Yolanda Sánchez   Selected Works  |  Biography  |  Selected Press

J. Johnson Gallery Selected Press Information

Garden Fresh
Arbus Magazine, September 2009
by Wesley Grissom

Yolanda Sánchez is a figurative gardener. She doesn’t grow fruits, vegetables or flowers outside her Miami Beach home. Instead, the artist imbues vitality into allegorical gardens on canvas inside her studio.

Brilliant blooms of pigment burst from her abstract paintings like clumps of crape myrtle blossoms tangled with verdurous sweet potato vines. Thinly veiled expanses of unspoiled canvas are layered with turbulent sweeps of color in a “search for re-enchantment.”

Sánchez explains she “attempts to evoke an experience through the relationship of surface marks and the… paint itself, alluding to an abstract garden—a place set apart… where awareness is expanded and the senses enriched.” She utilizes color, texture, and light in bold ways on her enlivened surfaces, stimulating viewers to activate their senses as she welcomes them into garden of her imagination.
“Yolanda’s poetic approach to painting is remarkably fresh,” says Bruce Dempsey, director of J. Johnson Gallery. “Vibrant colors and diversified brushstrokes leap off and meld into the canvas simultaneously.”

Dempsey was introduced to Sánchez through another Miami artist, photographer Carlos Betancourt. “When Jennifer [Johnson, gallery owner] and I walked into her studio we responded immediately to the energy in Yolanda’s work.” They promptly invited her to show with the gallery.

The success of Sánchez’s first exhibition in 2006 and an impressive body of new work warranted an invitation to return this fall to launch the Jacksonville Beach gallery’s eighth season.


“Yolanda’s calligraphic lines recall both the elegant gestures of Cy Twombly and the allure and magic of Joan Mitchell,” according to Dempsey. However the vivid, vigorous brushstrokes and subtle drippings provide a sensory opportunity uniquely her own.

“In terms of painters the great colorists are my major influences—Bernard, Matisse, Mitchell,” Sánchez states. The intense color and deliberate strokes of Vincent Van Gogh also inspire her kinetic paintings, although her work differs in its abstraction.

As an artist who not only holds a Master’s degree in Fine Arts but a Ph.D. in clinical psychology it is natural that Sánchez’s artistic genius grows from intellectual pursuits as well as the visual world.

Chinese and Japanese art as well as the philosophies behind them serve as indirect influences. The exercise of painting is a meditative process that allows her to explore the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness.

“My task as the metaphorical gardener is to weed out and cultivate the images that facilitate the connections I desire - connections that make me feel I am part of all living beings… and translate those into painting,” she explains.

Sánchez transcribes these bonds with a careful attention to the mark’s relation to space, an element she finds intriguing from Asian calligraphy. The work of Van Gogh also excites her in this manner, “especially when looking at his drawings. His work is unmistakably about the mark,” she says enthusiastically.

Floral and plant motifs from Arabic art and rich patterns and textiles in Matisse’s work also appeal to her. Additionally, Sánchez’s recent paintings reveal her interest in basic knitting. Lines of paint are woven like yarn into densely entwined patterns on her canvases.


Sánchez emigrated from Havana, Cuba at the age of seven with her mother, a classical concert pianist. Times were tight but the value of education was instilled in the artist. Her aunt and mother served as strong female role models as they both held degrees in a time when men dominated university campuses.

“I went to private school but we didn’t have the luxury of buying potato chips,” she quips. “My parents felt strongly that a good education was worth the sacrifices.”

Both visual arts and psychology interested Sánchez growing up but the option to study art didn’t enter her mind when embarking on her college career. Pragmatism prevailed and she earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Florida State University, spending 24 years practicing and teaching psychology.

After developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome her energies shifted toward art as a way to nourish her body and rejuvenate her soul. Sánchez craved the legitimacy of a formal education and returned to academia to receive a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1994. She studied classical and contemporary painting in Spain the following year as a Fulbright scholar.

After her experience abroad Sánchez transitioned completely out of psychology to focus on painting. “Making art and doing psychotherapy are very absorbing activities which demand a great deal of my passion and intensity,” she explains. “It is hard to do both.”

For almost 15 years now her days have remained full as the director of Miami International Airport’s Fine Art & Cultural affairs department. She supports the community through positions in institutions such as the county’s Art in Public Places program and the Cultural Affairs Council.

In addition to the arts, Sánchez currently channels talent and time towards her previous passion—psychology. She recently founded the Miami chapter of A Home Within, a national organization providing pro-bono psychotherapy for foster youths.  As Clinical Director she lays the groundwork for other clinicians to grant the troubled youths stability and a better chance at a productive adulthood.

“An essential part of who I am finds it important to do things that help people. I feel I’m making a difference utilizing the skills I possess. This is the best preventative work I can do in society.”

When asked if her background in psychology guides her art she replies: “It’s disappointing for people when I say no. It does, but not in a mindful way. I am aware of psychological principals and am spiritually minded but these only enter my work unconsciously.’

She aspires to work full time as an artist and do pro-bono work on the side one day. But in the meantime Sánchez is committed to continue growing as an accomplished artist. When not fulfilling professional obligations she devotes her time to working in her light-filled Miami Beach studio, inviting the outdoors in to tend her canvas gardens.


Sánchez’s newest works display a shift from the subtlety of previous paintings.
The chaotic romanticism remains, but now has increased impact. “I don’t want the work to look to saccharine,” she explains.

Expansive virgin canvas and pellucid washes of pigment to have given way to bold brushstrokes, concentrated colors, and mere flashes of pristine canvas. The linear markings, now taut and short, constitute denser monochromatic compositions.

“It’s abstract, yes, but I want there to be something tangible and physical about it. “

Sánchez continues to explore principals of Gestalt psychology through scale and negative space, challenging figure/ground relationships and inviting the viewer to fill in areas that are vague. “The mind perceives a whole when something is incomplete. I leave open spaces to allow people to step in and complete the picture,” she says.

Recently the blank areas are positioned peripherally as if a centripetal force has swept through what she terms her “garden of re-enchantment.” (Although Sánchez feels it is “important that people not take this idea in a literal sense.”)

Frost Art Museum director Carol Damian explains further: “Combining the lyrical intimacy of Impressionism with the formal tenets of Abstraction, Yolanda…uses the garden as a metaphor for spiritual meditation and release.”

“I want my work to be uplifting and create a positive experience, to impact the viewer at the sensory level,” explains Sánchez.

And that it does. The artist’s enlivened surfaces are at once airy and meditative. Brilliant colors and fresh brushwork stimulate the emotions, eyes and psyche.

The fresh, abstract landscapes of metaphorical gardener Yolanda Sánchez exhale an atmospheric lightness of being that embraces and enchants. Her paintings nudge the viewer into a greater appreciation of both art and life.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy,” advises French writer Marcel Proust. “They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

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