Self-taught artist creates vibrant, colorful landscapes
Brent Sanders is nearing the four-year mark at his Main Street location, but he’s no newbie to Chattanooga. Sanders grew up here and spent his youth getting acquainted with the city streets by skating them with groups of friends in what was a very different cityscape than the view he paints of them these days.
“Getting that up-close scope of the pavement of Chattanooga’s streets gave me an intimacy with it, and my subsequent work has been inspired by watching the transformation of the city, its architecture, and the energy behind planning the revitalization of older, run-down spaces,” Sanders says.
Sanders attended Chattanooga State, studying graphic design and getting hooked on video game design during the early stages of PC-based digital rendering. The first company Sanders worked for required him to recreate real American baseball parks in accurate detail, in order to best analyze games to predict future team performance. He credits design with training his eye to patiently recognize important details, as each park was hand-drawn pixel by pixel using a 16-24 bit color palette.
Aside from his computer graphics background, however, Sanders is a self-taught artist, inspired by bright, exaggerated colors in the style of Phillip Burke’s portraits and the work of Thomas Hart Benton.
During trips to New Orleans, Sanders delighted in the colorful jazz music scene there, and sought out scenes to play with style and capturing a town’s personality. As a result, Sanders’ paintings have taken on a distinctive style that’s easily recognizable as a trademark. You can see for yourself at his display at the Four Bridges Art Festival over the weekend.
Part of what’s helped Sanders launch a successful artistic career has been his longevity in Chattanooga, building key relationships that can only come with time. “I always look forward to Four Bridges, and think fondly back to its launch in Coolidge Park eighteen years ago,” Sanders says. “Then Terry Cannon and I worked together to get the festival relocated to the First Tennessee Pavilion after the flood of 2003 as well as to accommodate growth.”
Sanders’ first studio space was over on Broad Street, where he was based for ten years, with representation from Bill Hassel and Joy Mullins of Plum Nelly.
His first booth at Four Bridges came from designing the festival’s 2003 poster, and he takes pride in the fact that he now enters the juried festival through the official selection process, rather than as a designer “friend of the festival.” Sanders is candid about his learning curve, and continues to enhance his back-door approach to the art world through travel, a passion he shares with his wife, Renae.
Recently, the couple enjoyed a trip to Germany, and while exploring quaint European towns, Sanders has his camera ready to capture prime painting material once he was back in the studio. Galleries and museums are inspiring as well, and Sanders sites German expressionists as influences, along with pop art and Fauvism, naming André Derain as a favorite artist.
Other travels have taken the couple to large cities like New York, where architecture and typography tend to catch Sanders’ eye. He is drawn to details that served as source material during his time as a freelance graphic designer, and now enjoys the freedom to put that his sensibilities to work in his own way.
Looking around his Southside studio at the bright canvasses lining the walls, it’s easy to sense how much fun Sanders has with color and playful brush strokes, but he also clearly desires to capture and transmit the spirit of the places he paints.
“I try to only paint right in the field or from photographs I’ve taken myself because I want to show my imagined view of what I’ve actually seen. Even though I’m not concerned with including exact architectural details, like the number of windows in each building, I want the street to be instantly recognizable to those who care about it.”
True to his roots, Sanders loves to paint his hometown, Chattanooga. Whether it’s iconic views of the Walnut Street walking bridge, or Aquarium, or side streets featuring small restaurants or bars lesser known but beloved to locals, Sanders has a clear pride of place. He says it’s been just amazing to watch how the Southside has bloomed to life, and folks tend to walk the sidewalks between local coffee shops, restaurants and galleries.
Local pride has fostered healthy cross-pollination between Chattanooga businesses and artists. A prime example is the new Edwin Hotel near the Hunter Museum, which will feature all local artists for its décor. Mitch Patel recently purchased one of Sanders’ original works for the lobby, and 30 of the hotel’s 90 rooms will showcase Sanders’ prints.
Clearly opportunities abound to enjoy Brent Sanders’ artwork, but stop by his Main Street gallery to chat and browse.