Painted a year before her death, this monumental pair of collages by Sandra Blow is the epitome of her use of materials and their deployment. Collage is central to the artist’s processes and her technique is to some degree sculptural, in that her canvases combine both painted and constructed elements.
It is an approach rooted in both modernism and art informel, which Blow learnt from her former lover Alberto Burri. Blow’s palette combines both untreated materials – raw canvas, hessian and scrim – and a highly selective use of painted colour, applied both in blocks of colour and as distinct accents. Tonal variety comes also from the overlaying of materials, where vivid oranges are juxtaposed by bold white shapes, formed in paint and heavily outlined in brown textile. Traces of development remain noticeable in the surfaces of the paintings, their means of production firmly visible, essential to the energy of the work. Sandra Blow described the aim in her works as ‘an unexpected quality… an element of surprise… the thrill of a leap, a daring, a lightness’ and these lifelike, energetic qualities can be seen in Colour Notes Collage.
The art historian Michael Bird in his 2005 book on Sandra Blow, the same year this work was completed, gives us a clue as to how Colour Notes Collage would have been constructed:
‘From an early stage, Blow had developed the habit of rotating paintings or viewing them in mirrors as a way of detecting weak areas or imbalances. With such large pictures …, these methods were impractical, and Blow came increasingly to rely on Polaroid photographs to help her record and assess the various stages of a picture’s evolution … Blow sometimes used paper collage to try out different colours and shapes on canvas. She fixed the pieces of collage to the canvas with a staple gun, which made them easily removable. When she was satisfied with a composition, she would draw round the collage shapes’
It is likely that Sandra Blow would have constructed Colour Notes Collage in this manner in her studio Bullans Court in St Ives. This was an industrial building acting as studio and living accommodation; ideal for her large canvasses and where she worked and lived until her death in 2006.