Sandra Blow

Sandra Blow by Ida Kar, vintage bromide print, 1955 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sandra Blow by Ida Kar, vintage bromide print, 1955 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Our new collection is inspired by Sandra Blow RA (1925 – 2006), whose bold brushstrokes and huge, expressive canvases captured our imagination this season. Sandra Blow had a lasting impact on the St Ives art scene. Her confident and carefree style, bright clashing colours and loose abstract forms continue to resonate as much today as they did in previous decades.

Sandra Blow's 30 Revolve. Photography by Simon Cook 01736 360041

30 Revolve © Sandra Blow Estate

The daughter of a fruit wholesaler, Blow was born in London, but often spent weekends and holidays painting at her grandparents’ fruit farm in Kent.

She enrolled at Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1941, where she studied under Ruskin Spear, followed by a short period at the Royal Academy Schools.  In 1947, Blow moved to Italy, where she spent time exploring the countryside by motorcycle and studying the architecture and pre-Renaissance frescos before enrolling at the Academia di Belle Arti in Rome. It was there that she met Alberto Burri, who was to have a major influence on her work. Burri was a master of ‘art informel’, using a variety of unorthodox materials, such as sackcloth and tar, to produce work.

Blow and Burri began a relationship and travelled together in Italy before moving to Paris in 1949, where they worked together. Although their relationship wasn’t to last, they remained friends and continued to create work in response to one another for many years, with Blow adapting Burri’s techniques as she developed her own style.

On her return to London, Sandra Blow quickly became a key figure in the abstract art movement in Britain. She exhibited widely as her career took off; her works were shown in Italy, Holland, Germany, the United States and Australasia.

Sandra Blow's 39 Iridescent Wave

39 Iridescent Wave © Sandra Blow Estate

Blow fell under Cornwall’s spell in 1957, after visiting West Penwith with her friend Roger Hilton. She rented a cottage near Zennor, close to Patrick Heron’s home, where she lived for a year before returning to London.

In 1960, Blow acquired a large studio at Sydney Close in Kensington, where she worked for the next 24 years. She began teaching at the Royal College of Art and was an active member of the Chelsea Arts Club. Her expressive work seemed to capture the mood of the 1960s with light, open compositions punctuated by distinctive bright colour.

While she continued to be a frequent visitor to West Penwith, it was not until 1994 that she chose to make Cornwall her permanent home. She settled in St Ives, working from Porthmeor Studio 9, where she produced her famous Wave Sequence series. She later built a large studio and home at Bullens Court, above the town, where she spent the rest of her life.

Sandra Blow’s work is exhibited in St Ives at the New Craftsman Gallery, Porthminster Gallery and Tate St Ives.  You can also visit her studio at Bullens Court – contact the Sandra Blow Trust to arrange a tour.

Blue and White Collage © Sandra Blow Estate