Sadie Chandler

Jane O'Neill 2006

The painter who doesn't exaggerate is a poor painter... I said. With some, of course, the art of exaggeration consists in understating everything, in which case we have to say that they exaggerate understatement, that exaggerated understatement is their particular version of the art of exaggeration
Sadie Chandler exaggerates, in an understated way. Her work is distinguished by the bold, graphic two-dimensional images that float up from a neutral background. The repetition of a singular motif which is then re-configured into various scales and materials is also familiar. And whether it be cars, houses, witches or the sad faces we are presented with, the works inevitably express a personal obsession.

Chandler's work is infused with pop sensibilities. In the present case we are reminded of two key works from the Pop tradition: Andy Warhol's Cow Wallpaper from 1966 and Roy Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl from 1963. The graphic tendency is informed by the artist's experience of working commercially and indicates a democratic aesthetic, where objects are immediately recognisable. It also represents a desire to achieve a certain distance from the physicality of art making: these faces have been cut out, blown up, printed out, glued and sprayed, but there are no signs of brush marks or drawn outlines.

In this particular exhibition Chandler addresses the architecture of the gallery by re-interpreting aspects of Victorian home decoration. The wallpaper, adorned with flowers and faces in an arabesque pattern, evokes the bold animal and flower prints that abounded in the opulent aesthetic of the Victorian home. The artist describes how the paintings of salon-style portraiture are derived from the dense patterning of frames to be found in majestic settings such as the Thyssen collection at the Prado Museum.
The women depicted in these works are trapped in a sad, arabesque world, unable to make contact beyond the depiction, or with each other. There is a tension between disclosure and hermetic self-absorption. But their features do not evoke sadness in us: their eyes are shut, so they elicit no sympathy. The cartoon style also serves to counteract any tendency the painting might have to envelop the spectator emotionally, as, say, the expressionists sought to do. These works tease us with the notion of the sad beautiful woman; that peculiar vulnerability which arouses our protective instincts without actually engaging our sentiments.

We might also read the work as an exaggerated self-portrait, so that with it Chandler is making a sly dig at the romantic notion of the suffering artist. Alternatively, these women, relegated to the realm of home furnishings, could be taken as symbols of Victorian attitudes to women. Charlotte Perkins Gilman used wallpaper as a symbol of the grinding social pressures of the nineteenth century in The Yellow Wallpaper, where a woman projects her thoughts onto the wallpaper and "ultimately in the narrator's distraught state, there are a great many women behind the patterned bars all trying to get free."  The artist's marks are both playful and transgressive. The gallery walls are re-configured into a floating landscape of the mind, where the associative possibilities are endless.

But why are they so sad? The car paintings from the previous exhibition at Charles Nodrum Gallery provide an unexpected clue. That series grew from a general horror of cars. The artist's response was to isolate them in such a way that they became objects for contemplation. At the heart of the exhibition was concern for nature. According to the artist, the women in the present exhibition are crying for nature and its erosion. But with their carefully tended chignons, French pleats and poodle cuts how are we to react? Really, it is this presumption of control over nature, as expressed through these laborious yet totally unnatural hairstyles, that has led to its undoing. For all their efforts these women find themselves inconsolable.

Thomas Bernhard, Extinction, p. 371
Charlotte Perkins Gillman, afterword by Elaine R. Hedges. The Yellow Wallpaper, The Feminist Press: The City University of New York, 1973. p.52