Contemplating Sandy Sokoloff’s large-scale, vibrantly hued paintings brings back the childhood thoughts and feelings I had when peering into the opposing mirrors of double medicine cabinets—a sense of awe and wonder at the enormity of a universe with no edges or boundaries. The central animating concepts behind those sensations, infinity and its twin, eternity, slide between the physical and the metaphysical.
To represent what is unseen yet fully present is Sokoloff’s principal creative endeavor. He explains, “I’m a painter; I push paint around. When I began this series, I was just trying to make a good painting. It wasn’t until later that I came across a reference to the Kabbalah and its teachings about the relationship between G–d and the mortal, finite universe that I thought, Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The first two paintings in Emanation establish the structural elements that underpin the entire series: a central orb flanked by vertical panels, with small triangles marrying the interior edges of each panel to the sphere. Owing much to the Op-Art movement of the 1960s, these two paintings are exuberant, almost trippy retinal extravaganzas—a collision of Genesis and the Big Bang. They are the inchoate beginnings of an artistic breakthrough. Once Sokoloff finds his voice, the subsequent paintings embody the refined realization of his artistic quest.
Sokoloff creates visual and spiritual energy through a lively arrangement of shapes, gestures, and colors that activate physiological and emotional responses. His paintings plumb the possibilities of optics, philosophy, and theology, and open a space to contemplate the ineffable.
— Mara Williams, Chief Curator
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — When Mara Williams, chief curator of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC), traveled to Grand Isle in northern Vermont to visit the studio of Sandy Sokoloff, she became only the ninth person to view Sokoloff’s paintings in the past 30 years.
Beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 9, the public will have the opportunity to increase this figure exponentially when “SandySokoloff: Emanation” opens at BMAC. A reception and light brunch, free and open to all, will mark the opening of this new exhibit. Sokoloff will attend the opening reception. The exhibit will remain on view through June 16.
Sokoloff’s work was exhibited in New York and Boston from the 1970s through the early 1990s, at which point Sokoloff ceased exhibiting in order to focus on painting. Now 74 years old, Sokoloff has been painting since he was five. “I’m someone who has opted to live in isolation and try to realize my vision,” he said. “I’m at a point where I’d like other people to see it now.”
Sokoloff holds an MFA from Boston University and received training as an oil painter, but he developed an allergy to turpentine early in his career. Unable to continue in oils, he turned to acrylic paints, which led him to develop a layering technique that he has used for the past 50 years.
“The properties of acrylic are vastly different than oil,” he said. “Acrylic dries very quickly, and oil paint takes hours or days to dry. You can paint over with acrylic in ways that you can’t with oil.” This technique lends depth and complexity to Sokoloff’s paintings.
Sokoloff was several years into creating a series of mystical, abstract, nine-foot spherical paintings before he learned about Sephirot, often translated as “emanations.” “Sephirot is a Kabbalistic view that says that although we may not have a direct experience of the higher power that we call G-d, it does emanate,” he said, “and, according to the Kabbalah, it can take the form of 10 spheres which present the various aspects of the higher power.”Sokoloff was powerfully struck by the connection between this concept and his work.
Sokoloff has just begun work on a new group of paintings, “Archangels,” drawing on the association between archangels and Sephirot in Jewish mysticism. Chief Curator Williams selected one painting from “Archangels” to include in the exhibit at BMAC, while the rest of the paintings are from Sokoloff’s “Sephirot”series.
After seeing photographs of his new work, two former colleagues recently reached out to Sokoloff. Artist Leo Robinson, who taught with Sokoloff at Wellesley College and last viewed his work in 1974, said, “I think you've done something almost impossible—created truly spiritual images. I think it’s a perfect synthesis of an interesting and beautiful formal structure working as a kind of scaffolding for something really emotional and profoundly transcendent.”
Sandy Walker, a painter, printmaker, and visual artist whom Sokoloff last saw in 1981 at the MacDowell Colony, said, “Your work is full of meaning. Eventually I would hope this work finds its way to a permanent installation. I think of the Rothko chapel, which I have seen only once and was deeply moved by.”