Monday, July 24, 2017

DUNKIRK 7/23/17

The movie Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan was quite moving....I was surprised how often the tears were coming out of my eyes slowly falling down my face - silent weeping. Trying to figure out why I was so emotional and realizing that this film presented an expansive AND personal view of a crucial incident in history - Dunkirk - a place where for nine days in 1940 - @400,000 British, French, Belgium, Canadian troops were caged - trapped by the sea in front of them with powerful Nazi weaponry at their rear, being bombarded in the air by Luftwaffe aircraft, and by torpedoes under the sea - just 47 miles from Britain.

We witness what has been called the Dunkirk "miracle" - an armada of @ 800 boats belonging to the populace propelling through the English Channel - a show of ingenuity and bravery coming to the rescue of 330,000 men who were evacuated through the aid of their fellow citizenry. Prime Minister Churchill decided after the British Expeditionary Forces were safely moved, to continue the operation helping their allies - French, etc.

Britain had a leader - Churchill who gave his people through the power of his words, the will to survive odds that were at that moment against them and instilling hope for the future.
I think of President Trump whose words are only about his narcissistic persona - who is not a leader - who is a despicable person and who does not give a damn about anyone unless it benefits him. Loyalty has no meaning for this man. That is why I was crying - a wail of frustration and despair.

Monday, July 10, 2017



“ I fall into a world that I am pulled into - a world of depth, a world of shine…”

In an East Village walkup - situated in a neighborhood which despite gentrification still has an edge of desperation - I followed the artist Sandra Payne to her studio, pulling myself by the railings, up five flights of stairs, totally unprepared for what I would encounter when we arrived breathless at our destination. When Sandra opened the door, the illumination of radiant objects created a resplendence that flooded the room with a veiled light that was both ethereal and unearthly. I have never experienced an apartment where every inch of space was conceived as a beautifully composed art installation - a respite from the realities of the outside world; a sanctuary built on a love of acquiring unnoticed materials and transforming them into objets d’art by endowing them with a  splendor and uniqueness through a poetic dislocation of expectation.

Childhood memories of growing up as an African- American girl in a close-knit family in the West End of St. Louis, Missouri with many of her relatives living nearby, had an enduring impact on Sandra Payne’s future as an artist. She recalls the appearances of the women in her family being dramatically transformed when they put on feminine “adornments” retrieved from mysterious boxes filled with gleaming stones. Her mother, a registered nurse and a graduate of an historically black nursing school, owned a “nice plump jewelry box” packed with curiosities including a black cameo (a relief of a woman of color,) and other ornaments. One day when she was in second grade, Sandra bedecked her school girl body with her mother’s “costume” jewelry - an iridescent necklace and bracelet - and left for school. When she arrived, her teacher took one look at the bespangled 7-year-old who believed she was wearing the world’s most precious “crown jewels” and contacted Sandra’s mother resulting in little Sandra getting “her ass whopped…” 

Sandra’ particularly admired her Aunt Verna, who was not only an amazing cook but “fully accessorized” with a well- categorized assortment of jewelry encompassing rhinestones, trinkets in glistening colors, and compilations of perfume bottles, hats, and scarves. “ Women love beauty and this is a way of expressing that appreciation…”  After attending Washington University and getting a degree in multi-media arts, Sandra Payne too began collecting things that were both extraordinary and mundane, including 400 aprons, pearls, African beads, jewels, twigs, crochet potholders, baskets, music and postcards/photographs of the sensational entertainer/activist Josephine Baker. “She was very sparkly,” Sandra whispered to me with a smile.


“When I was a little girl, about 8 years old, Ebony Magazine had a spread on Josephine Baker…I remember her fabulous outfits, and eye makeup…she was from St. Louis. Interesting to me that she came from St.Louis…and that you could do something and be a creative person - a rebel and become known for doing what you love….I have collected her ever since…”

Today Sandra’s studio is her home and her home is the studio which she has aptly named SANDRALANDIA - a lived-in environment made up of residue from the past and aspirations for the future. She is an artist who passionately mutates in various media the “familiar” into the fantastical, often using elements that reference her own personal history; a biography that is both intimate and irreverent, inexplicable and recognizable. She combines seemingly incompatible materials which ultimately dissolve into one another, and are bewitchingly reborn.

The inspiration and source material for her PROPERTY OF A LADY collages come from imagery she finds at The Strand Book Store in downtown Manhattan, where Sandra is always on the lookout for jewelry and other auction catalogs, design and fashion magazines. She proceeds to cut out images that intuitively attract her, and with no preconceptions glues them onto Museum Board. ”Today I think I will only use sapphires….or work mostly with pearls and diamonds, etc…It is like opening the jewelry box of an insane Royal…”   Each artwork has a singular presence invoking desire with an elegance that is both temptingly seductive and exquisitely delicate. Pictures of gigantic rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, and aquamarines float together with changes of scale, dizzyingly arabesque patterns, and yet beautifully structured as if the “hand of reason” plucked down into chaos and inscribed the divine.


As I  walk around the apartment, my eyes are never at rest, looking up or down - every inch of space is crammed with another surreal congregation of disparate jars, containers, glasses, etc. teeming with “matter”, reconstituted and transmuted from its original embodiment into a phantasmagorical new entity. Every niche of the studio, every closet contains ingredients that have been or will be metamorphosed into the “totally feminine” enchantment that is SANDRALANDIA. Opening her flat files, I see drawer upon drawer of myriad jars brimming with dazzling, seductive, fine-grained sand, crushed stones, crystals and jewels all arranged by colors. On shelves are vitrines with peacock feathers with a jewel hidden somewhere in the plumage; smashed pine cones situated in snow white glitter; larger canisters of opalescent shells with pearls; wrapped driftwood with gilded paper and rhinestones; twisted wires poking out of bottles flecked with beads, glitter, and pearls which periodically fall off and drop into the bottom of the container; and branches imported from Japan with attached rhinestones disconcertingly displayed upside-down in glass bottles. Sandra Payne with her cryptic interventions unearths the lyricism of the unseen and we view what was once considered commonplace anew. 


I stop to look at the sides, tops, and bottoms of containers that catch my eye, boxes covered with mirrors creating an infinite space, and I am told that many hold secrets including Aunt Verna’s cooking recipes - face down file cards with a jewel placed on top of the pile - indicating the preciousness and redolence of lingering memories. Sandra shows me another group of white boxes - the lids tightly closed - which contains more of her Aunt’s belongings: folded aprons, peignoirs and nightgowns from the 1960’s, and containers that are private - replete with tags recording the words Property Of A Lady. Sandra describes them as “….a room of stacked locked boxes…a library of unopened secrets…a world of intimacy.”

Flower shop gold and pink aluminum wrapping paper, twisted over wine bottles evoke a gallery of “presences” - some reminiscent of Greek statues, ie: Nike/Winged Victory or attendees at a Royal Ball in France. Congregating in expressive, animated groupings, they populate the studio like cavorting sentinels - protectors of the rarified universe they inhabit.

Sandra Payne’s other persona was as a much-respected Young Adult Librarian for the NY Public Library where she worked for 28 years in different branches all over the city. Subsequently, she was promoted to Coordinator Of Young Adult Services for Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island, charged with collection development and training the staff to serve and advocate for the particular needs of NYC’s teens. “Most of my job involved assisting other Librarians in planning programming opportunities for teens in their neighborhood libraries i.e. setting up Meet the Author programs as well as writing, art and photography workshops…”

Sandra Payne’s inner and outer cosmos meet in a cocoon of beauty where the objects she loves, live and breathe freely, nurtured by her sense of touch and tender care; an environs that I was privileged to enter.

“I love arranging…my favorite place is The Container Store…”