise, he noted, “Cars are going like mosquitoes to the light. There is always a destination, going forward to the light.”
He creates in a studio where many artists work nearby, leaving their doors open for interested passersby. He welcomes the interruption, saying that when he is painting, he purposely wants distraction, whether it is listening to a podcast or talk radio, or talking with visitors.
“Manipulating the image, that is where I do my thinking; but when it comes to execution, I want to keep my brain distracted and let the brush do its job. I want the left side of my brain engaged, the right side engaged with painting,” he explained.
When not painting, Sanchez is often driving to his studio. But he also enjoys cooking, reading and spending time with his family.
To see more of Sanchez's work, visit http://recordedeyesight.blogspot.com
About the South Florida Cultural Consortium
The South Florida Cultural Consortium, formed in 1985, operates under an inter-local government agreement to coordinate projects and share resources for the growth of South Florida cultural activities, organizations and artists. It provides regional cultural planning, new project development, statewide cultural marketing, information sharing, regional arts education training and support for ethnic and rural audience development.