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Artist Profile: Sanaz “Sunny” Dillard

Expressing Beauty, Wisdom, and Love

By Ellen Samsell Salas

Always seeking truth, Persian-American artist Sanaz “Sunny” Mousavi Dillard has embraced risks and carved her own path. As a child, she was punished for portraying mullahs as thieves who steal people’s freedom. At 14, she navigated Tehran’s trains and buses, hoping to meet Hossein Elahi Ghomshei, the scholar and philosopher she had heard on the radio who would become her spiritual mentor. Freeing herself from an arranged marriage at 17, Dillard raised her son as a single mother while waiting 14 years to join her parents in Georgia.

In her quest to find and express truth, Dillard has studied Persian poetry and Greek philosophy as well as the works of American writers Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Accomplished in watercolor and acrylic painting, the Woodstock resident has found inspiration in American folk art and in modern artists like Marc Chagall. Happily remarried and now the mother of two sons, Dillard also teaches watercolor and Persian calligraphy.

Abstract and surreal styles allow Dillard to find and express beauty, wisdom, and love.

“I don’t search for fame. I look into myself and look for art that has human values and accepts that imperfections, ugliness, and beauty are hand-in-hand in life,” said Dillard.

When beginning a work, Dillard sometimes is driven by an event that triggers emotion. Other times, as in her recent depiction of the Chicago skyline, she familiarizes herself with a subject, researching and living with it. But once she applies paint to canvas, she frees her imagination — her connection to the “divine force” within herself — and allows the work to take shape.

Most of Dillard’s paintings burst with bright hues such as magenta, yellow, green, and turquoise. Applying the paint to her canvas with brushes and palette knives, she creates rhythm and movement through the interplay of lines, crosshatching, smudges, and dripping. Colors, shapes, and textures dance and vibrate, moving the viewer’s eye. Sometimes, she applies the paint thickly to create bold textures and rich designs. Other times, she creates flat surfaces and achieves a transparent effect.

Deeply attuned to women’s struggle for equality, Dillard might depict female figures who blend with other elements, visible yet invisible, waiting to be found and celebrated. Other figures, animals, trees, leaves, flowers, and even text join her abstract strokes and shapes, creating layers of meaning that enable viewers to find their own connections to her art.

“When I paint, I am showing people my heart. It takes a lot of courage,” she explained. “The artist puts everything out there, hoping we can connect. I care about what the viewers think, but at the same time, I know, ‘This is me.’”

For more information or to view additional works by Dillard, please visit You may also connect with the artist on Facebook or Instagram @asheqart.