Washington's Enid Sanford,a particularly receptive painter, has not, I feel, received the attention she deserves. Blame her receptivity, her willingness to deal with the issues of the day.
When she first showed her shaped pictures, when she tried out the new plastics, when her always well-made paintings were permitted to reflect styles as diverse as trompe l'oel and art deco, we focused on the changes, on the transitory fashions that moved across her art.
Her 10-year retrospective, which will be on view all summer (upstairs in the library of the Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale) lets us see beneath the surface. What is apparent here is her integrity, her depth.
The oldest paintings shown, those from the late '60s, now seem more important than they did when new. Then we sensed their debts, now we see their promise. Their delicacy of color, their handling of light (light abasorbed and reflected), their superimposed planes, predict the works that follow.
Sanford experimented. First she applied paint to three-dimensional supports of fabricated plasic, now she paints on can vas: her surfaces have been velvety and shimmery, opaque and trunslucent. Heroverlapping planes were folded first, then crumpled - but while she was exploring she was teady at the core.
Paintings shown in retrospectives sometimes undermine each other, reiterated statments lose their message, tricks that work at first soon begin to bore. But that does not happen here. Sanford is meticulous. Her early paintings made on Rowlux, a light-separating plastic, have the costly, polished look of hand-made machines, but later as her paintings change, as her materials grow more modest, her carefulness is seen not in manufacture, but in the way she handles color shifts, illusionism, light.
Her care is not oppressive. Even as we note the planning of her colors, her handling of Rowlux, or the way she fools the eye (those startling bits of masking tape are not really there: look closely and you see they are painted with a spray gun), we see something in her work that grows as freely as a tree. See the way that she explores grays and mossy greens, or how her overlapping planes fever and hide each other, or the different ways she balances the three-dimensional and the flat. Despite the many media used, these concerns and images unify her show.
Some artists of the past decade limited their universe, explored one issue only. Sanford spot one of them. Unexpected references - to Ron Davis, Kenneth Noland, and the action painters to tinfoil and torn paper, to the flashy, deco sets of 30-year-old musicals - rise out of her show.
She is 40 now. At 50 she was interested in Clement Greenberg's theories and the "non-violation of the picture plane," and these things changed her work. Later she explored the look of light through plastic, and the skills of the illusionists. These separate concerns stand out clearly in her work. Her impressive exhibition has the mood of a collage, in which the seavanged, cut-out elements maintain their individuality while the control of the artist unifies the various and makes of the many, one.