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A biography of sandra blow the english painter

Antonio Olmos Sandra Blow, who has died aged 80, found her direction as a painter in 1947, when the Italian abstract artist Alberto Burri became her lover. Burri's life after the war had been sackcloth and ashes, figuratively because he was a prisoner of war of the Americans, literally because under those conditions sackcloth and ashes were the only kinds of materials available to him to make art with. In the year during which they lived together in Rome, Burri remade Blow in his image, but whereas he, with a failing common to many postwar Italian artists, too often transmuted his coarse materials into chic artefacts, her work remained spacious and robust.

Space And Matter, indeed, was the title of the exhibition of Blow's work that practically filled Tate St Ives in 2001-2002. It is also the name of a painting she made in oil on board as early as 1959 with an earthy feeling for the coarseness of wood and tar but that also evokes aerial elements like wind and flame and sea spray. She was always liable to work with collage as one element of her paintings and in early days might stain canvas with tea as one of her colours.

Her later work became relaxed and colourful. Two huge paintings of 1988 and 1989, Vivace and Glad Ocean, each has as its main motif a big shallow V, one crimson, one blue, which she made by throwing the paint at the canvas: She was always, after her student years as a figurative artist training at St Martin's School of Art in London 1941-46 and the Royal Academy Schools 1946-47a biography of sandra blow the english painter abstractionist.

Sandra Blow

She had the rare ability to make small works, such as the series of tiny monochrome oils, Waves On Porthmeor Beach, with a sense of limitless space; and big works, like the 12 panels constituting Resounding 2001which filled a wall at Tate St Ives, as compactly organised as a small drawing.

Later in life, Blow joined the increasing numbers of artists who previously would not have been seen, alive or dead, at Burlington House and who now gladly became Royal Academicians; but it was the deadly dullness of the academy schools, as she saw it when she was a student, that drove her to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome.

Her association there with Burri underpinned her work throughout her life, but he was 10 years older than her and his influence was overwhelming, so she returned to England in 1948 to find her own manner. He became an internationally recognised figure; she remained the better artist.

Blow was a biography of sandra blow the english painter in London, where her father was a fruit wholesaler at Spitalfields market. As a child she often visited her grandparents' farm, where she loved to paint the Kentish orchards, and at the age of 15 her family realised that art was her thing. So she went to St Martin's and - her own description - discovered paradise. During the war years she would meet other painters like Lucian Freud and John Minton at the Mandrake or the Gargoyle club, or at the Colony Club in Soho, a favourite watering hole of Francis Bacon and the subject of a famous painting by Michael Andrews.

But Gimpel Fils took on Blow in 1951, gave her regular exhibitions, and organised her first one-woman show in New York. Apart from the annual summer show at the Royal Academy, Blow also exhibited at the Venice Biennale and, in 1961, won second prize at the John Moores Exhibition in Liverpool. For 14 years from 1961 she was a tutor in the painting school of the Royal College of Art and was appointed an honorary fellow.

Her first experience of St Ives was in 1957, when she rented a cottage in the nearby hamlet of Tregerthen where DH Lawrence and Frieda had lived during the first world war and many artists had subsequently worked. She returned to London but made working visits to the West Penwith peninsula often enough to be included in the overview at the Tate Gallery on Millbank in London in 1985, called St Ives 1939-64.

In 1994 Blow went back to live in St Ives permanently, for although famous she could no longer afford a studio in London. Blow maintained that events in her personal life often affected the appearance of her painting, not, of course, in an illustrational way, but in the tensions and clashes of the jostling marks on the canvas.

But she believed also that abstract art did not simply reach its own natural if small audience, but gained some of its validity by feeding back into the broader visual life of the nation as fashion and architecture and design.

  • Unlike some of her American contemporaries, careful composition eliminates gestural expression and there is a delicate coherence in her treatment of pictorial space;
  • During her childhood, Blow spent weekends and holidays in Kent at her grandparents' fruit farm;
  • Two huge paintings of 1988 and 1989, Vivace and Glad Ocean, each has as its main motif a big shallow V, one crimson, one blue, which she made by throwing the paint at the canvas;
  • In 1960, she started teaching painting at Royal College of Art , where she remained until 1975, whilst also painting in her studio in Chelsea, London.

I bumped into her at a viewing of one of her shows and was asking her some boring question about how she got from point A to point B in her painting career when she chipped in to ask: During the 70s she collaborated on a series of paintings with Eric Defty, an architect from whom she learned the formal value of geometric shapes.

Afterwards, her paintings often had controlled shapes brushed in against a ferment of organic forms, and she increasingly used square canvases as an underpinning architectural statement before making a single brushstroke. Waves On Porthmeor Beach, too, was a collaboration, this time with the poet Alaric Sumner who a biography of sandra blow the english painter young soon afterwardswhich was both exhibited on gallery walls and also published as a small book. Her commitment to the checks and balances of painting as pure abstraction was total, and though in later life she sometimes said she wished she had borne children, she regretfully recognised that she could not have managed a double life as artist and mother.

Sandra Blow was the most amazing colourist and the most original composer of a painting we have had in recent years. It is a deep shock not only that this warm and modest person is no longer around, but also that her stupendous late flowering will not go on.

True colourists are rarer than we think.

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And I felt she should be put on that level before I heard she had died, so there is nothing sentimental about my assertion. We know how hard it is to explain what makes a colourist. Subtlety, of course, comes into it: If that is too vague, then a crucial gift is the ability to modulate colour with such cunning that a sense of astonishment is part of the joy of the painting.

You must have noticed, in the midst of all the browns and greys of, say, Van Dyke's backgrounds, a thrilling juxtaposition of warm and cold blues. When you go on to see it recurring in perhaps a small landscape by the 19th-century David Cox, for example, you recognise the phenomenon as something picked up from Titian: And sometimes with none at all.

They belong more with painters like the Sienese primitives, or the Indian miniaturists. Their colour is more obvious, more declamatory, but no less crafty. Let's just say the true colourist has a secret weapon.

Once when my wife and I were examining one of Sandra's collages, stuck together with more than usual insouciance, I remarked with a laugh on the rustic bravura of the craftsmanship.

She turned to ask if I hadn't noticed the same lack of care and restraint in Sandra's application of her own eye make-up. Then we agreed that it took nothing from Sandra's beauty, and the cavalier approach contributed lots to the loveliness of her paintings.