This week’s Dan’s Papers cover by Jimmy Sanders seems good enough to eat, which is a bit unusual considering that raw turnips and radishes take a special palette to digest. No matter. The point is, Sanders’ still lifes are luscious and sensual whether they are pitchers, pears, garlic cloves or glass vases. Yet there’s another aspect to the paintings that is also captivating: the style follows the “Old Master” tradition positioning us in the past. It’s a comfortable and problem-free place to be, considering the many ordeals (economic ones, especially) that most people face today.
Q: You have had quite a literal and figurative journey during the last several years, having lived in Florence, Italy, for several years, although you are from Tennessee and back home now. How did that come about?
A: I always wanted to be an artist so I went to a junior college for two years and then Memphis College of Art for six months where I studied graphic design. But I didn’t want to be a graphic artist; I wanted to paint. I knew from the time I was 26 that I wanted to go to the Florence Academy of Art and learn the old tradition of painting. But I had no money, so I worked at an art supply store for four years in Memphis. I saved $20,000. I was planning on staying in Florence for two years, but I ended up there for 17 years.
Q: That showed real determination and resourcefulness. Anyone in your family involved in the arts?
A: My father was a carpenter, and I worked with him building things. One of my uncles was an artist.
Q: Wasn’t that a cultural shock to go to Europe after living in Memphis and growing up in a small town in Tennessee?
A: I was prepared for Europe; when I was in junior college, I went to Great Britain for two weeks and then went back later and backpacked in Europe. It wasn’t a cultural shock. It was a blessing.
Q: What were the challenges you faced in Florence at school and otherwise?
A: There were petty rivalries between people. But I was 30 years old, and I had been through all that. I also lived in a very small place for several years, a 323 square foot room. I had to move the furniture to paint. It was a difficult circumstance. My brother, who is also an artist, came to live with me in Florence, so it was really crowded. It was financially very difficult, too.
Q: How did you connect with the Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor, which is still your gallery?
A: I met Laura Grenning, the owner, in Florence when she came to the Academy. She liked my work, and I believe I was the first artist she represented.
Q: Any other galleries who represented you?
A: I did a self portrait of Dr. Gregory Hedberg in Florence, and he helped me get gallery representation at Hirschl and Adler in New York. Melinda and Paul Sullivan of the Decorative Arts Foundation also helped me a lot.
Q: Now that you have moved back to Memphis, how is you art going?
A: It’s better. I bought a 1924 Arts and Crafts bungalow with the widows facing north. I have two studios in two separate rooms upstairs. I work part-time making frames. My style is rare, of course, but I continue to make my own canvases and grind my own paints. I am using a model now who comes about 12 hours a week; it will take me several months to do this painting I am working on now.
Q: You have been so committed to your painting through the years. What is it about art that is still a personal challenge for you?
A: The financial part. Renoir said one of the best things you can do for art is not to appreciate it but to purchase it.
Q: Despite that, do you have any thoughts of changing your style, medium, anything?
A: No. I won’t change. I am so excited by my style, realism, that it will keep me busy for the rest of my life.
Jimmy Sanders’ work is at the Grenning Gallery, 631-725-8469, [email protected].