A World Of Visual Poetry: The Paintings and Drawings of Margot Sandeman SSA

Publication: The Times 
September 2016

A World Of Visual Poetry: The Paintings and Drawings of Margot Sandeman SSA 
Cyril Gerber Fine Art


Margot Sandeman, who died in 2009 aged 86, attended the Glasgow School of Art in the 1940s with fellow students Cordelia Oliver, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Joan Eardley, with whom she remained close. Her parents, Archibald Sandeman and Muriel Boyd, were both artists; her mother studied under Jessie Newbery, also at Glasgow, specialising in embroidery. Her father worked in the family firm but began painting with watercolours, in which he became accomplished and much admired. The family lived in Bearsden, Glasgow.Here a selection of more than 70 of Sandeman’s works has been displayed in the Cyril Gerber gallery’s cosy, welcoming, quasi-domestic atmosphere. The fact that they are without a specified order, the antithesis of the “white-cube” ethos, only adds to the charm.At first sight, and to those unfamiliar with Sandeman’s work, these oil-on-canvas paintings and a smaller number of ink and crayon drawings appear deceptively simple.Sandeman’s mature style is intensely stylised, with a focus on line and larger areas of colour. The roots of such an approach can be traced back to her mother’s work in appliqué and embroidery, some of which are landscapes and nature studies and also employ areas of flat colour. There are startling similarities in the two women’s drawing style, use of colour and compositional sense. Sandeman’s choice of subject matter is simple: she depicted those aspects of life where she found beauty. There is no doubting her abilities as a draughtswoman, as her earlier studies of sheep and other subjects demonstrate. There is a sylvan, pastoral sensibility in her work, a quality that was confirmed and strengthened by her collaboration with Finlay in the mid-1980s. Finlay proposed a series of 11 works, eventually to be titled A Concise Classical Dictionaryand published under Finlay’s imprint, Wild Hawthorn Press, in 1988.Finlay’s work is, on one level, more intellectually challenging, and it is for this reason that this joint effort is so successful, combining Finlay’s poetic, classical allusions with Sandeman’s direct lyricism.Finlay’s technique is to take apparently simple and commonplace objects such as “twine” or “pear” and define them in a poetic and enigmatic way. Pear for example, a panel about a metre long and 20 centimetres high, shows six pears, in differing tones, one of which has been halved. A small pane of text has been inserted on the left. It reads:

PEAR, n. a paradigm of Limit
Opusculum paedagogum
The PEARS are not violsWallace Stevens, Study of Two Pears

Sandeman’s imagery provides the perfect foil for Finlay’s poetic and cryptic definitions.

It takes time to absorb the full extent of Sandeman’s talents but it is time well spent.