Sometimes its illuminating to learn what have been formative markers for artists, as its often more varied – and perhaps unexpected – than you’d think. The current exhibition at NAC, Ready Player Two, shows that two of the more interesting and significant artists in Canada, in Brendan Tang and Sonny Assu, have – like myself – been very shaped by pop culture (comic books, graphic novels, toys and games) and other such “low” culture activities and sources that once were eschewed and denigrated.
When I first encountered Alexandra Sandison‘s artwork, when she had sent some images to present at the ongoing Rodman Hall 5 x 2 Visual Conversation Series, I was struck by how another artist was also fascinated by funerary, or cemetery, sculptures and imagery. As well, architectural imagery that has a solemnity sometimes enhanced by her colour palette (and sometimes challenged by it) is another theme in her work.
Like many local artists of quality (Joel Smith, Chris Reilly, Geoff Farnsworth), Sandison has works on display at Mahtay Café in downtown St. Catharines right now. The exhibition is titled nomade, and her statement is as follows: This series of images evokes the dream-like quality I have come across at random places and spaces. Moving in and out. Breathing in the depth of the space; it’s past and present. Most of the images are presented in a “negative” format, utilizing deep hues of violet and ultra marine blues. The graveyard photo series serves as a peaceful reminder to appreciate ones life and to take in all of our surroundings.
Her works are often in greens, greys and purples (they’re, on the one hand, classic “cold, winter” colours but the digital manipulations are often vibrant and bright. Other works (like Angel) are more monochromatic, and are more about the original sculpture / object / structure that caught her eye, and though sometimes tinted or contrasted, are more “faithful” to the “source.”
Images like Danse or Night Angel (both currently at Mahtay) also evoke a time when graveyard sculpture was a common art form (I must also mention, as a friend cited it online recently so its in my mind, Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, for the iconic – yet also, on many levels, stilted, and by some of the characters in the novel, intensely disliked – statue at the Currie / Shipley plot, who casts a shadow over Hagar, her town and the novel…). But the choice of these statues indicates an eye for what is often not noticed, or ignored. In looking at these works, I’m reminded of formative aesthetic experiences of my own involving cemetery sculptures (for some time, every family visit to the grandparents in Ingersoll included a visit to the graveyard, as it had a massive deposition scene – a crucifixion with two attending “saints.” Decades later, driving from Windsor to P.E.I., I convinced my fellow travelers to stop and see it, and the photographs I took became the basis of numerous exhibitions….and even when living in Windsor, the graveyard abutting the Ambassador Bridge also had a pitted, worn and almost sad “Mary”, whose sisters appear in a number of Sandison’s images in nomade). This attention to environment appears in other scenes that are part of this city, this downtown, and other areas, made “new” by colour and by the choice to focus upon them.
Like many here, she took art classes as a child at Rodman Hall Arts Centre, attained a Bachelor of Visual Studies and Fine Art History from the University of Toronto (2010) and went on to Post Graduate studies in Museum Management and Curatorship at Fleming College in 2011. Since then she has worked with various institutions around the GTA which include the Theatre Museum Canada, The Bata Shoe Museum, Corkin Gallery, Canadian Art Foundation and Riverdale Immigrant Women’s Centre. In Niagara, she has worked for Rodman Hall, Niagara Artists Centre and the St. Catharines Museum.
You can visit her website here, and you can follow her on Instagram here, and besides the current exhibition at Mahtay, she’s had various shows around Toronto and Niagara. She usually works in a photographic medium and photo based/found object collage.
nomade is at the Mahtay Cafe in downtown St. Catharines until the end of October, 2018.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.