Sunday, May 27, 2018

An Abundant Life - Becoming The Tree

Sandra De Sando has a beautiful quiet presence that reminds me of the expression "Still Waters Run Deep." I met her at a number of gallery openings before I saw her work in a show, and when I looked her up online to find out more about her and the art she created, I found out that she was a former member of the Guerrilla Girls. That impressed me, because the Guerrilla Girls always have impressed me - an anonymous group of female artists who make bold statements about racism and sexism and the uneven ratio of power and gender in the art world while wearing Gorilla Masks during performances and demonstrations, their only agenda has always been to bring a voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless, and to bring awareness to the importance of women in the art world who were often overlooked or outnumbered by men. When I saw Sandy at another event and in a conversation mentioned that she had been a Guerrilla Girl, she said, "How did you know that?" and when I told her I'd done some research online, she smiled in a way that I have seen her smile since, a smile that has in it a part of laughter, but also of something of surprise - a kind of joyfulness mixed with a sense of humility. Later when we met in her studio and spoke about it, she told me some of the projects she'd been involved in with the Guerrilla Girls and how at one point someone in the media had tried to identify her by referencing a performance piece she had worked with in a production capacity where she'd been seen without her mask. She'd gotten around it at the time by explaining that they'd needed someone to help manage certain aspects of the performance and that she was working with them in that capacity, but even now that she has retired her mask and she can be more open about discussing her involvement, she is careful not to make too much of a big deal about it because she is true to one of the foundational beliefs of the organization, not to make a big deal about yourself as an individual member and to stay anonymous, because you are part of a whole.

That idea of being part of a whole runs through her work, branching out from the idea of being a part of the human whole to encompassing being part of the natural world also. As we spoke in her studio, she described some experiences she'd had that had caused her to recognize that she had experienced ecological grief  upon seeing places in the natural world that she loved be overtaken and destroyed by people and construction. The article "Hope and Mourning in the Antropocene" by Neville Ellis enlightened her to what she was feeling and why, and the books "Last Child Into The Woods: Nature Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv, "Symbiotic Planet" by Lynn Margulis and "What is Life" by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan; "The Miracle of Trees" by Olavi Hulkart, and "The Hidden Life of Trees" by Peter Wohllenben, opened her mind and spirit to the desire and necessity inherent in all of us to connect and communicate with the natural world. Upon having an opportunity to go to Germany for a residency deep in the woods, and removed from civilization, she found herself sketching the world around her at first to fulfill the goals of the residency and what she had written in her proposal to do there, to draw or paint an image and then destroy it by overpainting to show what people are capable of doing to nature, and then she started to just simply be there - to sit and feel and communicate with nature in this place where the medieval structures and old growth forests had a true sense of peace and co-existence.

Returning from Germany she began a new series of work as she entered into a residency with the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation (ESKFF). Her work in the current group show at Novado Gallery highlights some of the work from that residency, and she is also part of another show in Jersey City at the Drawing Rooms' Art Project at Gallery 109 Columbus with larger works on paper that in their own way, though very different in structure and form, branch emotionally from that work. "In The Swim: Islands and Streams" at Novado Gallery showcases her works on panel board, and in a recent artist talk she spoke about how although she felt the importance of using panel board for those pieces, because of the eventually prohibitive cost and the inability to truly play with shape and form while using the pre-made panel boards she had been using, she started making her own. In reading more about her work, that kind of resiliency, practicality and continuing exploration seem to be themes that reoccur. In addition to numerous exhibitions, she has received prestigious foundation grants, has attended YADDO, has had fellowships and residencies and has worked in managerial and directorial roles with a variety of well known arts organizations in Jersey City and New York. Her art was part of the Smithsonian Museum's "Seeing Jazz: Artists and Writers on Jazz" and she was a member of the Heresies Collective, a women's group that published Heresies Magazine.

The day that I visited with her in her studio, some of the larger works on paper that are currently being shown at the Drawing Rooms were on the walls and on her table, with a few telltale signs of her panel board making workshop around them. The space overlooks a new park, and we spoke about how although what had been there before was not usable for exercise or play as the new park is, the park itself has no trees. One of her pieces at Novado Gallery highlights a neighbor's tree and another a stand of irises that had bloomed in profusion. The tree had been cut down and the irises might stop blooming, but in Sandra De Sando's beautiful and compassionate art they continue to be a part of us and will live forever.

Sandra De Sando
In Her Studio
Jersey City, New Jersey

And At Novado Gallery

For An Artists Talk
With Curator and Co-Owner Anne Novado

At The Opening At Novado Gallery
With Sunil Garg And Cheryl Gross


Jannie Susan