Issue Number: 93
Sandra Blow, who died on 22 August, aged 80, was elected to the Royal Academy in 1971. At that time, women RAs were still a rarity and women abstract painters almost unknown. Her popularity and artistic flair did much to inspire a new open-mindedness; there are now sixteen female RAs.
Sandra Blow RA in her studio, 2006.
Born in London on 14 September, 1925, and brought up in Kent, she enrolled at St Martins School of Art, London, at the tender age of fifteen, later attending the Royal Academy Schools and then the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. She returned to London in 1949 and became a tutor, together with Jean Cooke RA, at the Royal College of Art.
‘There were a lot of female students and they often used to cry when they had their pictures inspected,’ recalls Cooke. ‘So Carel Weight made me and Sandra teach on different days, so we shared all the emotion.’
At this time, Blow encountered some of those influential artists, including Weight and John Hoyland RA, who were to support her Academy candidacy. Olwyn Bowey RA recalls: ‘It was a time of great change. Laura Knight was still alive in the run-up to Blow’s election, but only now did the doors really open to women. Sandra was supported by Ruskin Spear, which was interesting, given she was an abstract painter when so few RAs were.’
The sculptor Ann Christopher RA, who became a member in 1980, remembers: ‘I always respected and took comfort in Sandra’s work as a fellow abstract artist. I’m doubly sad she’s gone because there’s a sense we’ve lost one of the gang’s more colourful and flamboyant members.’
Tom Phillips RA sums up Sandra Blow as an embodiment of bohemian glamour: ‘I always called her “the Dame” – a word she lived up to in every sense. A beauty and brightness has gone from our drab assembly.’