Artist Profile – SANDRA TURNBULL

by Kay Blake of Collage Arts. London September 2005

Sandra’s private view evening “Strangeness and Calm” is as one would expect it to be. In the heart of trendy Hoxton on a hot summer night, the enthusiastic crowd buzzes around inside and outside the small gallery Off Broadway, the wine and strawberries flowing fast. Upstairs and past the ‘hardcore’ part of the exhibition (interestingly grouped on the stairs, where it is difficult to stand and stare for long), the barbecue is in full swing. The guests are mixed but predominantly stylish. A small cluster of fellow artists from the Chocolate Factory huddle on the pavement outside, and a discussion about pornography is in progress.

The old argument, pornography vis a vis erotic art, is one which is never quite resolved. Perhaps in order for an artist’s representation to be regarded as pornographic rather than erotic it could be seen to contain some element of malevolence or exploitation. It could be that the absence of these two ingredients, despite the possibility that some might find some of her more sexually explicit pieces mildly shocking, has a good deal to do with Sandra herself. Sexy and attractive, with a winning manner and open-hearted approach, you find yourself wanting to know her and to know how she feels about her work and what she has in mind when she creates it. What drew her to painting, and what are her other passions?

Sandra has been a Chocolate Factory artist for some four years. Asked how she felt about the somewhat unfashionable area, she asserts that this is irrelevant since once she passes the gates she enters her own private heaven. She had been painting for several years before taking over her own studio, but her personal journey through life has brought her into several creative arenas. That she has a talent for self-reinvention is borne out by her various accomplishments in the field of dance, music and visual art. Romantically, she ran away from home at sixteen to join a troupe of dancers, having trained first in classical then in modern dance. Then followed a career in music management, working with the hugely successful band, Eurhythmics. She married John Turnbull, a member of the Blockheads, who knew Dave Stewart, and in her words, just ‘fell into’ the music business. One cannot help but feel, though, that her personality, enthusiasm and energy were qualities that inspired the confidence people placed in her. For a woman, then even more than now, it was a battle every day to succeed in a business universally accepted as cutthroat. She realised early on the impact that would be made by the Internet, and embraced rather than feared it, predicting that the industry would of necessity reinvent itself.

Sandra needed to do other things, and painting became more and more important to her. Asked about the pornographic/erotic element in her work, she is unequivocally assured. Part of the inspiration for her paintings she found visiting lap-dancing clubs and getting to know the women who routinely strut their stuff, as well as being fascinated by the reaction on the faces of the clients, especially when compared to the nonchalance of their entertainers. She has no interest in telling an unhappy story in her more erotic work and indeed there is a joyful feeling about them that beams through the vivid colours and lively composition.

No one thing, however, is enough of a life for Sandra Turnbull. She addresses other media with typical confidence and spends two days a week teaching Pilates, as well as, most recently and astonishingly, training in the martial art of Iaido – the technique of Japanese sword drawing – complete with extraordinary costume!