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ISSUE 120 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/16/2007

Experiencing 'Metamorphosis'

By Maggie Matson
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 16, 2007

The forms move: They writhe, squeak, spin, stutter and pull you into their world of nature and industry. On varying combinations of wood, paper and aluminum, they take shape with oil paint, black and white block prints and drawn figures in graphite. Their environments grow from the mind of New York artist Sandy Winters, whose exhibition "Metamorphosis" is on display in Flaten Art Museum from March 3 to April 5.

During the week of March 5 to March 9, Winters worked intensively to create and construct a large installation drawing in Flaten, to be finished by the time of the opening reception on March 9. She took breaks from her hours-long creation time to talk to classes, give a lecture and work with the dance department. She spent March 10, her last day on campus, giving individual critiques to studio art majors. "Her generosity is appreciated," said Assistant Professor of Art/Art History John Saurer," whose printmaking class met with Winters. "It's so valuable when artists come and give as much as she has. A lot of New York artists wouldn't give this kind of time to a Lutheran school in the Midwest."

Director of Flaten Art Museum Jill Ewald '87 said, "I want to treat [Flaten Museum] like a lab ... where art happens. The nature of this space is changing." Consistent with Ewald's vision, the content of Winters' work causes the viewer to question and observe. In the proposal to St. Olaf's Art Department, Winters said, "I tend to depict an environment of largely abstracted forms, which, if I have succeeded, are forbidding and yet playful, inexplicable and yet evocative, indeterminate and yet on a subliminal level familiar."

Winters' work references the Dionysian myth, which she believes is a metaphor for the creative process. In the myth of Dionysius, grapevines were cut to yield another harvest; similarly, Winters' creations come from "killing something off to make something new."

Each piece in the series grows from something Winters previously created, such as a woodblock print or drawn figure. She uses mixed media to represent a world of nature's interaction with industry, and the way in which she creates interactive installations, including the one in Flaten, represent the birth-death dichotomy.

To create the interactive installation, Winters began at her studio with the construction of paper and a block print. Once at St. Olaf she worked without a plan and incorporated an added medium: the audience. Viewers watched Winters spend her working hours crouching, climbing a ladder, stretching across the large sheets of paper and walking to the far wall of the museum to examine her work with graphite or pastel or charcoal in hand. By watching Winters work and seeing the gradual progress, the mistakes, the triumphs and the final resolution, the audience becomes personally incorporated into the work. "I have a desire to plug into the viewers in some way and create a relationship," Winters said. "If I'm experiencing déjà vu, I want them to experience déjà vu, and have something to take home with them."

Working at St. Olaf brought an another element to Winters' art: the incorporation of dance and music. "It has been a dream of mine to cross disciplines with my work," she said, something possible at a liberal arts school. At the reception on March 10, student dancers performed improvisational interpretive dance in Flaten in response to the colorful subjects of Winters' work, and students provided music. Winters said that the liberal arts atmosphere is useful to inform and inspire artwork.

This past January, I traveled to Manhattan for the art interim led by Saurer. We met with Winters in her Chelsea loft and were taken with her warm demeanor and understanding of her work and of the creative process. During our conversation, Winters welcomed our input about her work, an invitation many of the other artists we interviewed did not extend. Winters, who also teaches graduate-level painting at New York's City College, believes working with college students is a valuable experience. "They get me thinking about ideas, and I learn from them," she said.

Winters says art should be for everyone. "Art should open up minds to examine culture," she said. "It should take someone out of their everyday life and put them in a position they wouldn’t find on their own."

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