About Jillian Sandell
Jillian Sandell is an artist, writer, and educator who lives in Joshua Tree, California. During cancer treatment in 2016, she was inspired by Lynda Barry’s daily journal activity and began drawing as a way to process her experiences. Those early rough sketches turned into an ongoing art practice that now includes a variety of works on paper, including zines, block prints, drawings, watercolors, and risographs. Before becoming an artist, Jillian taught gender studies for two decades and her work is shaped by a feminist sensibility – focusing on the politics of everyday life, including the aftermath of cancer treatment, living in the desert, environmental and food justice, grief, and love. Jillian is an active member of the Joshua Tree art community, and has shown her work in galleries, community spaces, and zine fests around the US southwest. She is currently working on a graphic memoir about cancer treatment.
I make work that starts with my own experience in time and place: of cancer treatment and its aftermath, of living in the desert, of the natural world I observe everyday, of grief and love. I highlight specific details of my life to tell stories that are true and relatable, but also to notice moments of variation within the repetition of everyday life. A significant part of my art practice is walking alone each morning for an hour along the same route, observing the small changes around me – in the plants, the sky, the animal tracks on the dirt roads. For me, these moments of variation within familiar daily routines are critical because they create the conditions of possibility for new ways of seeing and being. By bringing attention to the relationship between repetition and variation in daily life, my work benefits from sustained time in a single place where I can observe the changes around me day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute.
I work on paper because it is accessible and affordable, and also because it reflects the fragility and ephemerality of each moment. My zines and prints include simple drawings of everyday objects, stylized details from the desert environment, and observations about micro shifts in perception. I often use layers and grids to emphasize how each moment is a palimpsest of experiences and forces, both seen and unseen. My 2019 series of risograph prints about desert plants and rock formations utilizes layering of color and line to suggest how each experience of the desert is unique and dependent on the macro-realities of climate or geology, as well as the individual variability of mood, quality of light, or understanding. My 2021 series “Pandemic Plant Grids” depicts details from plants that I stare at everyday, rendered as abstract shapes in a grid format. The grid highlights the repetition and variation in the plant shapes I see each day as a shorthand for the repetition and variation of life during lockdown. The grid also echoes the zoom gallery screen that has been such a staple of pandemic life.
Visually, my work often has a lightness and spareness to it that belies some of its serious themes. I find that drawing, writing, and creating images about my own observations and experiences helps ground me when life feels overwhelming and unmoored. I want my work to invite people to slow down and notice each leaf, each rock, each breath, each step, as a way to appreciate the present moment and to remember we can always begin again.