Celebrating women in her body of work

Published 9:00 am Sunday, March 17, 2019

Erin Sandsmark is not painting women just to look at them.

“They are powerful people, and I wanted to bring them into these spaces and have them imbue their own personal power,” she said.

Their current space is the Freeborn County Arts Initiative, where Sandsmark’s solo show, “Ourselves,” features nude figures of women’s bodies of all shapes and sizes.

Email newsletter signup

The show name is in reference to a particular piece in the exhibit that displays Sandsmark along with one of her best friends. The title is a reflection of their friendship, and more widely, of identity.

“I thought it was a great way to encompass many different women in one space,” Sandsmark said, and to bring herself into it, as well.

Sandsmark said she wanted to create a warm space for reflection and conversation between pieces.

These works are a continuation of Sandmark’s focus on the female body. While most of it was self-portraiture, she recently began to include other women, she said.

It has been a chance to “create art for women and about women … and I think that’s been really gratifying,” Sandsmark said.

It is a further continuation of work centered around body politics. Sandsmark said she works to include subjects who are of different sizes, body types, ages and ethnicities. Her work is a refusal of the norms that are put on women and instead an attempt to present her subjects’ lives as honestly as possible, and with clarity of who they are, she said.

“I want to create a conversation that these bodies are naturally in the space,” she said. “I’m not trying to oversexualize. I’m not trying to make them be anybody who they’re not. I’m trying to give them the space.”

Sandsmark is a plus-size woman, she said, and therefore putting her body in a particular space was a statement in her self-portraiture. Her body carries emotional, visual and physical weight, and people have opinions about that, she said.

“We all as individuals carry so much weight in how we are presented in the world and how people look at us and think about us,” she said.

In her photography sessions, Sandsmark said she sees personality come through when subjects are in a comfortable space. She tries to capture that personality in her work.

“Our identities as people play into us physically and intellectually and internally,” Sandsmark said.

The show is made of 12 acrylic, classically-influenced contemporary figure paintings.

“I would describe myself as a fairly realistic painter,” she said. “I enjoy fine detail work and trying to represent somebody’s figure or face fairly realistically, but I also like to take liberties with color and brush strokes when it’s appropriate.”

Several of them are large-scale, 6-by-6-foot paintings, while a few included were experiments on different sizes and vignettes for different women. Sandsmark said that variation works well for the balance of the show.

But Sandsmark is not stopping at 12.

“I don’t feel like this work is completed,” she said.

While she is excited for people to see the show, she considers it the beginnings of a larger project. She said she wants to diversify the people she is able to talk to, encompass more women and take in more stories.

“Sometimes we’re not given the spaces of power that we have the space to exude kind of femininity, power, sexuality and dominance in the space, and I wanted to create paintings that give power and dominance to these women that I think are powerful and important in their lives,” Sandsmark said.

Want to go?

Who: Erin Sandsmark

What: “Ourselves”

When: Reception from 5 to 7 p.m. March 23. The show is open through May 4.

Where: Freeborn County Arts Initiative gallery, 224 S. Broadway Ave.

How much: free to the public.


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

email author More by Sarah