Intimate spaces 

Local artist Sandra Cardew’s solo exhibition at Cary Gallery in Rochester is a perfect fit. This small space is ideal for her intimate and emotional sculptures and paintings; some are almost painfully visceral. Though she works in a less conceptual manner than some, Cardew is aware of the history and context of her archetypes, materials and methods.

She works in the Jungian language of the universal unconscious, translated through anthropomorphic imagery and the exploration of her invented characters’ worlds. Cardew skillfully paints and crafts her doll-size subjects. Some of her works are maquette-like scenes, reminiscent of Joseph Cornell’s boxes. One such example is “Myth of Sisyphus,” in which her mixed-media characters persevere in a challenging and unending situation. The main character is weighed down by two massive balls, to which it’s bound by wire; its bird-like head is tipped in exhaustion, body barely balancing on thin metal legs.

This is an honest and personal work for Cardew; formerly a classical ballerina, she encountered health problems that have kept her from the theater since 1983. This unfortunate circumstance comes through clearly in her work, in titles such as “Dreams of Flying” or “Young Dancer.” Cardew expresses through visual art this fragile state of living and the frustrating restrictions of the body. The symbolism of the bird is predominant, and although a metaphor for the soul (as in ancient Egyptian mythology) she also uses these creatures to create a feeling of lost flight, vulnerability and the courage to persevere.

The anthropomorphism is only one tool for Cardew. Religious and pagan iconography is used to discuss love, loss, the desire to protect and the wisdom and strength gained from suffering. The delicate nature of her work is communicated through diaphanous fabrics, feathers, felt, and through body parts constructed of porcelain, wool, paper and found objects. Cardew has the ability to see the transformative quality in almost anything, and the result is cohesive, magical and, most of all, touching.


Shows until Dec. 24 at Cary Gallery, 226 Walnut Blvd., Rochester; 248-651-3656.

Phaedra Robinson writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to

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