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“Art school then the corporate world,” Sandy Applegate says.
That was the beginning of her trajectory to where she is today — a respected artist living in the beautiful mountains of Pagosa Springs.
Applegate didn’t take art in high school, but she was an artist, doing something. It started with plays, with Applegate enraptured by the theater and entertained by the notion of pen and ink.
“Years and years ago, when I was a kid, my mom used to draw the most beautiful faces and eyes,” Applegate recalls. “That was when I fell in love with pencil and pen.”
She kept with the pencil and pen for years. Through her teenage years, Applegate veered away from color, away from paint, and kept to the materials that enamored her most — pen, pencil and paper.
During this same period, though, she was in plays, in theater, acting. When she finally came around to college, Applegate had to make a choice: visual art or theater.
“I’ve always been back and forth between the two,” Applegate says. “Then I thought, to be a successful actor you have to be hired all the time; to be a great artist, you just do it.”
That thought was impetus for Applegate to go to art school where she studied technique and started to do some paintings and indulge methods she calls, “unusual.”
“I never wanted to be a technician,” Applegate says. The technical aspect of photography, of merely reproducing an image, is why she opted for another artistic medium.
“When I paint, I’m more free,” Applegate says.
And being free is one of the most important parts of painting, printmaking, sketching for Applegate. Freedom, for her, is an integral part of the artistic experience.
One painting that really struck home with Applegate was one she saw almost 20 years ago. It was entitled “There Are No Rules Here.”
“There are no rules,” she echoes. “That is very important to me as an artist.”
However, it was not until she moved to Pagosa Springs that she fully gave in to her artistic inclination in a focused form. After art school, Applegate had jumped into the corporate world. She knew that it was hard to make a living artist, and to do it also required dedication and devotion. Applegate says she doesn’t like to do just one thing. So she worked, did outdoor activities, led trips with the Sierra Club, spent hours a day commuting and working more. Not only did the corporate labor pay the bills, it provided good benefits and the opportunity to store up money for retirement. It was that retirement fund that allowed Sandy and husband John to come to Pagosa Country, build their house and retire.
John had backpacked the Continental Divide trail and came across Pagosa Springs.
“After looking around at many mountain towns, this is one of the best ones. A real town, not just a resort town,” Applegate says.
Though she loves Pagosa Springs, she says that it has in no way inspired her. “Heaven’s no, not inspired,” Applegate says. But, she adds that being in the creative community and company of the fine artists this small mountain town affords, has been encouraging.
“There are so many people to talk about things, and there are really some top-notch artists,” Applegate says.
However, for Applegate, it was Pagosa where she first began to seriously paint, to move beyond dabbling; she began to experiment.
“I don’t like being rigid,” Applegate says, adding with a chuckle, “I don’t like anyone to tell me what to do.”
When Applegate begins a painting, there is no plan, there is no outline, there is no ideal image to meet in her mind; there is only a blank canvas and herself, the artist.
“It’s hard to start, because I don’t know where I’m going,” Applegate says. “Every piece is an experiment. When I’m done and step back and look at it, I think ‘Wow! I did that.’ I’m so excited because I created that from nothing.”
Though the blank canvas may be daunting at first, this excitement to know what the finished product will be drives Applegate on, and no painting ever turns out the same.
“I experiment with everything. Every painting I do is an experiment,” Applegate says.
Common themes, though, appear in her paintings — the use of orbs, circles in different shapes and forms, and the combination of painting and pen and ink.
When Applegate is in the painting process, she describes it as, “stream of consciousness,” as well as communicating with her painting. Painting a little bit then taking a step back, then painting again. Applegate says her training as an actor has helped with this process because it encouraged her use of imagination and fantasy, enabling her to look at the world in a different way. And when she puts this on canvas, it communicates to the viewer, telling a story.
However, she adds, not everyone understands the story.
“Some people can’t look at my painting and really get it,” Applegate says. “It takes awhile to look at it. It’s more eccentric than most people are used to.”
Yet, SHY RABBIT Contemporary Arts Center could read the story of her painting. One of Applegate’s paintings is in the nationally-juried The ART of it ALL exhibit from now until Jan. 13.
SHY RABBIT is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at no charge. Visitors are welcome to tour the venue at their leisure. SHY RABBIT is located at 333 Bastille Drive, two blocks north of U.S. 160, off North Pagosa Boulevard.