I was born in Lancashire, England, not far from Liverpool and began my studies in art and design at Liverpool College of Art, later gaining a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Kingston-upon-Hull Regional College of Art. I then moved to London where I took the Art Teachers Certificate (ATC) at London Institute of Education before starting my life-long career as an art college lecturer. During the later years I worked as a Programme Manager and in 2002 chose to take early retirement in order to give time to my own art practice.
I have displayed my work as part of group exhibitions in the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool, Whitworth Gallery Manchester, the Midland Group Gallery Nottingham and also had my work selected for the Singer Friedlander Competition, exhibiting in the Mall Galleries London. In 2006 I put together an exhibition of 30 pieces of my work which toured a number of hospitals including the Isle of Man and North East England. In 2008 Newcastle Arts Centre, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England hosted my one person show ‘A Sense of Place’. Eventually the charm and beauty of Pays Basques in France captivated me, so much so I decided to move to the region in 2008. Here I continued with my work and frequently exhibited in Biarritz, Bidart, and St Jean de Luz. During the summer of 2013 I was honoured to be invited to exhibit my work in Paris, before moving to Findhorn in the north of Scotland to pursue my growing interest in spirituality and healing. It was here I held a retrospective exhibition of my work at the Moray Arts Centre in September 2015. I recently moved back to Northeast England where the beauty and charm of the coast never ceases to inspire me.
Liverpool during the 1960’s was an exciting place to start a career in the arts. The city was thriving and pulsating with energy. I frequented the Cavern Club to listen to the music of many of the groups who have since became famous, such as The Beatles. I was taught by the Liverpool poets and listened to the poetry and music of the Liverpool Scene. This exciting introduction to the interdisciplinary nature of the arts has remained with me and was an inspiration for my teaching style.
I have always loved to draw, and in my early days at art college discovered how much I loved life drawing. I was also introduced to photography by my father who was a keen amateur photographer. I later found all these skills and experiences came into play throughout my artistic career. Whilst studying at London University Institute of Education I also developed a keen interest in psychology, and it was here that I started the practice of Transcendental Meditation.
During my years as an art college lecturer I led a very busy life as a single parent raising my four children. I found that my experience both as a mother and teacher only added to enrich my life experience and creativity. In recent years, as well as working with the visual arts, I spend much time writing.
About the techniques I use
I have found a way of working which allows me to combine both my photographic images with my painting and drawing skills. I have my photographic images printed large scale on to canvas before painting into them with traditional art materials, mostly acrylics. I enjoy the interaction whereby I can enhance and personalise my original image with paint and mark-marking.
My panoramic images are produced from a series of photographs taken from many different vantage points, often along a walk or a journey. Using Photoshop as an artist, I manually and imperceptibly meld my photographs together so as to provide a single coherent composite image.
Inspiration and Artistic Influences
My early work
I have always been fascinated by the continuing changing effects of light and colour. From a young age I was attracted to the work of the English landscape artist William Turner as well as the French Impressionists Monet and Degas. I loved the way they used light and colour to express the atmospheric quality of a place and time.
This interest was heightened when I spontaneously encountered what I later understood to be a ‘self-transcending experience’. I became influenced by the work of Mark Rothko, whose shimmering ‘colour field’ paintings conveyed a sense of spirituality. I then left my early figurative work and turned to complete abstraction using large soft-edged areas of colour, applied with a spray gun, to large-scale canvases. I used colour and light in such a way so as to try and convey the sense of the sublime and infinite I had experienced. These large-scale paintings were meant to be ‘contemplated’, rather than ‘read’, in an attempt to transport the onlooker into another dimension.
More recent work
Once I retired from teaching I took a fresh look at everything – my ideas, the media I used and the inspiration and influences I had found from the other artists. My love of nature makes me concerned about the natural environment and human impact on the earth. I wanted my new work to engage the spectator to take a fresh look at our relationship to the world and the environment.
I wanted to bring together my interest in the human form with my love of colour, light and the atmosphere of a place. I began experimenting with mixed media, using similar techniques to the American Abstract Expressionists. In the same way they used photo-silkscreen as a backdrop for their paintings, I worked on top of my photographs printed onto canvas. This process has allowed me to integrate my own photographic work with my painting and drawing skills.
I started by exploring the ‘atmosphere’ surrounding people in different places and environments, observing the silhouettes of people in contrasting environments. In the Baltic series, my interpretation of city life, I took photographs through the glass lift of the viewing gallery at the Baltic Art Gallery. The strong back-lit setting was ideal to enhance the silhouettes of the people.
At the time I was living at the coast, a dramatic contrast to the city, and I observed how people in their leisure time leave the city in order to seek the sense of space gained from a walk on the beach. The experience of walking on an expanse of beach offers the opportunity to take a different perspective on life, to stretch and breathe and reconnect with nature.
Therefore in contrast to the people depicted in my cityscapes, the people in my beach and seascapes are as small as ants, tiny silhouettes walking their dogs, holding hands or in small groups with family or friends. I felt the panoramic format ideal to express such a feeling of expansion, and to capture the natural ‘field of colour’ surrounding them. It was here that I returned to the influences of my earlier work – Rothko and Turner – to express the atmosphere of the elements such as in the soft comforting pink of Tynemouth Longsands and the cool clear blue of Seaburn beach Sunderland.
‘Sandra is intensely interested in what we do with our lives, often portraying the everyday and familiar. She opens our eyes to the world around us, forcing us to take a fresh look at the world and to see the familiar in a new light. She produces strong and compelling images of a contemporary nature, which urge us to reflect on life and the contrasting environments in which we now live.’