Denise Stewart-Sanabria celebrates products of desire in her paintings
It’s hard to study Denise Stewart-Sanabria’s paintings and not crave a jelly doughnut. Or a fresh piece of fruit. Or a crisp French macaron.
Stewart-Sanabria’s dramatic works feature food in the foreground against what are often wallpaper patterns from various cultures and eras. She adds ceramic tchotchkes, often animals, to the mix. “These are the products of desire and culture that have been created for and chosen by people to enrich their everyday lives,” she says in her artist statement. “I love to put them all together to see what happens.”
Then there are her life-size drawings of people on plywood. She surreptitiously snaps pictures of visitors to art exhibits as they walk around the gallery space. Then she draws them, and they often end up displayed in the same gallery where she sourced the images, including in Knoxville at the UT Downtown Gallery and the Emporium Center. She even drew one of Nashville’s former mayors, a piece that was purchased by his wife.
She uses her scrap wood to create mixed media pieces resembling shadow boxes with small figurative drawings set inside handmade wooden altars adorned with rhinestones and other jewels. They’re inspired by medieval artwork, she says.
You can see examples of all her work at Bennett Galleries in December when her show, “Epicurean Indulgence,” is on exhibit. Her work is also represented at galleries in Nashville, Charleston, S.C. and Frederick, Maryland.
A Massachusetts native, Stewart-Sanabria and her husband moved to Knoxville in 1986 so he could work for TVA. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a BFA, she worked a variety of jobs here, including creating baked goods for Old City Java when her daughter Renee owned it about 20 years ago. “I am the granddaughter of the foreman of the doughnut room at the largest commercial bakery in Massachusetts,” she says.
Those jelly doughnuts come naturally, then. And whet the appetite for more.