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  • Marquez Woods

Conversations with God: An Artist Residency by Hennesy Sanchez

Marquez T Woods March 17th, 2023

We all pursue freedom so often. Often, our only understanding of it is defined by our barriers. “I’d be free if it wasn’t for this or that,” we embellish. But would our worldly wishes be sated if we tasted freedom? Would we have the wisdom to ask a greater force for guidance? Or would our egos place the spiritual practice of submission into the same category as the meekness of subordination?

Hennesy Sanchez’s work and spirit seem to be asking these questions. Her artistic style has changed vastly in a few short years. In her residency at Bushwick’s very own Father’s Knows Best, you can get a full glass of artistic vision with hints of where she’s been.

The opening night showed her deep roots in New York. Various types of creative professionals show their faces to support Sanchez’s latest works. The chaos of NYC was in the room that night. Likely a stark contradiction to her newfound home in Philly.

Actually, moving from Brooklyn to Philly was an important factor in her artistic transition. Most specifically when it came to her educational work with children.

She described her experience teaching children art in Brownsville before the relocation. She found herself constantly reassuring the children or shepherding their decisions - comforting a resting state of survival.

There was a clear distinction when she moved to NY’s sister city. In an affluent neighborhood, Hennesy began working in a Montessori school where young children are guided toward their natural instinct and passions. Here she noticed the change in privilege and the freedom it afforded the children, especially in their artwork.

“The [naps] were different. The food was different. Even the lighting was different.”

Besides the fact that she no longer needed to buy the children supplies, she noticed the freedom in how the children approached creativity the most. They grabbed their own supplies, mixed their own colors and took creative chances. The Montessori had given the kids more space to be free and to realize what they wanted to do with that freedom.

And now, Sanchez is on a quest to do the same for herself. She is rediscovering her artistic freedom and learning what to do with it.

Usually, her paintings are prefaced with multiple studies. She’d meticulously note how her subject’s body contorted and how the light fell upon its skin.

As she began working with new mediums like airbrushing for this show, she said to herself, “Let me just try this…with freedom.”

This movement, without fear of failure, leads to a new visual style in the two stand-out works in the space: Liminal Spaces and Womb.

The two pieces are nearly silent. The airbrushed technique leads to a bokeh effect, which sharply focuses the subject in Womb. Void of color, they are explorations of space and the grey area between life and death - a significant departure from colorful, fruitful pieces she’s created in the past.

Womb’s obvious ties toward womanhood and the flickering light of life within a pregnant torso add power to the simplicity of the charcoal scrapings. The piece feels transitory and ominously quiet.

This silence, this transformation, this suspenseful moment of metamorphosis… I suspect this is what Conversations with God is really about.

Sanchez describes the difficulty in satiating or even understanding her own desires. But she knows something is to be acquired. Something is just out of reach.

In various mindful practices, we are taught to silence ourselves and listen to the universe for answers. Perhaps this conversation with God is one-sided. One where all Sanchez must do is be aware. So that she might know her next move and make it swiftly.

This cerebral shift toward quieting the mind to find the heart's true desires show up in Liminal Space most clearly. Sanchez ties her years on the chess team into the setting of each piece, placing a chessboard that nods to mental fortitude.

The absence of chess pieces gives way to both uncertainty and the freedom to make the first step. The purgatorial title calls out to a transitional moment. Between monochromacy and vibrant colors. Between listening and speaking. Between patience and anxiety.

It Doesn’t Make Sense expands on the uncertainty with a contorted body twisting in frustrating confusion.

The body is fit, strong and capable, but the mind is tormented. This motif of a chessboard void of action turns the subject, perhaps the chess player, into a ball of misdirection and apprehension.

Expressive brushstrokes reveal the subject’s anxiety-ridden hesitation. It turns this freedom to move freely into a prison of overwhelming options for the subject.

Maybe we wouldn’t know what to do with freedom if we had it. And maybe we need to have a conversation with God to find out. But not our typical selfish conversation where we exert our will on the universe. Not a list of demands disguised as prayer.


Help me get this job.

Protect my mother.

Save me from this unflinching anguish.

This insatiable desire for something missing, for unbound freedom, is a thinly veiled mission for something larger. Perhaps the quest for freedom is actually a quest for purpose.

And if so, Sanchez has it right. Perhaps it’s God’s turn to speak. Perhaps our conversations with God happen through our work. Through movement and expression. Through attention to patterns. And through being quiet enough to listen.

So let's take a moment of silence for that.

Find Hennesy on Instagram


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