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Studio Visits: Sam Sanford

This painter logs long hours at the easel in an airy, open space at the front of his apartment

By Andy Campbell, Fri., Oct. 4, 2013

Studio Visits: Sam Sanford
Photo by Jana Birchum

The first room one enters in Sam Sanford's second-story Enfield apartment is his studio. Although he runs a successful framing business, mentors a select group of Austin-area painting students, and makes his own works all within the confines of his studio, it feels open, airy, comfortable, and homey. On the gray day that we caught up with Sanford, he was preparing to mix and lay paint on a small canvas – a large black and white photograph serving as a guide. The product, no doubt, will be a monochromatic, carefully rendered photorealistic painting. Such fastidiousness in technique is endemic to much of Sanford's output. Even his all-over patterned canvases recently exhibited at Co-Lab Projects' N Space belie the effort put into them, appearing easy. Finesse is the product of many hours of labor at the easel.

Austin Chronicle: Has this room always been the studio space?

Sam Sanford: No, I originally lived here with my then-fiancée, and this was more of a living room. But now it's a studio.

AC: What's it like entering your home through your studio – encountering your studio first thing as you walk through the door?

SS: It's been like this for so long ... so ... I keep it tidy and open. It's nice, and we don't do a whole lot of entertaining, so it works for [my housemate and me].

AC: Since you've recently gotten your work back from your solo exhibition "Furniture Music" at N Space, I was curious what it's like to see a whole body of work leave the studio and then come back.

SS: Well, I sold about half the work!

AC: Great! So half didn't come back.

SS: Yes. And a couple will be destroyed because they weren't successful enough to warrant the storage space. I'll reuse the supports. One I gave to Sean [Gaulager, Co-Lab director], because even though I wanted to destroy it, he liked it. My storage is totally full, and I'm hoping to sell the rest of them. Some will be going to Seattle soon.

AC: How did you decide what work would be going up at N Space?

SS: It's always down to the wire for me, unfortunately. It would be ideal to choose half of my extant work, but in reality I end up showing everything I have because I run out of time. That whole body of work was developed in large part because I wanted to make a lot more ideas more quickly and then choose the best ones. The little ones – that's what I did. They're experiments to see what I could do on a bigger scale.

AC: Regarding your new photorealist paintings currently up at Farewell Books, do you work on one at a time or more than one at the same time?

SS: I worked on both of those at the same time. Sometimes one part of the painting would get so frustrating – like painting trees kind of hurts your brain, and so you make deals with yourself and work on the other painting. But generally I work on one at a time.

AC: What do you do while you're working in the studio – do you listen or watch anything in particular?

SS: I watch TV or listen to radio as I work. Usually as I'm painting, I'll have Friday Night Lights playing on my phone. Arrested Development is a good one to watch over and over. And Modern Family is one of my favorite shows – the writing is really dense, like Arrested Development in that way. You get the jokes more when you watch multiple times. Television's very exciting these days.


"Sam Sanford: Dark Days" will be on view through Oct. 27 at Farewell Books, 913 E. Cesar Chavez. More of Sam Sanford's work can be found at www.samsanford.com.

For more images from our visit to Sam Sanford's studio, go to austinchronicle.com/photos.

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