Studied: Academy of Fine Arts, Rome, Royal Academy Schools, St. Martin's School of Art
Lived at Zennor, Cornwall: 1957-1959
Moved to St. Ives: 1994
Overview Of Exhibition History:
Sandra Blow's first solo exhibition was at Gimpel Fils in 1951, where she continued to exhibit regularly until the mid-sixties. Further solo shows were held at the New Art Centre, London (1966, 1968, 1971, 1973), at Clare College, Cambridge (1968) and at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (Diploma Gallery) in 1979. More recently, a retrospective of her work was held in the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy in 1994. Sandra also participated in many international group exhibitions from an early stage. These included; 'Young British Painters', at The Art Club, Chicago (1957), which subsequently toured the USA for two years; the Venice Biennale Young Artists Section (1958); 'Aspects of New British Art', British Council touring exhibition of Australia and New Zealand (1967); and 'St Ives' held at the Tate Gallery, London (1985). More recently her work has been regularly included in group exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, St Ives, and in other shows throughout the UK. Sandra's recent 80th birthday was marked by the launch of a new book about her life and work, and by shows at Tate Britain and Belgrave St. Ives, amongst others.
'The Cornish Connection' Catalogue Text:
It is both telling and unsurprising that the young Sandra Blow actually had ambitions to be a writer. In the 65 years that have elapsed since she first walked through the doors of St. Martin's School of Art, Sandra has quietly and determinedly created a singular, personal, and utterly distinctive visual sign system to articulate the language of her perception. Hers is not a language that describes what she sees, but a language that demonstrates the way she comprehends.
Following a comprehensive art training, Sandra spent a short but significant spell in Europe; a year of it in the company of the great Italian Art Informel artist, Alberto Burri, with whom she discovered the liberating power of Modernist abstraction in the context of the fading glory of Italy's Renaissance heritage. Upon her return to London, she set about building an art practice that has both dominated her life and seen her consistently at the forefront of British abstract art for almost 50 years. Almost unquestionably the finest collage-painter this country has ever produced, Sandra's first definitive works were paintings in oil that assimilated rough, found materials into their linguistic repertoire. 'Cornwall' and 'Space and Matter' were both made during her short spell in Zennor, between 1957 and 1958, and although entirely abstract in presentation, they are tangibly inhabited by the spirit of the landscape in which they were made. Always formally experimental, during the 1960s Sandra used materials such as tea, ash and sand in combination with oil paint to make sometimes-beautiful, almost monochromatic paintings that demonstrated toughness and transcendentalism in equal measure. Her milestone 'Green and White' of 1969 was bought by the Tate via the Chantry bequest in 1994. Moving through the intriguing 'plastic pictures', 'metal projections', and 'straw drawings' of the early and mid-1970s, Sandra's language really found its fluency with the adoption of collage painting in a strictly square format in the late 70s and early 80s; works such as 'Sacking, Brown and White', 'Sacking, Indigo and White', 'Red and White', and 'Beige, Plaster and Red' from around 1982 are breathtaking exercises in the expression of pictorial balance. The increase in the scale of her works during the 1980s led to the monumental works of poise and restrained power exemplified by 'Vivace' (1988), 'Glad Ocean' (1989), 'Brilliant Corner' (1993), and 'Selva Oscura' (1993).
Since moving to St. Ives in 1994, Sandra has continued to make art that is influenced by the environment in which she lives, but that refuses to refer directly to the landscape around her. Her work is the leanly-metaphoric expression of nature's equipoise; art possessed of the forces, tensions and balances that constitute reality, described in the elegant poetry of roughly hewn sacking, scraps of paper, charcoal and thin acrylic paint. She schools her canvases as though children; playing with them, informing them, correcting them until they gain sufficient fluency and coherency of expression to converse with the world.