Inventing Nostalgia - Isca Greenfield-Sanders

Ten years ago, gallerist John Berggruen encouraged me to take a look at a young artist he was representing, Isca Greenfield-Sanders. As Berggruen steered me to the upper level of his Grant Avenue gallery, I found myself engulfed in a sea of pastel paintings, pink oceans, periwinkle skies, vast horizons, and ocean bathers. Greenfield-Sanders’s compositions skillfully combined the happenstance perspective found in her source material—anonymous photographs—with a nuanced reference to Degas.

The works ranged in size, some small, others majestic, evoking childhood memories of Cape Cod, warm skies, and the beach. I could almost smell salt spray and suntan lotion.

Bright Beach,  2009,  Direct to plate photogravure and aquatint, 37½" x 36" Edition of 50

Bright Beach, 2009, Direct to plate photogravure and aquatint, 37½" x 36" Edition of 50

Greenfield-Sanders operates with purpose in everything she does. She grew up in a family of artists. Her academic love was mathematics, but her heart was in painting. Her father is the renowned photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose portraits are internationally Known. Her grandfather and uncle are artists as well. There was no doubt that growing up under the lens of her father’s camera influenced Isca’s work, both by imparting his artistic instincts to her and by providing a frame for rebellion and for the development of her own unique vision.

 The source material for Isca’s work is anonymous family photographs and slides purchased through eBay. The subjects and memories held in these photographs don’t come from the artist’s own history, but represent average American family vacations during the 1950s and 1960s. . The blurriness, the overexposures, and the fading pigments are immediately recognizable as the product of Kodak film and Instamatic cameras.

Wading II (Pink),  2012,  Direct to plate photogravure and aquatint, 31½" x 31½", Edition of 50

Wading II (Pink), 2012, Direct to plate photogravure and aquatint, 31½" x 31½", Edition of 50

When I first met her at her studio on New York’s Lower East Side, she was already a well-established painter, even though she was only 25 or 26. She has green eyes, dark hair, lucent skin, and an oval face. Her studio was organized and tidy.

 Isca uses a complex process to compose and create her paintings. She starts by digitally scanning the slides and printing them out in various sizes on paper. She hand-colors the printouts with colored pencil and watercolors, dissolving the water-soluble images in places and flattening out or concealing details in others. The loss of details further distances the viewer from the scene, so that the images evoke a sense of nostalgia and fading memories. Then she rescans each altered drawing to use it as the underlying image for a painting, transforming the images yet again into another medium and scale.

 Each time we worked together on projects at Paulson Bott Press, we found innovative ways to improve the method we used for making the etched photo-plate that served as the backbone for the work. For the first project, we used an old-fashioned dot matrix silkscreen, printing asphaltum onto a copper plate before etching. Later we evolved to using a commercial ink jet printer to print an acid-resistant image on the plate before etching it.

Wildwood (Detail II),  2014,  Direct to plate photogravure and aquatint, 18 3/4" x 18", Edition of 35

Wildwood (Detail II), 2014, Direct to plate photogravure and aquatint, 18 3/4" x 18", Edition of 35

Working with her, I was immediately struck by Isca’s confidence and curiosity. She is a problem solver who is literally ambidextrous, nimbly switching from right to left hand to write or draw as well as sketch out an idea.

Isca Greenfield-Sanders: FATHER AND SON, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Berggruen Gallery. Photograph by Jeffrey Sturges

Isca Greenfield-Sanders: FATHER AND SON, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Berggruen Gallery. Photograph by Jeffrey Sturges

 Her recent show at John Berggruen’s gallery, Inherited Landscape, continued her investigation of water and beach scenes, masterfully conjuring up the nostalgia of a time just out of reach. The power of Isca’s prints and paintings comes from her ability to pull the viewer in, gently reminding us that time is fleeting. She encourages us to treasure those precious moments we all know so well but forget to savor: time spent in nature with family and friends.