Sandy Sand: Textile Pop art
Coming from an artistic family, self-taught sculpter Sandy Sand has ‘art in the blood’. Her unique 3D wool roving sculptures of celebrities are coveted by the likes of artist Grayson Perry, musician Nick Cave and comedian Sean Hughes. In our interview with Sandy we talk about her artistic upbringing, why being self-taught has informed her art and the reasons for going with your instinct.
The multisensory experience
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Sandy Sand: I generally like to work with unusual mediums and unspun wool really lent itself to what I was trying to capture in my sculptures. I love the textural, tangible elements of textile art – the multisensory experience, the handling of the material object. Often art is very much for ‘your eyes only’ but with this medium your hands are also drawn into dialogue.
With regards to my 2D fabric paintings, I like the sensation of painting onto Calico – the way the paint bleeds into the crevices of the material. I think working with textiles adds a different dimension and uniqueness to my art work.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
Both of my grandparents were artists. My Grandmother was a ceramic artist and my Grandfather a painter. Art is definitely in my blood, part of my heritage. The need to ‘create’ or be ‘creative’ is very characteristic of my family, from generations past and present. Growing up, we always had walls (covered from ceiling to floor) of paintings and sculpture was also a prominent feature in our home.
I think the way my grandfather painted has definitely had influence over me – I find myself using a very similar colour palette to him – without really being aware of doing so.
From a young age I was also taken to many galleries and museums around Europe as both my parents were culture vultures and had an insatiable passion for art. I do believe however, that this exposure to classical ‘high art’ led to some sort of rebellion when finding my own style as an artist. My work is definitely non-normative and sometimes verges on the infantile.
Left to my own devices
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I am completely self taught. I have taken the odd course here and there, such as a sculpture course taught by the amazing Hazel Reeves (a specialist portrait sculptor). Hazel really made me aware that my style of sculpting the human form was caricature like, in the sense that proportionally I wasn’t working to scale correctly but I feel this actually makes my work identifiable. Sometimes I find technically advanced artists can lose their individualism… on occasions it is the imperfections that form a strong identity and intrigues or captivates the eye… I believe your uniqueness can sometimes be trained/ironed out of you.
I do feel the prejudices of the industry however, having not been ‘professionally’ trained but I don’t think a creative industry should have such judgements. In my eyes creativity cannot really be taught, it can be shaped and moulded for sure but it is one of those things that is either in you, or it isn’t. I don’t feel worse off having not attended art school, in fact I am pleased I was left to my own devices because I know exactly who I am as an artist – I taught myself after all.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I work with unspun Merino wool when sculpting my 3D heads and I use calico and watercolours when illustrating. I do have plans to expand the mediums that I use and I also want to experiment with dying my own wool.
When I sculpt the heads out of unspun wool I agitate the wool with different sized barbed needles that actually come from felting machines. As the wool gets agitated it hardens and forms different shapes and textures which I then manipulate to form facial features. I always work with a picture of the subject in front of me for referencing the distinctive characteristics that then make the sculpture identifiable. The wool does sometimes have a life of it’s own though! It can be stubborn or change as you are working with it. It seems to also age well – like it has a settling process.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
A lot of my work revolves around celebrity portrait sculpture and illustration so I guess it would maybe fall under the category of Pop Art. By displaying the celebrity wool heads in bell jars and frames I play on how we spectate and ogle the famous, as if they were part of some 19th century freak show or scientific experiment. The obesession with the ‘celebrity’ is very much a modern day phenomenon and I find it an extremely intriguing subject.
“I believe in deeply ordered chaos”
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I work from my studio at home which is cluttered to say the least. Like the late & great Francis Bacon said, “I believe in deeply ordered chaos.” I have books and magazines stacked all around me, piles of wool in the corners of the room. The table I work on is overflowing with paints, palettes, brushes, pencils and other such paraphernalia. I have a hefty wooden bookcase where I keep my hardback art books and display/store past work. It is a hoarders heaven and a minimalists hell but I need this kind of environment to keep me inspired. I need to feel free to make mess when I work.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I do indeed because I am forever doodling.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Dali, Kahlo, Picasso, Warhol, Rodin, Klimt, Schiele are my gods. More currently, I adore Grayson Perry for his quirky, off the wall approach to everything and his non-conformist ways, I loved the Reith lectures he gave on Radio 4. Louise Bourgeois is my main inspiration though, her work was so naughty and ahead of its time.
Go with your instinct
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
It would have to be the wool roving sculpture I did of Samuel Beckett which was a commision from comedian Sean Hughes. He asked me to make three sculptures for him after seeing my work on display at The Brick Lane Gallery in London and out of the three sculptures this was my absolute favourite to make. Beckett’s distinctive features and wrinkles really lent itself to the medium I work in and watching him take form was a very enjoyable and satisfying process.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Work with your imagination and go with your instinct, not what is technically advised. Try as many different processes as possible and find what works for you. Don’t box yourself in – through experimentation and making mistakes you will find your own unique style. I would go and see as many exhibitions as possible and try and join a collective of artists… you will be amazed how a diverse range of artists working in different mediums can inspire you. Most of all, believe in yourself and what you do!
Resources and current exhibitions
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?Louise Bourgeois – ‘The Fabric Works'[/easyazon_link Jean Draper – ‘Stitch and Structure'[/easyazon_link Ernst Haeckle – ‘Art Forms in Nature’ Ernst Haeckle – ‘Art Forms from the Ocean’
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I reference books and I use Google Images to find photographs of celebrities that I can reference when sculpting and illustrating.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I am part of a collective of artists at the Espacio Gallery who host exhibitions all year round so I will be exhibiting a lot in their gallery. I am also part of the ‘Nomad Collective’ which is curated by Renee Rilexie and we exhibit our work in various galleries around London. When I am approached to exhibit outside of these collectives I choose places where I feel my work will sit comfortably among other contemporary pieces. I am aware my art does not necessarily fit into the traditional, institutional context so I make sure that the environment lends itself to a more diverse audience.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I have an exhibition in Hoxton at the Hoxton Arches at an exhibition called ‘Seams’. I am also exhibiting at the Espacio Gallery in Bethnal Green (East London) in December. Check my website for further details.
For more information please visit: Sandysandmaker.com
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