Sandra Betty Blow (1925-2006) was an English abstract painter and one of the pioneers of the British abstract painting from the 1950s. She is well known for her characteristically large scale, colourful abstract collages made from discarded materials. Born in Newington, London, Blow studied art at Saint Martin’s School of Art (which later became Central Saint Martins).
A key early career influence was Nicholas Carone, specifically with regards to his approach to colour and space. She was also influenced by Alberto Burri, who was progressing towards abstract art informel, using materials such as sacking, and Blow and Burri became close confidents and travelled together throughout Italy during the late 1940s. Through Burri, she started to use Arte Povera, or ‘poor art’ materials, with items such as liquid cement, chaff and charcoal becoming key mediums in her works.
This unique experimentation was brought back to the UK, where Blow became the forefront of the British abstract art movement in the 1950s, challenging the “‘macho’ cult” surrounding abstract art. Her use of materials emphasises surface textures creating tactile, ephemeral works on canvas with regular use of collage effects. In the 1970s, Blow collaborated with architect Eric Defty on a series of paintings. This collaboration saw Blow begin to incorporate geometric shapes amongst her organic forms, using square canvases as an additional architectural component of her work.
She continued her experimentation with non-traditional art materials throughout her career, and in 1995, she completed her “only large -scale experimentation with glass”, an illuminated glass screen named Flight Structure, to convey transition from security to flight, which was installed in Heathrow Terminal 3 and moved to the airport’s head office in the Compass Centre.
Her work is additionally in the permeant collections of Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Gallery, and she was the winner of the famed 1960 Guggenheim International Award. Important retrospectives include The Royal Academy, London, and Tate St Ives. Her work has also been exhibited at the 1958 Venice Biennale, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.