Sandra Blow

Pioneering abstract painter


Sandra Blow, painter and teacher: born London 14 September 1925; Tutor, Painting School, Royal College of Art 1961-75; ARA 1971, RA 1978; died Truro, Cornwall 22 August 2006.

During the 1950s, Sandra Blow was one of the pioneering abstract painters who introduced into British art a new expressive informality, using cheap, discarded materials such as sawdust, sackcloth and plaster alongside the more familiar material of paint. A tactile as well as visual emphasis on surface resulted in powerful and complex images, exuding a rooted earthiness, yet full of mysterious flux and ambiguity. Later, in response to the optimistic climate of the 1960s, Blow's palette lightened and for most of the rest of her career, easily manipulated collage materials, like torn paper or brightly coloured canvas cut-outs, littered her often large-scale pictures. The Matisse-inspired decorative manner of her middle and late periods was a seamless collaboration between the constructed and the freely painted.

Sandra Blow was born in London in 1925, the daughter of a Kent fruit farmer whose orchards supplied retailers in Covent Garden. She left school at 15 and in 1940 entered St Martin's School of Art, where she was taken up by Ruskin Spear, one of the tutors. The patronage of older male artists like Spear, Carel Weight and Robert Buhler would remain the pattern throughout her career.

Shortly after the Second World War, Blow studied at the Royal Academy Schools, but in 1947 ventured further afield and lived in Italy for a year. She motorcycled around the countryside, discovering at first hand the architecture and pre-Renaissance frescos. She took up with another father figure, the well-known Italian painter Alberto Burri. While Blow did not produce work of her own in Italy, she learnt a great deal from the Italian master of "art informel" and later adapted Burri's manner of composing with sackcloth, tar and other low-grade materials for her own, perhaps more naturalistic, ends.

Upon her return to London in 1950, however, Blow began to assert herself artistically, establishing a calligraphic style in sensitive landscape drawings and a pronounced gestural handling of material in the paintings. Her use of dingy earth pigments like ochre, beige, brown, black and white to some extent mitigated the explosive and expansive spatial feeling engendered by splattered and flying paint marks.

Despite her youth, Blow was at the forefront of the abstract art movement in Britain during the 1950s. Along with Denis Bowen, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Gillian Ayres and many others, she broke down barriers and prejudices, using a charm and ease of personality to make abstract painting seem as natural and commonplace as sliced bread. Following her first painting sale, to Roland Penrose (a founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts), Blow's career took off.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, she regularly exhibited with Gimpel Fils, the leading London gallery whose association with St Ives artists like Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Peter Lanyon anticipated her move in 1957 to live for a year in a cottage at Zennor near St Ives. Blow was widely exhibited abroad throughout this time, establishing the international profile that her cosmopolitan outlook warranted. Participation in peripatetic displays of contemporary British art saw her work promulgated in Italy, Holland, Germany, the United States and later Australasia.

In 1957 she featured in the first John Moores biannual exhibition in Liverpool and was included in the Young Artists Section at the Venice Biennale the following year. She won the International Guggenheim Award in 1960 and won second prize at the third John Moores exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in 1961.

The influential Zennor-based critic and painter 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. In an adjacent cottage used by Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry during the First World War, the talented young painter Trevor Bell worked; like Blow, Bell enjoyed the encouragement and patronage of Heron, Roger Hilton and Peter Lanyon.

Never pedantically descriptive of precise topography, Blow's pictures like Cornwall (1958) and Space and Matter (1959) - both of which were prominent in her 2001 retrospective at Tate St Ives - nevertheless seemed to echo the forms of the dry-stone walls, granite barns and large foam-spattered rocks that lay beyond her barn studio.

In 1960, having returned to the capital, Blow acquired a large studio at Sydney Close in Kensington, where she worked for the next 24 years. In 1961 she started a 14-year stint teaching at the RCA, at an auspicious moment when David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield and Ron Kitaj were among the students. Not a natural communicator and always curiously non-intellectual, Blow never became a renowned teacher, although her "studio floor" sessions with younger artists were masterclasses in the business of making ambitious, large-scale abstract pictures.

Blow was active socially, entertaining an admiring Francis Bacon in her studio and mixing with artists like Elisabeth Frink at the Chelsea Arts Club, of which she was a prominent member. Blow made canvases that celebrated the mood of the 1960s and beyond, light, open compositions punctuated with bright, eye-catching colour.

Although painters like Jennifer Durrant, Gillian Ayres and Joan Mitchell shared with Blow ambitious scale and expressive dynamism, she stands alone as the earliest and most original woman painter in Britain able to challenge the bar-room "macho" cult associated with free, informal abstract painting.

In moving to St Ives during the mid-1990s, Blow came full circle, reinvigorating a Cornish art scene bereft of the glories she had sampled 35 years before. For the first few years she worked in a beachfront studio at Porthmeor, but later built a large studio and home at Bullens Court above the town.

She exhibited locally but also fulfilled her obligations as a Royal Academician, participating in every Summer Exhibition at Burlington House, where she enjoyed a retrospective in 1994 at the newly built Sackler Galleries. An exhibition to mark Blow's 80th birthday was held at Tate Britain last year, coinciding with the publication of a biography, Sandra Blow, by Michael Bird.

Peter Davies

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Junior Database developer (SQL, T-SQL, Excel, SSRS)

£20000 - £30000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Junior D...

Helpdesk Team Leader / Manager

£45000 per annum + pension,medical: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable gl...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

August in southern Italy is known darkly as 'boating season' - the peak period for migrants arriving in Sicily at the end of an often epic journey through Africa. Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition