Sec Sandoval just isn't into painting nude models. When he was young he took an art class with Randall Davey and a model came in and disrobed. Sandoval left to go outside and paint birds.
Later Davey said, "If you want to be an artist you need to draw what you want to draw, not what I tell you to draw."
He's been drawing since he was five, but never took formal art classes (at least not the kind where he had to draw what the teacher told him to). What makes his art stand out is his unsurpassed familiarity and love for Northern New Mexico.
That is something that comes from getting out and painting what you want to paint every day.
"When I came here in '43 it was the first time I painted aspens," he said. "I just fell in love with them. I said I'm going to keep painting aspens until I get it right."
Just because he didn't seek out art instruction doesn't mean that he didn't care about school. "Los Alamos has been good to me in every respect," he said. "When I came here I couldn't read, speak much English, communicate or get along with the other kids on the playground. I started out at the very bottom of the class....But the teachers straightened me up. I graduated seventh in my class, was the class president and the captain of the football team. But I didn't let that get to my head. I had a very old fashioned family. My father was very strict."
He stayed in touch with some of his teachers until they passed on.
After high school he got a position at the Los Alamos National Lab as a mechanical designer and illustrator. He has a painting by his staircase that was influenced by his technical job. But after working for the lab he was soon anxious to follow his own artistic path. He quit 37 years ago.
According to Sandoval, his boss said, "Good for you. If I could paint, I'd quit too."
While he went through the art in his house, showing me what he has done over the course of his career, every now and again he would come across what he considered to be a dud. Mainly they were abstracts that made him exclaim, "What was I thinking?" or "That won't put any tortillas on the table!"
What he mainly does is landscapes of Northern New Mexico. He has done everything from the Santa Fe Mountains to Valle Grande, to Taos. He's painted the Black Mesa so many times that he could do it in his sleep. He said, "You don't have to go very far to find something to paint."
He doesn't like to paint outside because the conditions are too unpredictable. Instead he takes pictures of his favorite places. But recently what he likes to do more than take pictures is to sketch a rock or a tree or a bush and then make his own composition based on the sketches. the place in his paintings ends up being fictional.
Sandoval doesn't like to travel, be in big cities or fly. He went to Alaska once, and took some pictures for paintings but decided that you really need to live somewhere to paint it well. "Here, I go out for walks, see the beauty, see my friends and neighbors.... I need to stay home and paint."
He told me about how he first realized that he was permanently attached to New Mexico. "It was the first time I came home on leave from the army. I looked at the Sandia Mountains and I had tears rolling down my face. They were so beautiful!"