Visual artist wins major photo prize
June 23, 2017
A visual artist, who creates work that engages issues of race, identity, representation and memory, is the recipient of this year’s $5,000 Gattuso Prize that acknowledges an outstanding featured exhibition in the Scotiabank CONTACT photography festival.
Sandra Brewster’s ‘It’s All A Blur’ is a series of gestural portraits made with photo-based gel transfers. She uses the medium as a metaphor for movement or change from one place to another, specifically in reference to the migration of her parents and their peers from Guyana in the late 1960s.
Inspired by the precociousness of old photographs and their relationship to time and memory, the series mimics and somewhat exaggerates the physicality of the photos by revealing the imperfections left by creases, tears and folds.
The two-member jury of writer/curator Rosemary Heather and this year’s Toronto Arts Foundation Signature Awards Emerging Artist of the Year winner Anique Jordan based their decision on the caliber and concept of the work, the curatorial vision and overall impact and presentation of the exhibition.
“Sandra Brewster takes portraiture in a strongly metaphoric direction,” they said. “Using a labour-intensive method, the artist creates tactile works suggestive of a number of ideas. While evoking the customary role of the photograph as memento, at the same time these works appear to call forth the emerging subjects of history. The unavoidable scale, presence and motion embedded in these still images command the attention of viewers to discover the details and traces left behind by the portrait participants.”
Brewster has been working with photo-based gel transfers for the past decade.
“Diverging from the craft work of cutting and pasting, I began to transfer images to create a consistent plane where all elements of the work are embedded,” she said. “My series, ‘The Smith’, incorporates drawings and paintings of simply rendered characters situated in grids that form a background and/or are implicated in a visual narrative. The faces are replaced with transfers of the ‘The Smith’ section of the phone directory. Transferred images of people also occur among the grids to create a relationship between the real and perceived.”
The artist likes working with transfers because of the interruptive possibilities.
“Because of the limited control over the process, especially in large pieces, creases, rips and tears occur and areas of ink don’t adhere to the surface,” Brewster, whose mother Carmen Brewster co-founded the 44-year-old Senior Guyanese Friendship Association, said. “These are exciting moments as they provide an aged appearance that plays with concepts of time. The process also hints to illusions of time…I lay out digitally manipulated images, then print and transfer them to surfaces with gel mediums…Although aware of the image I am transferring, I am never absolutely sure of the quality of the outcome. It is a revelation of sorts that allows me to play with invisibility, memory, documentation and perception using true depictions of people to reveal what is real and what is hidden.
“The aged appearance of the transfers also supports my concerns around the importance of documentation and the archive. In this way, I am actively placing the previously overlooked lives and works of Black communities in the historical record.”
‘It’s All in A Blur’ is Brewster’s first show with the Georgia Scherman project-based gallery. The exhibition runs at the gallery at 133 Tecumseth St. until June 24.
Scherman said Brewster’s work was brought to her attention by Pamela Edmonds and Sally Frater who curated ‘28 Days: Reimagining Black History Month’.
The exhibit featured an extensive collection of artists including Brewster who, in 2012, took two months leave from her job at SKETCH which provides creative training initiatives for homeless and challenged youths to take up a working residency at Alice Yard that’s a contemporary arts pace in Trinidad.
“I was just waiting for the right project I knew I could do something with for her,” said Scherman. “A lot of the work Sandra has been doing over the years that I have been watching was more installation projects. We like to do that level of work, but we are a commercial gallery. What I was drawn to is that identity and memory are a blur. For me, this was a juxtaposition between the old kind of historical look and they are in stark contrast with the contemporaneity of the figure.
“There is an incredible dialogue not only with potentially identity politics, but also with the history of art and photography. Sandra is an artist with capital ‘A’. She is making these works and there is a visceral physical response to the object itself that I am drawn to.”
Just after her first birthday, Brewster started drawing near perfect circles freehand.
By the time she was 12, she knew exactly what her career goal was after her dad drew a sketch of a cowboy full of expression and his wife bettered his piece by drawing a woman dressed in frills that was more accurate in body proportion and fluidity in line quality.
A graduate of St. Mary’s Secondary School in Pickering, Brewster completed her Bachelor in Fine Arts degree at York University and a Master’s in Visual Studies at the University of Toronto.
She has been accepted to attend a residency in Bahia, Brazil from December to February 2018.