The vernal equinox officially switched up the seasons Tuesday, but for artist Katherine Sandoz, spring kicked off months ago.
Much like a bee working its way through an acre of azaleas, the painter and fibers visionary has been busy creating a showcase of exquisite small works and growing a virtual garden from plastic grocery bags.
Yes, plastic bags. About 6,700 of them.
The focal point of “Flower Power,” Sandoz’s new exhibit at Kim Iocovozzi Fine Art, actually hangs outside the gallery: The façade of fluffy, multi–hued blooms that frames the doorway contains the majority of those re–purposed errand bags. Resembling a giant prom corsage of carnations, the piece transforms the whole block with color and texture.
“I wanted to upcycle the bags into something beautiful, and because they’re waterproof, they turned out to be perfect to use outdoors,” says Sandoz, who recently had her hands in another outdoor project, the abstract landscape mural on Habersham and 34th Streets.
The flower façade is the second outdoor public art installation made possible by the new city policy championed by urban art partnership SeeSAW (See Savannah Art Walls), aka Matt Hebermehl and James “Dr. Z.” Zdaniewski. Those are just two names on a long list of people Sandoz credits as part of “Flower Power.”
“Fibers are about repetition,” she says, referring to the often–tedious process of arranging and sewing together thousands of small pieces. “But I also learned that it’s about community.”
Others’ efforts figured into the project from the moment the seed was planted. When Sandoz put out a call for bags to her Vernonburg neighbors, the cause was quickly taken up by members of the Trustee’s Garden Club. The concept of turning those ubiquitous plastic nuisances into floral art appealed to the “conservation, beautification and education” arm of the club’s mission, and the majority of the bags donated came from its members.
“Then, I started a flower factory,” laughs Sandoz.
Aided by her studio assistants Lex Hade and Caty Dickensheets, she constructed the wall of flowers plus smaller pieces and two garlands inside the gallery to accompany the group of paintings. Bag clippings were used to stuff stacks of decorative pillows.
Flowers are also the subjects within the two dozen recycled white frames, which Sandoz and her assistants built from reclaimed materials. Inspired by the work of Austin–based by floral artist Ashley Bailey and her company, The Byrd Collective, the paintings show Sandoz’ astounding capacity to shift between realism and abstraction: There are several pairs depicting the same sylvan scene, one in sharp detail, the other in her signature conceptual strokes.
“What’s tremendous about Katherine is her versatility,” waxes Iocovozzi as he crinkles one of the artist’s flower boas in his hands. “She can paint an objective abstract of Wassaw Sound, then come back and do this realism.”
Like the works themselves, the space is compact, precious without pretension. It’s new location for Iocovozzi, who moved from the larger Bull Street location that he occupied since 1995.
“I knew I wanted to baptize the new space with her,” he says.
The two have been friends since the mid–’90s, when Savannah’s art scene existed mostly underground, and he had no qualms about giving Sandoz free reign over the show.
“I said, ‘Do whatever you want,’” Iocovozzi shrugs with a smile. “What I’m seeing out now is the best I’ve seen from her.”
The newest members of Sandoz’ art community arrived via her social media net, which she casts far and wide. Through SeeSAW, she came to admire the work of young multimedia artists Juwan Platt, Donovan Woods and Tim Almovodar of Vizionary Mindz, a video/music/fashion collective looking to spark a Savannah cultural Renaissance.
Sandoz calls them “the teenagers.” Filmmaker and Vizionary Mindz co–founder Woods finds this appropriate. “That’s fine, because we call her our ‘artistic mother,’” he responds.
Though there are chasms between age and backgrounds, Woods says he and his cronies have found a kindred spirit in Sandoz:
“We share the idea of growing a community through art, in a way that’s different, that takes it outdoors, that includes the urban.”
Seeing potential and wanting to create opportunity for these hungry young collaborators, Sandoz tapped them to shoot a video to accompany “Flower Power.” The result is a thoughtful homage that captures dozens of Savannahians discussing the importance of flowers in their lives.
At the “Evening with the Artist” at the gallery last Thursday, the breadth of Sandoz’ community was in evidence, spanning generations and payscale, everyone with recycled blooms pinned to lapels and collars and waistbands.
The artist, smartly dressed in classic black as to not compete with the riot of color on the walls, had several tucked into her updo.
As the crowd spilled on to the sidewalk to admire the front of the building, she muses, “I think it calls attention to the temporal quality of the real spring. After all the real blooms fall, this will still be here.”
Flower Power by Katherine Sandoz
Where: Kim Iocovozzi Fine Art, 539 Abercorn St.
When: Through April 15