Painting the Past

Painting the Past

Artist Profile

Sherry Zvares Sanabria is a Leesburg painter. Her show "Slave Quarter and Other African American Sites," will be on display at the Loudoun Campus of Northern Virginia Community College, 1000 Harry Flood Byrd Highway, Sterling, from April 30-May 25. Visit

Who are your major influences?

My musings, determined by culture and experience, are what most affect my art. Still, I am not without the influence of other artists, though its extent cannot be known. Among the artists who have moved me are Goya, Velazquez, Vuillard, Morandi and Diebenkorn.

Who are your major art influences?

Looking back at the artist who most influenced the direction of my work, I am indebted to Ben Summerford, my teacher and master of fine arts thesis advisor at American University. It was he who suggested I paint "Interiors." I have never found a topic of more interest than old buildings: Either interiors of emptied rooms or the facades. I am drawn to the walls and spaces of such edifices by the magic of light, the organization of architectural elements and the perception that these spaces are filled with and colored by the spiritual remnants of the lives lived in them.

What is the motif of the show? What is special about it? How did this motif come about?

I work in series. Some of the ideas for topics have come to me from others who know my work. The series "Slave Quarters and Other African American Sites" was started by a suggestion by Ann Noel who knows my work and e-mailed me suggesting that I look at the slave quarters in Arcola. She thought it would be a good painting subject for me. When I saw it I was very excited and began a painting of the Arcola slave quarters and also began the investigation into other such sites in Loudoun County, in the state and in other areas I could visit.

Any local community influences in your work?

In my investigation, I learned about the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, which I joined.

What inspired you to paint images of African-American sites?

My intention in painting images from the antebellum and Jim Crow periods in our history is to remember and honor those who lived, worked and gathered together in these buildings.

When did you first get inspired to create art? Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist?

From the age of 4 when given a blackboard with a top roll of pictures, and I discovered I could copy all the pictures, I never stopped wanting to draw. I always did art. I majored in art in undergraduate school and received a MFA 16 years later. But the idea of being a professional artist came in small steps during the 1970s.

Where do you do most of your work? Do you prefer a bedroom, studio, outside, lot of light, little light, etc?

I’ve had studios in Alexandria and Washington since 1975. My husband, sculptor Robert Sanabria, and I built our house and adjacent studio in Leesburg in 1986. My studio faces north and has beautiful painting light.

What do you listen to when you work? Is it reflected in the work you create?

I listen to radio and books on tape while I paint. I often tune out while engrossed in a painting and miss a bit, but the talk and reading keeps me company.

Favorite medium to use and why?

All of my paintings are acrylic on 100 percent rag museum board or Arches paper.

Where else can people see your art?

My work can be viewed on my Web site My work will be included in the summer, June through July, group exhibition at Gallery 222. One can also see some of my work at the Foxhall Gallery in Washington, D.C., and at the Hoorn-Ashby Gallery in New York City. My work will be included in a group exhibition at the Florida Holocaust Museum in 2008."

What do you hope viewers get out of the art show?

I hope the viewer would be enticed to enter the painting and discover the mystery there.