Christine Sanford -September/October 2007

One of the island’s premier abstract painters

by: Sara Rosner

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Just inside a trellised gate one morning this summer, the sounds of construction and traffic disappear into the tranquil air that seems to hover over Christine Sanford’s home. Barefoot and dressed in a flowing skirt, Sanford prepares to discuss the colorful journey her life has taken over a pot of Earl Grey tea.

Sanford, a member of the Artists Association of Nantucket, is one of the island’s premier abstract painters and her work has garnered recognition for herself as well as for other artists who work outside of the iconic seashore images that dominate the island art scene.

“She’s one of a handful of people doing large abstract art who are counter-balancing the tendency toward the Nantucket scene,” Artists Association gallery director Robert Frazier said.

Sanford started painting about seven years ago and said that while she admires more realistic work, she feels that painters in that field concentrate more on the light and shadow of their subjects while she is mostly interested in color.

“I just don’t have any interest in drawing and representational work for myself,” Sanford said. “I’m really interested in seeing how one color looks next to another color and how it makes me feel. It’s really about a visceral connection to the color.”

Such a relationship can be seen in her work with color fields, which are paintings that are defined by large areas of solid color. The style was championed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by abstract expressionist painters such as Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn, whom Sanford cited as major influences in her current work.

In one piece, titled “Autumn Evening,” swaths of purples and lavenders are juxtaposed next to yellow and orange wisps and the horizontal shades of color seem to give way to each other in a simple yet mesmerizing arrangement.

Sanford’s paintings are often composed of more than 20 layers of oil paint on panel. The bands of color that characterize her work, however, are not a result of adding paint but scraping the paint away to reveal the older layers of color beneath.

“Paint has a history and no matter how many layers you put on, it still shows through,” Sanford said as she applied a lucid blue to one of her latest works with a thick brush in her ground-level studio. She then scraped a line of the wet paint off with a sharp bamboo tool which allowed a thin slice of yellowish green to shine through. “I try to honor that history.”

Sanford often tests out her paintings on smaller canvases before executing them on large panels and her studies radiate color and soothing vibrancy inside her studio of stark white walls and simple oak floors.

She achieves a transparent quality in her paintings by cutting her paints with galkyd, a liquid resin that thins paint and speeds drying time, and intermittently sprinkling the wet layers of paint with water. The mixed paint then separates from the water, creating a pattern of delicate splotches.

“I’m interested in translucency and being able to see colors through colors,” Sanford said. Though painting is her current medium of choice, Sanford’s first love and primary creative outlet was originally fabric. Sanford, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania, was required to take a school sewing class in eighth grade and said that she was instantly enamored with the medium.

“I love texture and I love doing things with my hands and there was something soothing about sewing,” Sanford said. “I had no problem sitting for hours and doing crazy-quilt stitches. It’s like meditation, I would just get into this zone.”

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