Edwina Sandys on creating personal and public art

British-born artist Edwina Sandys (right), known internationally for her sculptures, paintings and works on paper, will give an illustrated public lecture on her work on Oct. 27 at York University.

Her talk, titled “Both Sides of the Coin: Creating Public and Private Art”, will look at an oeuvre ranging from personal observations to the intersection of the very public realms of international art and politics.

Sandys attributes her artistic roots to her grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill. “He was the first artist I ever knew, and I was fascinated that he could put these landscapes on canvas in front of my very eyes,” said Sandys.

Churchill, who was a gifted amateur painter, began painting during the Second World War. His hobby developed into a lifelong passion. In 1948, he penned the book Painting as a Pastime.

Sandys, who has lived and worked in New York City for the past three decades, has been exhibiting internationally since 1970. Her first solo show at Crane Arts Gallery, London, was followed by an exhibition at the Hammer Galleries in New York which attracted the attention of the famed Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

Left: Sandys’ public artwork includes the sculpture “Tulips”,  a four-metre-high,  painted aluminum sculpture of three red and white tulips, located in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Since then, Sandys has risen to international prominence, noted particularly for her sculptures and public art commissions. Inspired by contemporary political and social issues as well as her personal experiences, many of her works reflect global themes such as freedom, war and peace, women, and the environment.

Among Sandys’ signature pieces is “Christa”, her controversial vision of a female crucifixion, mounted at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1984. The recipient of the 1997 United Nations Society of Writers & Artists Award for Excellence, she has created monumental marble sculptures for the UN missions in Geneva, ChristaVienna, New York and Rio de Janeiro and the US Embassy residence in Dublin.

Right: Sandys’ signature piece “Christa”, which is on display at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Sandys is perhaps best known for a tribute to her grandfather and his quest for peace. Her sculpture, “Breakthrough” stands on the grounds of the Winston Churchill Memorial at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill first coined the historic phrase “iron curtain”. The sculpture has been called the most significant monument to be constructed on American soil since the Vietnam War Memorial. Created from eight massive sections of the Berlin Wall, “Breakthrough” features male and female forms cut out from the wall’s concrete surface, symbolizing a passage through the wall to freedom. Visitors who have walked through the opening include Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Lech Walesa.

Sandys’ work is found in numerous private, corporate and public collections, among them the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Tate Gallery, London. She is profiled in the PBS documentary One Bite of the Apple: A Portrait of the Artist Edwina Sandys (2003).

Below: “Breakthrough”, created from sections of the Berlin Wall, at Missouri’s Westminster College