Sandy Winters

Pretexts and Subtexts:
Sandy Winters, (catalogue) essay, Eleanor Heartney

Recording the Universe
By Eleanor Heartney

From Frankenstein to the Matrix, popular and serious culture is full of warning tales about the dangers embodied by unbridled reliance on technology. Created by man, technology assumes a life of its own in these narratives, evolving into an empowered servant which has the potential to overwhelm its master.

One such parable is the story of the Sorcerer's apprentice, so memorably enacted by a beleaguered Mickey Mouse in the Disney Classic Fantasia. In this animated cartoon, apprentice magician Mickey has been instructed to mop the floor. When his master departs, Mickey casts a spell on the mop and bucket to do the job themselves. Alas, this scheme is too successful as they splinters into hundreds of clones who relentlessly splash water on the floor until the whole castle is in danger of flooding. Order is only restored with the return of the master magician, who retracts Mickey's spell and returns the legions of mops and buckets back to their original singular state.

I couldn't help thinking of this story when I viewed a partial installation of Sandy Winters' Pretexts and Subtexts in her studio last winter. Wrapping around the walls like uncontrolled eruptions of ivy or kudzu, drawings of cartoonish plant and machine hybrids exuded a similar sense of blind, unreasoning force - like Mickey's mops, they were at once humorous and unsettling in their adherence to imperatives beyond human control.

Winters has created an almost feral art work. It is designed to expose the improvisational nature of the creative process, thereby revealing a synergy between the explosive forces of the human imagination and the unreasoning power of nature. It is no accident that the forms that emerge from her brush seem to have a life of their own. They are rounded and bulbous, with the illusionistic definition of identifiable objects. But despite our willingness to accept them as possible entities in the real world, they are also irreconcilably strange. Lengths of what appear to be plumbing pipes and joints may end in apparatus that resemble giant shoes or deformed telephone receivers. Intestine like coils become parts of some mysterious machine. A soft propeller may power weird seed pods. In some cases the images break out into three dimensions, but even that affords the literalist no help. A section of aluminum tubing protrudes the wall like some kind of strange religious icon, while a painted bellows contraption blows air into a real dress. Strapped wooden contraptions sit on the floor like the inner workings of old fashioned hoop skirts, while a similar shaped image painted on the wall reads as a cage.

Winters notes that she has been inspired by the myth of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, who served in ancient times as a representative of the intermingled forces of creation and destruction. The Dionysian rites were frenzied, orgiastic affairs in which the god's acolytes were as apt to kill or maim each other as they were to procreate.

For Winters, this myth reflects the nature of the creative process, where new forms and ideas emerge from the destruction of old ones. She has dramatized this notion in a gallery installation in 1999 in which she worked by day in the gallery drawing on the walls while the gallerist erased part of each days work that night. Here this is suggested by the improvisational structure of the installation, which will be reconfigured to fit each space on the tour, with new elements added and others discarded. After being reconstructed at each venue, it will then be dismantled; elements like wall drawings which are unique to the venue will be destroyed. Returning to the Dionysian metaphor, Winters likens this to the process by which vines in the vineyard are cut back each season so that they will grow back more fully the following year. She points out that the metaphor can be extended to the evolution of modern art, whereby new movements and ideas rise out of the destruction of old ones.

These works also convey a larger point about the complex relationship of nature and culture in the contemporary world. In these works, it is almost impossible to disentangle organic forms from mechanical ones, and they both seem to be driven by the same demonic forces. Thus, it is possible to read a cautionary note in these works, which remind us that technology, is a double edged power, at once promising to make the world better while rendering it more dangerous.

Part Guston, part Loony Tunes, part Rube Goldberg, with a knowing reference to the mechanized sexuality of Duchamp's Large Glass and a nod to the apocalyptic frisson of Hollywood's romance with androids, Pretexts and Subtexts blends humor and anxiety in an irresistible mix. Winters opens a window into her creative process in order to help us reflect on our own.

Eleanor Heartney is a new York-based art critic and author of Postmodern Heretics: The Catholic Imagination in Contemporary Art

Art In America
June 1992, Volume 80, No. 6, page 107

"Sandy Winters at Frumkin/Adams"
By Janet Koplos

Sandy Winters' images almost jump off the wall. It's easy to imagine that they might escape from their confinement within the mundane bounds of rectangular canvases and mutate into shaped paintings like Elizabeth Murray's, or even into fully sculptural forms like John Newman's. But saying that is not to wish it so: these paintings already give the impression of a real-life solidity, which they combine with the heightened color and clarity of an imagined world - and that's quite enough.

The imagery consists of not-quite-placeable forms that tend to look organic, mechanical and arbitrary all at once. Each painting follows the same format: within a border is a central still life arrangement that appears to rest on top of an angular but never simply rectangular "carpet". The border is primarily a single color (or at least a single tone) but is full of incident. All kinds of stroking and scribbling are evident here, with or without hues other than the dominant one.

All the paintings are 58 by 52 inches, a moderate size, and there's one diptych. Yet, you have to view them from several yards back to avoid feeling somehow physically impinged upon by the strange muscular forms Winters depicts. Many of these objects might be taken for sea creatures, because the fat, fleshy masses that define them seem so weightless. In all the paintings there are snaky-looking elements that might be taken for marine tubeworms. At times these shapes attach to a chunky, engine-like form so that they take on an obscurely pneumatic aspect.

Whatever they are, the objects of Winters' consideration are occasionally arranged one inside the other, as in The Best and The Worst of Times, where within a flabby orange cylinder, a ball of string appears to be suspended. Sometimes the encasement is protective, as in Gestation, where Winters has rendered a kind of well-stuffed basket/cradle, or in Elektra, Call Home, where a tilted form on the right panel might be a padded dog bed. All three of these paintings create the impression that we're looking down on something from an unexpected angle or a vertiginous height, providing another reason to stand back from these canvases - to keep your footing.

Winters' surfaces are densely alive with marks, from the calligraphic fragments in the borders to the repetitive stroking by which she defines her mysterious forms. The linear application of distinct colors creates an effect rather like that of pastels (except for the faint sheen that reveals the medium oil paint) and also makes many of the swollen forms look like cocoons or other wrapped objects. The linear reiteration also contributes inferentially to the forms' three-dimensional impact: because we can see how Winters energetically constructed them, they appear to be substantial.

The effect of these paintings is one of pure pleasure: they convey delight in the richness of pigment and the physical action of applying it to paper or canvas, along with a conceptual enjoyment of making the everyday new.

Art in America
September 1998, No. 9, page 127

"Sandy Winters at George Adams"
By Jonathan Goodman

Sandy Winters' materially and emotionally exuberant exhibition consisted of a drawn, painted and collaged wall installation titled Fresh Cuts (1997-8), a smaller one called In Progress (1998) and four smallish works on paper from 1997. Winters depicts forms that seem simultaneously derived from machinery and from nature and which lend themselves to a variety of readings. Often the works feel funkily irreverent and comically erotic; sometimes too, they look like contraptions meant to suggest the physically overwhelming workings of systems outside our control.

Fresh Cuts was a huge collage that followed the contours of the gallery space. Made of aluminum, canvas, cardboard and charcoal, it sprawled across a long wall and two smaller adjacent walls, creating a J-shaped installation. The mix of rough materials - stamped tin ceiling panels, plywood, newspapers and cardboard - gave the work an improvisational air, although one in which an abstract narrative seems to play out. In Winters' work, one thing leads to another; the scrawled forms, with their carefully worked out proportions of parts, suggest the repetitive motions seen in factory machines, as well as the interactions of bodies during sex. The work was a diagram of oddly organic plumbing: on the left end, a big bulbous stomach shape yielded to series of thick pipes. In the middle, connected to the pipes, was some sort of industrial scrubber; at its bottom was a disk that had wires projecting from its sides. Winters created a hybrid world of funny, but also slightly threatening, composite objects.

Her interest in improvisation was evident in the small site-specific installation In Progress. During the course of the show, as visitors watched, Winters drew in conte and charcoal on four plywood panels covered with blackboard paint. Polaroid snapshots documented changes in a big, slate-blue furnace-like device from which emanated shapes conflating factory tools and implements of war. In a gesture of deliberate openness, Winters allowed visitors to study an unfinished work and to review her decisions.

The four drawings in the show furthered the artists desire to devise a world of natural machinery. This is not so much a paradox as a conundrum in which delights a primary virtue. The fans, gaskets and pipes don't make any functional sense, and that's Winters' point exactly. She means to seduce through laughter, and she succeeds.

ART News
June 1994, Volume 93, No. 5, page 158

"Sandy Winters at Frumkin/ Adams"
By Hearne Pardee

Sandy Winters seems enthralled by the wild and sometimes violent fertility of natural forms. Her riotous conflations of plant and animal organs tend toward the grotesque and bizarre. Yet she imposes painterly discipline on the energies she unleashes, and these recent paintings reach a new level of internal drama.

Having experimented in the past with relief and with irregularly shaped canvases, Winters here finds new ways to explore and exploit the confines of the conventional picture format. Some paintings are still composed of multiple panels and most include collage, but these devices are compressed into rectangular frames, enhancing the interplay of contrasting forces. The central forms in each canvas are painted in sculptural fullness. They bulge and threaten to bulge out into the viewer's space. Yet Winters constrains their teeming energy by often cutting out and pasting down the painted forms, as though to reinforce the contrast between the sharp outlines and the organic forms they confine. And surrounding these forms are lightly drawn grids and floating, improvisational shapes. Passages of bare canvas show through around the edges, creating an open, spacious effect. These margins relieve the oppressive heaviness of the central forms, while at the same time suggesting some sort of breeding ground for their monstrous growth.

In this unusual combination of drawing and painting, of construction and nature, Winters compresses a wide range of allusions. Works such as Court of Last Resort hint at both nature's violence and the violation of nature by science and technology. Her vision is as disquieting as it is inventive.

Art News
Fall 1990, Volume 89, No. 8, page, 203

"Sandy Winters - Art Museum of Florida International University"
By Elisa Turner

Sandy Winters has always focused on voluptuous, vegetal forms. In densely packed paintings and mixed-media reliefs, she has described the sensual colors and contours of foliage and fruits whose luxuriant growth is faintly menacing. She explores the tension between ripeness and rot, procreation and decay, while working the tangled stems and rotund pods and blossoms for their nearly abstract, three-dimensional presence.

In previous works, Winters has shown architectural fragments, such as columns and capitals, nearly obscured by the smothering embrace of lush vegetation. In her recent work she has substituted mechanistic objects or elements suggesting tribal artifacts. While a certain romanticism has pervaded her art, exalting the dangerously exotic and vaguely recalling Rousseau's fabulous jungles, these new oils on paper and canvas are more aggressive and deliberately less beguiling.

Previous tensions have now escalated into conflict, as Winters employs ever more dramatic imagery, scale and sense of volume. Part of the drama arises from the way the angular boundaries of the compositions fall within the edges of the white canvas or paper. Her compelling works push and spill into the viewer's space, contrasting the dark, rich colors of the organic forms with the dull brown and gray tones of the objects and artifacts. These drab elements, sometimes suggesting spiked ocean mines, crudely echo the contours of plant shapes.

The belligerent fusion of mechanistic and organic forms may also point to the consequences of environmental rape. In Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, a dark mine-like shape bursts from the painting's center, bearing protrusions that recall spikes, buds and nipples. Thorny twigs and coils, barbed and smooth, press against vibrant globes and cones that evoke fruit and leaves. Talisman seethes with tightly compressed coils, cones, and barbs. Contents are under pressure in Winters' art, sparking a conflict between creative and destructive energies.