Although Cooper Sanchez is an artist who prefers to remain beneath the radar of Atlanta’s artistic community, if you have ever spent any time in eastern Atlanta you probably recognize his work. His projects are tucked away everywhere from the greenhouse at Oakland Cemetery (plants, paintings, and cyanotypes) to 97 Estoria (paintings) to telephone poles (wooden monkey heads at the tops). Sanchez emerged briefly from his shell in Clarkston to talk with us about his artwork, meadows, and why he’s so darn shy.
BURNAWAY: If you had to pick, would you prefer to be called an artist or a gardener?
Cooper Sanchez: There are so many negative connotations that go along with ”artist”—I guess from my family and growing up, and I knew so many self-centered artists that rubbed me the wrong way, it never seemed cool to me. I wish there was another term. I just do creative projects. I guess I am an artist, I just think artists can be obnoxious.
So what draws you to gardening?
It takes the pressure off of making art. I can do this year round and not feel so obsessive about feeling like I have to get up and paint. I can be creative without having to do the same thing all the time. I have a lot of energy, and it’s a good way to get it out—I just love it.
Have you been gardening all your life?
I’ve always been outside. There is a huge difference between my age group and those ten years behind me, and I think it’s the outdoor thing. I literally spent all of my time outside.
Is this your first meadow? Why do you concentrate on meadows as opposed to, say, parterre?
It is. I think because it was inexpensive. I didn’t have a lot of money when I started this at all, and I wanted to do something on the cheap that would have a lot of wow.
Last year you hosted one of the biggest art shows of the year at Oakland Cemetery’s greenhouse with the intent of putting proceeds toward planting the potter’s field with wildflowers. How is that going?
I want to use a lot of the same flowers I’ve used here. The trick is to make it last as long as you can. I want to get it to bloom from March to July—that’s my goal—then the grasses will take over in the fall. But we still have some politicking to do. I’m hoping to [have it ready next year]. I think the board [of Oakland Cemetery] coming out here and looking will help. We just have to show them it’s a good idea. In the long run it’ll save them money. In a year’s worth of time, I mean, not having to pay someone to mow the grass, that’ll save money.
Talk about the Paradise Project.
The Paradise Project is a further extension of the “meadow as art” concept. Karen [Tauches] has ideas as to how she wants to verbally and visually illustrate the scene with her billboard. [Editor’s note: Karen Tauches has used this billboard in Cabbagetown for various projects, including Everything Disappears.] Hopefully I will have some input there, but my role is to cultivate the small, hard-as-stone patch of earth next to her house. With some soil prep and hard work, we will have it blooming this fall and next spring, specifically. It is a solid location for people to drive past and look down on from above. We just plowed it. I want to use different stuff [than in my personal meadow]. I’m hoping to have a display for the fall and then a lot of annuals for the next spring but I don’t really know, I haven’t decided on all the species.
Why do you tend to shy away from the traditional gallery scene?
The gallery thing … there really are people who need galleries. [I could see myself going back to galleries] in other cities, but not here. The Oakland thing was a tremendous amount of work. That was it—doing the gardening in the greenhouse wasn’t tough, it was the permits that were brutal. Dealing with the city, we were down to the wire the last day. We started working our asses off a year ahead of time, but I wouldn’t give that privilege away to somebody because we enjoy that part, too. I think part of what the main point I’m trying to make is, I think it’s the mindset, not the gallery owners as much as the artists. Artists need to stop thinking they need to be represented and pampered. It’s their career. Does an architect ask someone else to represent them? No. It’s a weird relationship; people need to get their own lives and their own hands. It causes problems—I wouldn’t want to be an art rep and have someone calling me asking if I’ve sold their work, it’s a serious burden. My disdain is more for the artist being beholden to the gallery owner than for the other way around.
What is your spirit animal?
A hawk. Beer. A hawk drinking beer.
Do you have any other upcoming projects?
I want to have an outdoor show, find an empty space where I can have these box springs and make them into a wall, grow vines up and have an outdoor room and hang paintings on that. Clarkston is great but it is not an ideal place for an art show. I gotta find a spot in town.
Atlanta Art Crush is an interview series brought to you by Susannah Darrow, Laura Hennighausen, and photographer Sandy Hooper. Look for profiles of our latest heartthrobs on the last Friday of each month.