Alumni artist capitalizes on colorful creativity

When he came to the College, Marco Sanchez ’10 had no plans to become an artist. Instead, his focus jumped from economics to computer science, leading to continual frustration. “I was going in circles,” he said. “I would learn something but couldn’t apply it.” Working as a digital archivist the following summer, Sanchez picked up a camera for the first time.
What started as a job, however, became something more: a refuge from a complicated experience at Williams. “I spent my first two to three-and-a-half years feeling like I was an outsider, coming from El Paso, Texas. That’s why I got into photography – it was something I could do alone,” he said. Sanchez used his hobby to explore his environment, honing his technique along the way. “A lot of it was walking around and seeing something visually appealing and finding the best way to capture it.”
As a sophomore, Sanchez signed up for a drawing class and discovered that “it was something I could do and was good at.” Encouraged, he began to work towards a major in studio art. A video class spurred him to experiment with stop-motion animation, which involves taking hundreds of subtly different photos to create a “movie.”
Outside of the classroom, Sanchez found that his art provided a way of connecting to his adopted home. “At some point I turned from being an outsider to seeing I had a new perspective to add to the conversation,” he said. One such opportunity came in his junior year in the form of a public service announcement contest for Claiming Williams Day. Sanchez drew on his films to create a clip involving clay animation. Asking questions like “What does a Williams student look like?’ and “What does a Williams student do?” his competition-winning entry concluded, “There is no mold.”
With graduation soon approaching, Sanchez began to confront the typical career-related questions. Rather than jumping into the job hunt, he opted for a different path. After a few weeks of traveling post-graduation, Sanchez boarded a flight to Switzerland, intending to live with his mother’s relatives and find a way of supporting himself and his art. “I’m definitely an empirical learning person,” he said. “I like challenging myself and being ready to have an experience knowing I’ll learn from it.”
Even with this mindset, he describes his experience as “starting over from square one. I wasn’t comfortable with the language … I felt like I couldn’t function,” he said. Sanchez found work cleaning cars at a car dealership and from there on out, “it just became about adapting.”
As it turned out, “the shock of not having a tight community was also freeing,” according to Sanchez. “As an artist, it’s all about building up various experiences. I don’t mind working in a menial job because I feel it will bring me closer to the people who work those jobs.” While he conceded that his post-graduate trajectory might be considered “atypical” given the careers of many College alumni, Sanchez said, “When I hear what other people are doing, it’s great they’re doing that, but it’s not something I’d want to be doing.”
In the meantime, Sanchez has picked up painting. He describes his work as “very colorful pieces,” consisting of “a bunch of brightly colored shapes and patterns, overlaid with big smiling faces … I was kind of in a down mood the first couple of months, so it’s all about the energy. Sometimes you have to fake a smile. Someone sees a smile and they smile, and you can feed off it.”
“As far as creating a piece of work, it’s more about what tools fit,” he said. “I haven’t stuck to any particular medium. During school I started with the medium. Now it’s the other way around – I come up with an idea and figure out the best way to execute it.”
When asked where his ideas come from, Sanchez said, “My art mostly comes out of what I need in my life. When I feel a need for something and don’t find it elsewhere, I feel I have to create it myself.” For his final studio art project, Sanchez designed t-shirts with messages that, when seen in a mirror, formed new words. For example, one shirt reads ‘money,’ but when seen in a mirror says ‘venom.’
“I had done similar projects and wanted to take it to the next level,” he said of the project. What emerged became “a performance”: with the help of the Office of Campus Life, Sanchez printed up shirts and gave them away, letting students across campus share “this bit of magic that I found.”
More than a mass exhibition of his work, Sanchez saw the project as a chance to “make people a direct part of the art, which I like.” In a way, this relates to his goal in Switzerland: “I want to get a feel for the people and culture here,” he said, “and find out what I can do to add to that in a way that works for them,” he said. “Once I’ve become comfortable, I’ll leave.”
Sanchez is unsure where he’ll go next, though he plans to connect with the other side of his heritage by living in a Spanish-speaking country (his paternal grandparents are from Mexico). Wherever he ends up, his art will help him look both outward and inward. “It’s definitely given me a sense of who I am,” he said. “That’s been the most important part.”
“Anything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve gone, good and bad, is part of the process and gets me to where I am today – and that’s a good, happy place,” he said.