Painting White & Red 1957
oil & charcoal on board
91.4 x 121.9 cm
Gimpel Fils, London 1957;
Private Collection until 2022
London 1957 - "Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract", Redfern Gallery, 4 April 1957 - 4 May 1957;
Eindhoven 1957 (from label on reverse - catalogue untraced);
London 1960 - Sandra Blow, Gimpel Fils 1960, no. 2
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The impastoed and scrapped back surface of this exceptional work from 1957 echoes that of "Winter 1956" now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is a trailblazing work by a trailblazing female artist at the forefront 1950s innovative abstraction - produced just before her short initial stay in Cornwall. In March 1957 Gimpel Fils was to organise Blow's first exhibition in New York at the Saidenberg Gallery. In New York she mingled with many of the Abstract Expressionists meeting Helen Frankenthaler and indeed Blow later recounted how she rode pillion on Robert Motherwell's motorcycle.
After moving to St. Ives in 1957, Patrick Heron offered Blow accommodation at his home, Eagles Nest, from where she found herself a cottage to rent at nearby Tregerthen. Originally used by D.H. Lawrence in 1916, this cottage had a long association with the arts and was adjacent to the cottage where Trevor Bell and Karl Wescke lived. This exceptional work was probably painted just before her move to Cornwall and later lent, by her dealers Gimpel Fils, to the seminal 'Metavisual Taschiste Abstract' exhibition held at the Redfern Gallery in 1957. In its scrapped back impasto - almost monotone in white - this work also acts as a point of catalyst for Paul Feiler's vernacular in his great abstractions of the following years.
Blow was at the forefront of the post-war avant-garde from an extremely young age, catalysed by studying in Rome and taking Alberto Burri as her lover in 1947. On her return to London, the influential 1950s dealers Gimpel Fils held her first exhibition in 1951; she exhibited with Paolozzi, Pasmore and Adams in Rome in 1952; and had her first solo exhibition in New York a few years later in 1957, before being chosen to exhibit in the British Pavillion at the Venice Biennale alongside William Scott, Alan Davie and Kenneth Armitage in 1958.
For Sandra Blow, and so many others of her generation, European art was the greatest influence. It was contemporary Italian art that was a foremost influence on Blow’s works of this period, particularly due to her close friendship with Alberto Burri. Unlike Lanyon, Heron and Tilson who travelled to Italy in the 1950s, Blow was studying with Burri in Italy in the late Forties.
She travelled throughout Italy and Spain and discovered at first hand the European culture. While Blow did not produce work of her own in Italy, she learnt a great deal from the Italian master of "art informal". Burri worked in the same vein as Tapies, Dubuffet and Afro, using a variety of rough materials into their painted surface such as earth, ash, cement and charred sacking. His example had a powerful effect on the direction of Sandra Blow's own work. She used his materials and began to distil her own form of reductive expressionism, preoccupied with space, matter and movement. American art was also important, and indeed, along with artists as diverse as Alan Davie, Peter Lanyon and William Gear, Blow was to have solo shows in New York in 1957.
Blow did not stay long in Cornwall returning to London to teach at the Royal College of Art in 1960 where she was a tutor for 14 years. She won 2nd prize in the John Moores exhibition in Liverpool in 1961. She later returned to St Ives in 1994 relocating her studio to live there permanently until her death.
Sandra Blow photographed by Ida Kar in her studio 1955