Sam Sanford, #1 Football Boy

This past Tuesday, Texas State welcomed Austin-based artist Sam Sanford to lecture on his work and process. He introduced himself and his work as “always trying to get back to a feeling of punkrockness and intellectual freedom” he had when he first started painting. His process began as a way to paint the same way a printer would- using three primary colors, yellow, magenta, cyan, he glazes thin layers of each to color correct and achieve any color on the gamut. While explaining this process he clicked through several examples of his early works, showing what he believed to be the “worst painting he’s ever done” saying “it looks like it belongs in a coffee shop, so I sold it”. His ultimate struggle as an artist is fixation; he is constantly trying to get back to abstraction, which is why he laments the fact that he is most well known for his photo-based realist paintings.


JAN 1972, 2013, oil on paperboard, 10″ x 15″

The painting above (from his Dark Days series) was printed on the “Sam Sanford, guest lecturer” flyer that hung around the JCM all week. Going into the lecture I had no idea who Sam Sanford was, and seeing the flyer in passing I assumed he was a photographer, so learning that this was a painting and hearing his process felt not only surprising, but ironic. The very series he is most known for (and wants to get away from artistically) was my first contact with his work.

At the end of the lecture Sam opened up about his realizations through painting professionally and the expectations of galleries that made working or even thinking about his art the same way, impossible. He talked about the invisible, uncontrollable forces at play in everyone’s lives and how he went to a dark place in making paintings that were dark and self-involved. Today, Sam Sanford makes paintings with friends for fun instead of profit. Together they paint or draw “dumb things” or anything that makes each other laugh. He closed by showing us the painting he considers to be his best work to date, it features two football players because in his opinion, “football is the dumbest thing ever”.

You can view some of his Dark Days series and the later more abstract/”punk rock” works on his website here ->

-Kaytlin Esparza



  1. Are you a history or studio major? I’m history (minor) and really focus on the role of curator/facilitator/administrator when thinking about the art world. An artist like Sam gives me pause. It sounds to me like that world of curation/shows/commission has been a big stresser to him, perhaps even detrimental to his practice as an artist. You noted it in your post that he is just making art for fun and with friends right now. It seems like he is in retreat from the, capital A “Artworld” and I wonder if other artists feel the same way as he does. Is artist burn out from showing work and the pressures of galleries just a part of the game or is there something particularly different about his experience?

    Liked by 1 person

    • i’m a history major, and since i’ve been in this class along with chad’s curatorial class, i too have been focused (or trying to focus more on) on the roles of a curator within a gallery setting. And yes it does seem like commissions and gallery settings were detrimental to Sam’s practice, along with being in that capital A Artworld. I, in no way could speak for him or other artists, but I feel as though it just depends on the person and what they may be going through at that point in their lives, or maybe even where they draw their work from. I think burnout and pressure could definitely be normal, but the way one deals with it or internalizes may be different. Some might thrive on it or choose to get out for their own health. I’m glad he was able to find a happy place to create in the not capital artworld.


  2. Kaitlyn and Kate, you both make great points and I would add that I believe Sam and likely many other artists are burnt out from the classic “art world”. I am art history major as well and have been looking at everything in this class through the lens of a hopeful curator. Sam presents an interesting problem as a curator, an artist with incredible talent that does not want to make art in a deadline-filled process. As a future curator, I would love to speak with artists like Sam one-on-one and brainstorm ideas as to how we can navigate a successful exhibition without pressuring the artists to the breaking point.

    -Chris Machemehl


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