Blakeney Sanford is an amazing contemporary artist we recently ran into that we thought was WELL WORTH finding a bit more about…a true woman of the DIY culture. This Santa Barbara resident creates gorgeous, innovative sculptures and paintings. Her work ranges from pint-sized art pieces to large 40′ installations that will blow your mind. Working with industrial materials such as rebar, fiberglass, and looking to nature for inspiration, Blakeney has successfully carved out her own unique style of art that we are sure you will dig. We hope you enjoy this thoughtful and complete interview with the artist herself…
How did you first get started in creating art? And was there a defining moment along the way that made you say, “This is what I need to be doing for the rest of my life”, or was it something you knew you wanted to do from the get go?
I’ve always loved to create, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I really jumped full bore into my career as an artist. In 2006, I was traveling in Baja when my appendix ruptured. It took me two days and miles of dirt roads to get to a medical facility and in that time I got really sick, my stomach bulging like a watermelon, coming close to the point of no return… After a major surgery in a funky farm town in Mexico, and a year spent in and out of a hospital in California, I had had some time to consider my life and what I had chosen to do so far. I realized that in my core, I really wasn’t very happy and hadn’t been, but that I had the power to make changes in my life and that I really was the only one that could. It was time to stop ignoring myself, and time to start making art.
Now my creative process is my work, my passion, my purpose and I know in my gut of all guts that it is exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life. It’s funny to me how cliché stories like these become; how it takes those massive life-changing glimpses of mortality to put us on point, to clarify, to set us straight…
You have such an awesome and unusual name. Any story behind it?
Thanks! I’m a last name girl. My name, Blakeney, is my grandmother’s maiden name. It’s Welsh in its origin. I’ve never met another… It usually takes three goes at the coffee shop for them to get it right. I’m a grandma combo: my middle name is Virginia and was the name of my other grandmother. I secretly like to imagine that, beyond my name, I might possibly be a mix of both of these creative, elegant, and capable women…
How did how did you learn to create these amazing sculptures?
I spent my twenties really struggling to feel like I was doing something of purpose with my life. I toyed in a bunch of different careers and activities. I was a teacher, on sailboats for 25 days at a time, and then taught math in the classroom. I worked as a cook on a dive boat, rebuilt a CAL 40, took an extensive bike trip, worked a grape harvest, learned to ice climb, and surfed in far off places, not realizing how much each of these experiences would affect or have an impact on the next. So when I really decided to commit to my art career, I had all of these tools that I had acquired from all of my jobs and adventures in my tool belt. I had skills that had developed through life experience. It turned out that each thing I had done that seemed invaluable at the time had HUGE value. I have a knack for experimenting so I was willing to take these skills and then apply them to the next thing in line. Thus evolved my first major body of work, my blue resin series, involving learned skills in engineering and building. The defining moment of my resin career was while installing a toilet in the sailboat that I was rebuilding and I was shocked at the flexibility that I had with the material. You can basically build ANYTHING out of resin.
My first show, my debut, was a one-nighter in a courtyard of a beauty salon in San Clemente, CA. I had denied myself creative freedom for so long that the piece I created was massive: the 40′ long sculpture, “Shades of Blue,” was an opportunity to introduce the world to the creativity I had kept bottled up inside for so long. I think that is a big part of why my work has always been so large in scale: my creativity has needed a BIG outlet.
I’ve since created sculptures in this material ranging in size from 3′ to 50′, hanging from ceilings and structures, freestanding on floors and mounted on walls. Many are site specific while the others can be moved and installed in any location.
Can you talk a little bit about the process in creating them?
When I first experience or look at space with the intention of creating an installation, I typically have an immediate inspiration. When I first saw the courtyard in San Clemente, I envisioned a massive wave barreling over the space, and my brain and my hands went to work creating the piece. Knowing that resin had a translucent quality, I began the process of experimentation, developing a system to create the materials that I needed to bring my vision to fruition. The work has a contemporary contrast using industrial materials to translate a natural experience.
I spend ages in the mental engineering and envisioning steps when creating my work. I make sketches and drawings. I apply my love for mathematics to the engineering and construction process of the pieces. I spend time in the space where the pieces will live. I lay awake at night and realize that things will or will not work in the construction aspect. Day and night, the creative process is constant.
I create all of the resin panels that I use in my work by hand, in my studio, using molds that I’ve invented or built. This involves measuring and mixing resin, prepping molds, pouring and curing, and popping out the end result. I’ve created pieces that use steel as a structure, and others that are themselves structural. I bend all of the steel myself by hand or with a machine and I work with an awesome welder to tack the pieces together. This work is a PHENOMENAL commitment in time, energy and physical labor. Installations are multi-month processes, with 15+ hour days in the welding shop and the studio and round the clock installation processes on site. My hands hurt for days after and the scars are deep. It is thoroughly exhausting, but SO BEYOND exciting and seeing the outcome makes it worth it. The work is striking and feels so good on so many levels.
In surviving these pushes and these sleepless nights, I have learned that, in the end, everything comes together perfectly, exactly as it is meant to. So much of art, I’ve found, evolves from either knowing a skill and being able to apply it, or having the willingness to experiment and learn something new, creating a method to execute a vision. It evolves from the materials that you have lying around, or that you have access to and from the willingness to discover new methods, which leads you to the most unexpected places and the amazing people that inhabit them. People are really keen to teach when you’re willing to learn.
What is the inspiration behind them?
It’s a mixture of my need for time in nature and my intrigue with machinery and the industrial world.
I grew up on a ranch on California’s central coast close to where I now live. My parents have farmed organic vineyards and made wine my entire life, and spending time in nature, both in and on the water in the hills, has always been really important to them and they passed this on to me. I really connected with the ocean as an adult when I began surfing at 18, and the ocean has since influenced many of my decisions regarding the who’s, what’s and where’s of my life.
This coastal inspiration has thus have been a very fitting subject in my art. As most surfers will rattle on about the ‘cleansing of the ocean and how surfing takes them to another place, I too will join the bandwagon in claiming surfing to be a hugely important part of my routine. The sensation is like no other, and the variety of implements that you can use to achieve that feeling is so inspiring to me. My sessions are about playfulness, about having fun. Whether surfing tandem or on a longboard, riding a random shape or a handplane, the motion of my body on a peeling wave does something to me. For me. And for that I am grateful. So naturally, it was appropriate that my first major series in my professional career as an artist has been dedicated to translating this healing experience to the masses.
What has been the evolution of your art? What mediums did you start with and how has your methods and style changed over time?
Crayons, paints, and paper have always been a fixture in my reality. I spent many a wine dinner diving into my drawings while my parents told their story to interested consumers. Now I love using traditional materials, such as paint and clay and plaster, as well as discovering materials, and experimenting and figuring out what can bring my vision to fruition. Much of my work contrasts nature and natural materials with contemporary materials or technologies. The hardware store and the McMaster Carr catalog are two of my favorite places to get lost in… Endless possibilities!
I have another series that I am working on right now called the “Shark Park Series.” It mixes traditional mediums, acrylic and panel and gold leaf, in a contemporary style. The series evolved from a photo shoot that we did at 6am in a kids park in Santa Barbara that we refer to as ‘Shark Park’ because of the giant shark play toy (although there are a few ‘shark parks’ in our neck of the woods up here that have personal significance to my family…) The photos were super. I then translated their silhouettes into a contemporary portrayal of bikini-clad women. There is something really beautiful and intriguing and sexy about bikinis and the female form, as there is about the allure of gold and the aesthetic of multiples. Bringing all of this together created the Shark Park Series. Initially as an effort to create something small and marketable (4″x6″), the series has evolved into an entity all its own, and now ranges from little to larger than life.
Tell us a little bit about your work with B&B Designs. What exactly is B&B Designs? And what is your involvement with them?
I met my beau, Bennett about a year after my Baja incident. The first present he gave me was a hand plane that he had shaped out of scrap balsa and had affixed an old windsurfing foot strap to. I loved to concept of surfing something that he had made. Soon after, our friends needed a stand up paddle, so, in what would become a common occurrence, we turned again to the scrap pile and went to work. We shaped a blade, I inlaid it with an abalone design, and glassed it, and we stuck it onto an old windsurfing mast. Perfect. And that was really the beginning of B&B Designs.
We both are mad for the ocean and love to surf and play and we really enjoy just being silly in the water on ANY ocean implement. It really brings us pure joy.
We’ve since crafted alaias, SUP paddles and many hand planes, and have made a little business of it. Most of the work is crafted out of found materials: scraps from shapers, tables found on the side of the road, hand harvested agave, and piles of barn wood. Each piece is super unique; either inlaid with abalone, overlaid with gold leaf, or embellished with a sketch or drawing. The pieces really are beautiful and although our completion time for commissions takes an exorbitantly long time, I like to think our work is worth it… It really comes from the heart and is made with love!
How has working with resin affected your relationship with surfboards? You involved in any board building yourself?
Resin is an amazing material. I can do SO much with it. Really, I can create anything out of this plastic. I use epoxy resin from Fiberglass Hawaii. They have been amazing at coaching me in methods, but is has taken extensive experimentation in developing the systems for creating my work. In being aware of my impact on the planet, I’ve been on the hunt for a bio resin and I’ve just found an awesome company in Los Angeles, Entropy Resins, that I am going to begin working with!
I haven’t delved into shaping/glassing large format boards. I’ve been sticking to hand planes and paddle blades, and shaping and glassing those. We do have a collection of boards that we are surfing right now that we haven’t so much shaped as reshaped… We find so many boards broken in half in dumpsters, so we chop of the frayed edges and stick them back together and shape down the rails and glass ‘em up. We’re always amazed at how well they ride!
Where can people see your work? And what’s next for Blakeney Sanford?
My website and my mailing list are great ways to keep up with my work. There’s always something on the horizon!
And what’s next? THE MAKING OF MORE ART! I’m continuing to do a bunch of work with ROXY/Quiksilver right now on in-store installations, which is super fun and exciting. I also have a few gallery shows coming down the pike. Museum shows, international shows, commissions for private collectors and corporate clients, and design collaborations are goals that I’m working on attaining right now as well.
And then of course, there’s always the need to get inspired! More learning, traveling and blissful surf please! I’m loving connecting with inspired and interesting people that are imagining their lives as they want them to be and are bringing ideas to fruition. This life is beautiful, intriguing, challenging and endlessly refreshing.
Stay up to date with Blakeney’s work at www.blakeneysanford.com or www.facebook.com/pages/Blakeney-Sanford-Fine-Art/353779465778