Respect the Journey: Q & A with Alumnus Nicolas Sanchez
This interview originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Portfolio magazine. Read the complete issue here.
Since graduating from KCAD, Nicolas Sanchez (’09, Painting) has held residency positions in three foreign countries, exhibited in the Venice Biennale, created commissioned work for A-list celebrities, and put down roots in New York City, where he’s quickly made waves with over 40 exhibitions and features in the likes of Harper’s Bazaar and New York Magazine. It’s been quite a ride, but the Lansing, MI, native doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Sanchez in his studio.
Q: Growing up, what kind of future did you envision for yourself and your creativity?
A: I actually aspired to be a veterinarian, but my interest in art was always there. High school was where I really started to consider a future for myself in art—I did an ambitious mural project at my school as a senior that really pushed me to my limits in the best way possible. When I first came to KCAD, I wanted a career in art education, but I quickly gained knowledge and experience that made me want to focus more on growing as an artist.
Q: How has the reality of living and working in New York City compared with your expectations?
A: When I was accepted into the graduate program at the New York Academy of Art in 2011, I wanted to develop my drawing and painting practice, but in reality I learned more about why I do what I do and how art fits into my life. Immersing myself in the NYC art world really focused my intentions as an artist. I was challenged, questioned, and rewarded, and eventually made creative and professional decisions to become a working artist. Art now takes up enough of my life that I feel happy when I’m working and when I’m not working.
Q: What does it take to succeed as a professional artist in such a competitive creative market?
A: There are many ways to be successful as an artist, but positioning yourself to live off of your art requires you to develop other noncreative skills. It’s not necessarily a market where you compete with others, but more a market that forces you to challenge yourself. In major cities like New York, it can seem cutthroat, intimidating, and overwhelming, but there are also many resources and support systems that can counteract that. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many opportunities for everyone, and old-fashioned dedication and hard work never fail.
"Severance" by Nicolas Sanchez.
Q: You’ve done a lot of commissioned work, most notably for celebrities like Brooke Shields, Seth Myers, and the Guggenheim family. How do you balance those commitments with your own artistic pursuits?
A: For me, the key is discipline. It takes a considerable amount of discipline to prioritize and manage my time wisely and effectively. Developing a sense of discipline, surrounding yourself with healthy support, and committing to your practice will lead to balance and reveal opportunities to find overlap between commissioned work and personal creative pursuits.
Q: You’ve exhibited and worked in places like China, Italy, and the Dominican Republic. How have your experiences making and showing work abroad impacted you as an artist?
A: Being immersed in different cultures and connecting with other people has really broadened my perspective on how art fits into my life. As my window to the world expands, I understand more about where I come from and my point of view, which is directly translated into my work. In Beijing, I learned how much emotion, thought, and intention can be integrated into simplicity. Some artists I met there harness the noise and complexity of life, culture, and politics into simple seascapes, creating an effective, conceptually developed experience for the artist and the viewer.
Q: How does the context of location influence you?
A: Much of my work explores ideas of “home” versus “place” and how those concepts are translated through memory, and that forces me to remain honest in my work. Personal identity is always changing. Sometimes in my work, I try to connect the dots from past to present, and from one culture to another. I am often finding both relationships and dissonance between places, from a rural field in Midwest America to a small kitchen full of family history in Mexico to a crowded train station in NYC.
Q: Your career is really only just beginning. Where do you want to go from here, and what advice would you give to those who want to follow a similar path?
A: Gerhard Richter said it best: “Chance determines our lives in important ways. I am often astonished to find how much better chance is than I am.” My plans include continuing to exhibit my work, traveling, and growing in my studio. This will lead me to the next thing better than any plan I can come up with. I would encourage everyone who wants to become a professional artist to work harder than their neighbor, take chances and make mistakes, and fill their lives with as many different experiences as they can.