The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2022

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FEB 2022 Issue
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The need to combine

Sandra C. Fernandez, <em>If I only had wings</em>, (2001), 12 x 16.5 x 2.75 in. Paper, thread, copy of an old photograph, page of an old book, a milagro (charm). Woodcuts, machine embroidery, sewing and hand stitching. Courtesy the artist.
Sandra C. Fernandez, If I only had wings, (2001), 12 x 16.5 x 2.75 in. Paper, thread, copy of an old photograph, page of an old book, a milagro (charm). Woodcuts, machine embroidery, sewing and hand stitching. Courtesy the artist.

I fell in love with prints at an early age: First as an admirer and later as a maker. As an adolescent I was exposed to gorgeous silkscreened Cuban movie billboards in my home country, Ecuador, at a time when book fairs were popular and Cuban artists were bringing their culture to South America. After I unexpectedly immigrated to the US as a young adult, and became an art student, I was immediately drawn to learning about the different printmaking processes and creating meaningful pieces about my culture that I had been forced to leave behind. This medium attracted me on many fronts. Not only to the idea of multiples in connection to the social roots of print media and activism, but also to the indefinite possibilities of creating variations using one same matrix and changing colors, placement or even adding other elements to the paper. I appreciated making editions, which allowed me to share my work and my story with more people.

I have always felt the need to combine different mediums to create a more accurate description of my ideas and emotions. Printmaking expanded my ability to communicate more genuinely, which led me to integrate my photography background in the form of photo etchings and non-silver processes, which led me to explore artist books, and even further towards soft sculpture, assemblage, and installation work. While other mediums are incorporated in my creation, printmaking will always be present in one way or another in my work. 

Still as an undergraduate, I discovered artist books and bookmaking, and something even deeper awakened inside of me. My grandfather was a bibliophile and bookseller, thus my love for paper and old books had been ingrained since childhood. Through his life’s work I had grown an admiration for printed text: the shapes and type styles of fonts, the textures and sounds of pages being turned, the smell of leather covers, and the folded pages that hold trapped time within. From printmaking, it was an easy step to begin making artist books. My practice in printmaking allowed me to reproduce old manuscripts and photos and create three-dimensional objects without compromising the original documents. Books allowed me to tell a more complete story and engage the viewer’s multiple senses. Most of the artist books that I make are containers and repositories of visual narratives that need to be “read,” manipulated, and felt by touch. The storyline is not linear, and the viewer must decipher its content by exploring the book, opening lids, peeking through holes, or unwinding accordion folds. The texture of the materials—paper, wood, crochet, wire—allow for yet another layer of sensorial involvement with each piece.

Many of the same concerns continued, present in the series called Cucas/Paper Doll that developed after. I used print remnants to make small paper clothing in the shape of skirts and blouses and placed within found objects, and various other elements. In my installation work I use printed paper posing as fabric to build large scale forms. The medium continues in my practice to morph into various three-dimensional realms. While other mediums are useful in my creation, printmaking will always be present in one way or another in my work. 

Printmaking requires a methodology, patience, and a true love for process. A trained eye appreciates all the nuances of the finished product. When you discover a specific technique utilized, you can recognize all the steps that went into making it happen. The medium has many interpretative layers when these techniques are applied to nontraditional surfaces or combined with other non-printmaking mediums. In my journey, printmaking has been the portal that has allowed me to express who I am and helped me bridge visually the two cultures that I am made of. From building giant skirts by sewing together panels of printed cyanotypes and vandykes to creating sculptures for public places that utilize etched copper to embellish and support the structures, I have mixed it all. Even my two-dimensional prints are sewn, chine collé, or collaged. By combining the artforms that I learned in Ecuador (mainly sewing, embroidery, basketry, crocheting, and photography) with all the techniques I learned in the US (etching, relief, silkscreen, woodwork, jewelry making), I have created a distinct style in my work over the years, and it all started with the art of printmaking.


Sandra C. Fernandez

Sandra C. Fernandez is an Ecuadorian American artist whose work is rooted in the transborder experiences of exile, dislocation, relocation, memory, and self-conscious identity-construction/reconstruction. Her practice includes—separately and in combination—printmaking, photography, artist’s books, soft sculpture/fiber art, assemblages, and installations; using a variety of materials, such as paper, thread, metal, wood, organic materials, and small found objects.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2022

All Issues