Sandra Chamberlin, on Breathing Underwater

Sandra Chamberlin, Procession, charred cedar, 2019, variable size. as shown 20’ x 10 x 26” d

“The stream of sap in the trees varies according to the phases of the moon.”

-Theodor Schwenk, Sensitive Chaos

Sandra Chamberlin’s sculptural installations invites the viewer to enter a three-dimensional drawing of alternate life-forms. Lines made of wood float off the walls, hover in the air, or balance on the ground, altogether creating a sense of abstracted life-forms. These linear sculptures are deeply rooted in the artist’s intriguing relationship to materials and processes which overall tie into her intricate perception of nature. Since the early eighties, Chamberlin has been making out of wood abstracted shapes through meticulous manual and mechanical processes she has perfected over these years.

Going down the steep curved staircase to Sandra Chamberlin’s studio is like taking a passage to an enchanting and unexpected world. The first thing that greets you there are her incisive ink drawings of sculptural forms, mounted in a narrow row. Indeed, Chamberlin affirms that her sculptures all begin as ink drawings, which later take forms out of wax, wire, bronze, but more frequently out of wood – Cedar, Purple Heart, Mahogany, Walnut. At times she touches up the wood with India ink to create darker color, but more often she chars, burns or leaves the natural color of the material. This minimal manipulation of color does not reflect on her part an attachment to the beauty of the wood texture but rather her fascination by the idea that nature grows sculpture. Along these lines, the layered symbolism of natural life cycles and their close relationship to language in Chinese and Japanese ink landscape paintings play central roles in her thought process.

Sandra Chamberlin, Procession, charred cedar, 2019, variable size, as shown 20’ x 10’h x 26”d

Her minimalistic shapes typically derive from both nature and man-made elements: natural elements such as trees, water, and rocks, organisms like alligators or spiders, and objects like hashmarks, sticks, and pointers, altogether coalesce into hybrid entities. For instance, floating ½” off a 28’ wall with deep casting shadows, the installation “Procession”, made of charred 16 elongated and mostly pointy cedar wood sculptures of different scales, evokes an open-ended narrative – a school of fish, exotic deep-sea organisms, or ancient musical instruments in a funerary procession. There is an undercurrent somber tone in the silhouetted forms, floating in what appears to be one way, trapped on the wall in perpetual frozen motion. Yet, although at first glance it seems like there is no exit, their collective presence and sense of movement, albeit restricted, also resonate with a potential way out.

Similarly, in “Mangroves,” the imagery embedded in the two biomorphic linear sculptures standing on the floor side by side, also resonates with hybrid life forms. There is something simultaneously tragic and comic about them. Balancing on six thin legs, the wide horizontal sculpture resembles an abstracted reptile or a spider, asserting itself as a territorial presence. In contrast, the tall vertical branch-like form next to it is soaring upwards, as if reaching out for a more spiritual realm. Although they are both made of the same material, share linear characteristics, and rooted on the ground, there is no apparent communication between them; they are separate entities co-existing on the same plane. It is particularly evident in this duo how Chamberlin’s imagery draws upon her childhood experience of nature, growing up in North Miami among tropical plants and alligators, while playing around her beloved Ficus tree. In “Mangroves” the artist draws on that resource down to the detail of leaving only the bottom parts of the sculptures’ “legs,” in their natural wood color to indicate water marks, while the rest is charred.

Sandra Chamberlin, The Mangroves, mahogany and ink, 2019, 12’ x 6’6” x 30”d

You would find Chamberlin in Montclair where she moved after graduating with her BFA from Indiana University and her MFA from Tyler school of Art in Philadelphia, got married, raised a daughter, and maintained a wide range of jobs from construction to interior design – all that while consistently making a cohesive body of work, always with rigor. Up to the recent few months Chamberlin had enjoyed making art in the large studio she built at her home, exhibiting her work only in seldom occasions. Her knack for artistic isolation has shifted since the chance encounter with Jen Wroblewski, the energetic owner of Gold/Scopophilia gallery. Now the sculptor is ready to exhibit and share her rigorous and imaginative sculptures with the world.

Sandra Chamberlin, Ovals, purple heart, mahogany, monofilament, 2019, sizes from 32”to 5’h

All photos by George Ross

Sandra Chamberlin, Breathing Underwater.
Opening Reception: May 4, from 5-7 pm . Through June 9th,
Gold/scopophilia, 594 ValleyRd, Montclair, NJ 07043 ( in the Mews behind Toros restaurant).