Mapping the Palimpsest: The Autographic Paintings of Meredith Sands|
June 15, 2012. The doors opened to the Thomas Masters Gallery at 5 for the first one-person show of a little known artist, Meredith Sands. The walls of the gallery were humming with a palpable energy. Sands’ visually complex and stunning paintings connected almost immediately with the opening viewers. This was without exaggeration an auspicious event. Of course every artist enters that solo show of new work-- regardless of whether one is a seasoned veteran or an emerging artist—with a certain trepidation not really knowing what to expect. Whatever fears Sands might have had were quickly dispelled by the enthusiastic response to the work. Over the course of the exhibition several paintings were collected. On the sale of work, Meredith was more reserved: she was more importantly pleased with the fact that what she had invested in the paintings was somehow communicating on many different levels for her viewers.
So one might ask what do you do next after such a successful début show? Well the answer is you come back for your second solo exhibition with an even better, stronger body of work. And Meredith has done just that. Not an easy task with long hours in the studio, with discipline, and a passionate love of her medium she has accomplished that undertaking. Moreover, once again the reception for the 2013 show has been exemplary.
In the title of this essay I have referred to Meredith’s paintings as having the layered complexity of the palimpsest, and in addition a sense of mapping. Firstly, these are densely populated works for the most part, with several levels of imagery collating with each other. Meredith begins with a background of oil colors that are not simply tube colors but carefully mixed to provide for a rich initial base. This base is often made up of a variety of hues: the artist has a penchant for a somewhat muted palette of richly complex grays often made from a mixture of alizarin crimson, thalo green, and graphite gray. Next in the process is the autographic mark making with oil sticks that can resemble a number of references: simply her handwriting, or urban graffiti, calligraphy, or child-like scratches. Whatever the terms used here, these are clearly traces of the artist’s hand. Meredith’s marks come in a variety of forms, a visual language if you will, from ovals both large and small to energetic sweeps of line that resemble the idea of mapping a course or direction. This mapping aspect of her work can be interpreted in works such as Green Line Tagalong and Currents where long passages of extended lines appear to suggest a trajectory moving through the space of the painting. These are definite moves by the artist to mark off boundaries within the space and to control the seeming chaos of the forms.
The spontaneity of these gestures on the canvas imbue these paintings with a pulse, a vibration. These are works that will always feel like they were just painted. The Go Around, is an excellent example of this last appreciation with its sensitive weaving of ground and surface coloration, drawing of closed forms and free open line. What keeps the painting ever shifting is the strategic layering with images moving backward and forward in a visual dance. Meredith’s range is significant. To continue the musical metaphor, several of the paintings like Very Good Place to Start, and Meeting are animato (lively) and fortissimo (very strong), while works like Lemon, Pyramid, Algebra and Lids, and Bingo Bravo are apaise/piano, more restrained and calmed. The hugely ambitious triptych Of Stars or Asterisks (78” x 154”) is truly a symphonic work, a crescendo combining all of her visual strategies.
Meredith Sands received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute and previously had studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She also had a stint at the prestigious residency program at OX-Bow. Meredith is a tireless practicing artist spending long hours in the studio. For her second show Meredith had completed over twenty-five new paintings. She has said that on many occasions she had to forego social engagements in order to spend more time on her work. Whatever sacrifices she has made have certainly benefitted the development of her artistic practice as evidenced by these two excellent recent shows.
Although these are resolutely abstract works, one can read into them certain references to the life world. As noted above, they remind the viewer of urban graffiti, maps and mapping, and even chalkboards. Speaking of this last reference to the one can’t help making a connection to the work of Cy Twombly, especially his signature blackboard series of the 60s. In talking with Meredith about her influences Twombly comes up immediately as one of her favorites, as well as Joan Mitchell and James Bishop. It is also important to note that Meredith still does a lot of plein air landscape painting just to keep her hand in a more traditional practice. Correspondingly, the longer one looks at these paintings the more the viewer can see the landscape associations. Which leads me to the fact that Meredith is an avid runner. Again one can equate this activity with the works in terms of her experience of physically moving through space as the line moves through the paintings. One last point: sometimes too much is made of the young age of the artist (Meredith is 26 at this writing). We have to remember that historically several artists have made their mark early. To wit: Jasper Johns was only 24 when he painted the iconic American Flag; Frank Stella was 23 when he began the epochal Black series. Meredith Sands is at the beginning of her career but what a beginning it has proven to be.
Corey Postiglione is an Artist and Critic living in Chicago. He teaches Art History and Critical Theory at Columbia College Chicago.
Sands describes "But That's Not Where It's At" as process painting. Drawings and sketches may
influence her work, but they are never moved directly to the painting surface.
Highly intuitive, she attempts to communicate her innermost thoughts and emotions
in hopes that her paintings then provoke an emotional response in the viewer. She accomplishes this by combining the knowledge she has gained through her formal training regarding color and composition with an "intuitive motion".
She started painting young, with oil paint, but does not remember making the decision to be a painterï¿½ï¿½..and still she imagines no other possibility for her life.
Perhaps her earliest attempts to communicate can still be seen in works which she
calls, the chalkboard. "But That's Not Where It's At" is made up of and influenced by the chalkboard paintings. There is a history in each of these paintings which gets painted over, but never is completely erased. Remnants of earlier thoughts and ideas stubbornly resist obliteration. Sands says that, " sometimes life makes marks on youï¿½..marks that are made on you and stay with youï¿½ï¿½layers get painted over historyï¿½.personal history can not be fully erasedï¿½. and by having to leave them on the surface, the paintings become richer and deeper." There is usually at least one painting under the finished paintings.
Our childhood is here as well, the beginning of our explorations into the external world, our early attempts to express are seen in the small circles and shapes. Sands refers to this mark making as "mapping" and it is the central theme of her current work. The small gathering of shapes and lines, circles and erasures are her own navigations through the murky waters of understanding and expressing experience in all its complexities, difficulties and epiphanies,
Sands does not offer us "the way" to understanding, but rather a way to consider;
a map of her own discovery.
She is inspired by nature and landscape, color combinations in a sign post or an old door, old painted brick buildings, their textures faded and scrapped away.
She loves mixing colors, subtle shifts in color, and making palates that are not obvious choices. The preparing of her palate is often a slow and careful process.
The execution of the paintings is swift and decisive. She says, " what is most gratifying is stopping, because knowing when to stop is an amazing moment, knowing the painting is done.