Voices & Visions: David Sandum

David Sandum is an artist and author, notable for his highly praised 2015 book, “I’ll Run till the Sun Goes Down: A Memoir about Depression and Discovering Art”. But many of you will know him as the founder of the Twitter Art Exhibit, an organization that exhibits post-card sized artwork submitted by artists from all over the world. The donated artwork is sold to help raise money for charities and non-profit organizations.

Avery: This is the first of what I hope to be many interviews in our new “Voices & Visions” series. We’ll be talking with talented and inspiring artists whom I admire and appreciate. I sincerely hope you enjoy this video with David, and I hope you look forward to future interviews with inspiring people just like him! I have been a part of Twitter Art Exhibit for a long time, so it was an honor to finally meet the man behind it.

This is a transcription of the original video interview. This conversation is not perfectly accurate to the original.

-Have you always been creative? Has art and creativity come naturally to you since childhood? Or is art something you discovered later in life?
That’s a great question actually. I think the answer to that is yes, I’ve always been creative, I’ve always been in my own space. Since I was very young I would sit in my room and draw alone for long periods of time.

I remember when they would have those career days in school, they would want you to think about what you want to become when you grow up. All my friends would say; I want to be a fireman, a policeman, a soldier or whatever… And my answer was: I want to be a nature photographer! And that was in third grade. So I’ve always been in that kind of space, where I like to think about stuff, be out in nature and draw… 

I loved to go to art museums when I was a kid. I would go into art museums, look at famous paintings, this was in Gothenburg, Sweden where I grew up. And my mother would take me there, so we loved to do that together. So that instilled in me from a very young age an interest in culture and art.

But I never really had a dream to become an artist or anything like that, I just appreciated art, and I loved to draw. I didn’t go to art school or anything like that, but when I went to collage, at the  university of Utah (David lived in the US for eight years) I had a minor in history,  and I took several art history classes, and had some wonderful professors that really opened up my eyes to understanding art better. When I had selected classes, I would always take anything art or culture related.
Of course after I was done with university, as my memoir talks about, I started to go down that path full time. (Art as a career)

-Being a painter, who are some of the artists whom have inspired your work?
That’s a question I get a lot, and when you’ve been doing this full time for twenty years, you sort of drift in and out of different inspirations. So what I would say during the early days, who inspired me the most was Edvard Munch, whom is from the area where I live (Norway) So Scandinavian art has always been a big part of it. Munch also inspired Van Gogh, and that type of art has always been huge with me. Colorists, people whom use color, Gauguin, Bonnard… It goes in and out with who inspires.

But definitely anyone who uses color, paints their life story, and has more of an expressive view, is what speaks to me the most. Probably because I’ve dealt with my depression and things like that through art. Artists who worked in a similar way really appeal to me.

-When did you start writing your memoir and why?
I started writing it in 2000, so it was a fifteen year project from when I started writing to when it was  published. I would say the last five years of that was editing and finding a publisher. I started it mostly like a journal, I didn’t have a thought about making it into a book. I would just write down what I was going through in this huge document. Every time I would see a psychologist, or I was committed to a  hospital, I would write down dialogues, things that happened, things that I saw, so the book has a lot of detail that I could never have remembered if I sat down fifteen years later and tried to recap that.
So each chapter starts with a journal entry and tells that story and what happened. So I did it to put words down on what I was going through, just to make sense of stuff.

-When dealing with depression, how did you use art as a way of healing or therapy?
I would use the word “coping” rather than “healing”, I think it’s a consequence of the coping, but it’s a way to endure, I would say it’s a way to be cathartic about what you’re experiencing, I think it’s really helpful for anyone who struggles to be creative in some way. I don’t think you have to use art like I do painting or drawing… You could write, create music, dance, anything where you are able to express what’s inside, will help you cope. 

So I see art as a coping mechanism rather than the end goal of being healed. If I have a good day, that’s great. But I could also start to cry when I’m painting or when I’m going through very difficult things. Or I can just work, have something to do… It puts my mind in a different sphere. Rather than focus on my suffering per say. Cause when you start with a blank canvas you sort of disappear into another world, and I think that’s really important in coping.

-With how the world is right now, people need a way of escape, or way of coping. Especially with how things like the news is…
It’s not really a way of escape either, because I think to create genuine art, you have to be honest, and then you can’t escape. You actually have to be bold and brave and face your feelings and fears. So it’s anything but escape really. It’s actually being brave to face what you’re feeling. And it’s okay to do whatever it is in you; if you want to paint a black picture, you can do that, if you want to paint a sunny day you can do that too… There is no right or wrong in art, but in order for it to be genuine art, you have to be honest, whatever that emotion is.

You mentioned the news, it’s really stressful. I’m trying to avoid the news as much as possible these days. You have to keep up to date with the rules, and restrictions that are constantly changing. But if I watch CNN all day long I’m going to be depressed in an hour. It’s just to much! I’d rather sit and draw, or listen to music.

Music is important to me too, very, very important. I usually listen to music when I paint or draw, and it’s really important to find music that correlates with what I’m feeling, sort of enhances what I’m doing.

-Can you tell us what kind of music you like?
I can listen to Mozart, classical music, or opera one day, and I can listen to nirvana the next day. Anything that has a genuine feeling to it. I pay a lot of attention to lyrics to. I like a lot of Bruce Springsteen. Sometimes I listen to Jazz, there’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just the feeling that I have. I have these playlists that I make, I used to burn CDs back in the old day before you had Spotify. Cost me a lot of money, I would burn a CD every day before I went to the studio, and I had hundreds of these burned CDs, so when Spotify came in, it was awesome. (Laughs)

-I’m sure you’ve told this story a million times, but can you tell us how Twitter Art Exhibit began?
I’ve told this story so many times, I feel like a robot! (Laughs) It started in 2010, when I read an article in my local newspaper, that they had cut the funding for children's books at my local library. 

Back in the day we were a close knit art community, before Twitter came, before social media, I was alone in my studio. Probably for eight to ten years, I didn’t see many people, I didn’t share my work, other than with my friends that dropped by. But when social media came, I connected with artists in Australia, US, England, all over the place, and we supported each other, we got to know each other and who we were, and a lot of us are still in contact…
So I had this idea that I wanted us (Artists) to do something together. So when this newspaper article came, I kinda put the two together. I first thought about artists being able to send paintings to my library, but then I thought; that’s gonna cost a lot of money, how do we do that, how do you curate something like that, what do I do with unsold work, and how do I send it back? The cost of that would just be crazy, and most of my artist friends couldn’t afford shipping a painting, from Australia, or somewhere like that. 

So I looked at my studio wall, I call it my wall of inspiration... Whenever I had gone to an art museum or somewhere like that, I would buy a post card, and I would put them up on my wall. So I thought; to send a post card, that doesn’t cost a whole lot! You just make something post card sized, put it in an envelope and donate it, so I don’t have to send it back. So I asked my artist friends, can you please support this? Send hand painted post cards to my library, I’ll exhibit it, and sell it for charity, and we got about two-hundred and twenty cards from twenty four countries, and we raised enough money to buy two-hundred and twenty-one new children’s books. 

So that’s how it started, I didn’t really think about doing it again, it was just a one-time project, so in 2011, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have the organization that we have today.
But in 2012 my local women’s shelter also needed funding, so I thought I would do it again. But it was a local thing, I did it for my community, and we helped that women’s shelter, and that was great.
Then in 2013, I was contacted by a curator in LA, her name is Nat George, and she asked if she could do it in her city for a charity she cared about, in my name with the same idea. That’s how TAE as an organization took root. We got a board together, decided we would do it once a year in a different city, for a different charity… And we’ve done it ever since, in many different parts of the world. It’s grown! We now have an average of twelve-hundred artists from sixty-four countries.

And why I wanted to bring social media and the art community in, was because; it’s not just about us raising money for charity, it’s also about us artists doing something creative together, and that it is an all-inclusive project, where anyone can participate, amateur and professional alike… 
When you see all these cards on the wall together, it’s really an instillation, and it’s fantastic to see all the mediums, and expressions. There is no theme that the artist has to follow, they can do whatever they want, any medium they want, so long as it’s handmade, and hand signed. So when you look at this wall, you can see what country they're from, what city they’re from… The buyer can contact the artist, artists connect with other artists, there are so many feel good elements about it.

-Twitter Art Exhibit is a one of a kind thing, it doesn’t seem like anything else quite like it exists?
There are a lot of these kinds of projects that have popped up, “Post-card Art” is it’s own hashtag now. But there’s really no project like TAE that's at the scale that it is, has the history that is has, and is as inclusive. And also that we donate the funds to the charities, there’s really no personal gain involved, everybody’s doing it to help someone, help a charity, so we’re definitely unique, and I think we were the first.  But there have definitely been other projects that have popped up, but most of them last only a year, or for one single thing, and then sort of die out. But we do it every year routinely. 

-Can you tell us about the organization/charity TAE is supporting this year, and when the exhibit will take place?
Well, this year has been crazy with the pandemic, it started (The pandemic) right when we were going to have last year’s exhibit in Myrtle beach, South Carolina, and we had to do that mostly as an online event, because their were restrictions on how many people could go into the gallery. TAE has two components; it’s the actual opening exhibit, that’s the event. I usually come and open the exhibit, there are hundreds of people there, sometimes we have music… In 2018 in edinbrough we had pipers, bag-pipes, kilts, and we had the MP open it there…
So there's usually a show with it, and then there is an online sale, whatever doesn’t sell at the opening is then sold online. This year I’m not sure if we can have that kind of shebang! But it is planned to be in cheltenham England this year, we were first going to have it in May, but we now have postponed it to July due to restrictions of the pandemic. They don’t see that lightening up until July, we’ll see when July comes, if we have to do it strictly online, or if we can do it in some other way…

But this year it is for LINC which is a leukemia charity, and I feel very strongly for this one… My sister in-law has leukemia, and has been struggling with that for five years, and I’ve seen how difficult that is, to have the bone marrow transplants, and what it does to the families… I’ve felt that first hand.
So, we’re gonna help LINC with patients going through treatment, but also support their families. I asked LINC to find a narrow angle to where the money will go to. I don’t just like to put it in the pot and see it evaporate into all kinds of costs. We like to support a more “detailed” project. So we are going to support therapy, so each card that sells, is going to be one therapy session for a leukemia patient, or one of their family members. And that’s very, very important, especially now with the pandemic, you can imagine what they go through, with treatments and the fear that they have of getting the virus, it could kill them, when they don’t have any immune system.

-Do you have any future plans for TAE? Any future projects?
We want to grow, we want to evolve, but I don’t want us to grow to much, change to much, I don’t want it to change into something else. I’ve always seen us as a kind of underground organization, we’ve not been supported by any big funding, it’s just us artists doing what we can. 

The concept is simple, the artists create a card, send it in each year, support a charity, and move on to the next, I like the simplicity of that. I don’t want it to turn into; Let’s do five a year, let’s do it bigger, let’s get five-thousand cards a year. I like how it is, and we’re doing good. 

Our biggest challenge, as we’re growing, is to sustain ourselves, because we donate pretty much everything to the charity, we also need to cover our own overhead. There’s a lot of work going into our catalog, paying for our website, Mailchimp, Dropbox… The costs are mounting, and as we’re getting more participants, we need a bigger and bigger Dropbox, bigger and bigger this… so we need some money coming into us also, and that's my biggest challenge, is to make us survive, long-term, help cover our costs for travel… So that we don’t get to stressed, cause we do a lot of hard work on this, us on the board, and we need to be able to relax a bit too. So if you buy a catalog for instance, that supports us, and that’s really important to cover our own costs. So I'm in that mindset, to make us sustainable for years to come. 

You asked what other kind of projects I have going on, and you know, I have to work with several work groups at the same time, because when the opening happens in cheltenham, I will announce next year’s venue. That means I have to have the location in place, the curator, the work group, and the charity has to be selected already by the time we open. So I need to know: where’s it going to be in 2022, where’s it going to be in 23… I have to work with several TAE(s) at the same time.

-I’ve noticed you always announce the next event at the exhibit opening.
It’s been sort of a tradition, our artists always look forward to my opening speech, because; where’s it going to be next year!? There’s that excitement, it’s fun!
I can’t tell you where it’s gonna be, because of the surprise element, but I can tell you it’s gonna be in Europe again, at a really fun place! We’ve been in the Australia, US, Scotland, England… Now we’re going to be in another European major city. Hopefully a lot of our participating artists will be able to travel in for that one.

That’s one of the things I noticed in edinbrough, when we were there in Scotland in 2018, their were so many participating artists, traveling in to be part of the event, at the opening, that was like a reunion, it was fantastic. So it’s great at the opening to be able to meet many of the artists, they make a little vacation out of it!

-We almost had the opportunity to meet you at the Orlando, FL, TAE
Orlando was fantastic, that’s one of my favorite TAE(s), because we got to support the center for contemporary dance, which helped children with down syndrome and autism for dance education, and to be a part of that, and see those kid’s dance and preform at the opening. I have a brother with down syndrome, so it was very special be there and support that cause. It’s a great memory, so Florida was awesome!

-What was one of your favorite memories from a TAE? Unless the one from Orlando was your favorite?
Every year is a good memory, and they’re special in different ways. But I would have to say that one in Orlando, seeing those kid’s dance, and giving me high fives and a hug afterwards… It was just fantastic. But I’ve got so many great memories, one of the advantages I have is I get to see the charities up close, and meet with them each year, the participating artists don’t really get that experience to the same extent, I think that’s something we could do better, communicate where the money actually goes to. We often are so busy, that when one TAE ends, we have to move on to the next. I want to focus more on that, share some of those experiences and see the differences we’re making in real people’s lives.

So every year is a great memory, but I’m never going to forget those dancing kid’s, giving me those high fives and hugs, they were just fabulous!

-Final question: I asked you before whom inspires you as an artist, but who inspires you in life?
Wow, what a big question, the first person that pops into my head is Nelson Mandela. I don’t know why, but he’s always been so inspirational to me, I think his endurance, and tenacity. When he sat in that cell, for all those years, that he was able to still keep his hope up, and what he was able to accomplish, I don’t know, there's just something about him, that always inspires me. I almost can’t understand where he got his strength from. So when I go through difficult times, and think life is tough, I think of him in that cell, and that he was able to keep going and still have a vision, that inner strength, that really inspires me.

Enjoyed this interview? Like, comment, and share! If you find any grammatical errors, leave a comment down below!

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