Around the Island

Artist Sandi Fifield shows fresh new works from her newly settled Island life

Sandi Haber Fifield and her husband, John, settled full-time in Shelter Island three years ago, after living for three decades in Connecticut. They counted themselves lucky to both be able to work at home during the pandemic, he as an architect and she in her studio creating unique works of art, many of which seem to reflect the uncertain time they were living through. “We felt we were safe,” she said, as the Island followed careful practices and kept infections low. Living in a wooded area near the Mashomack Preserve, they’ve enjoyed the views from their windows, “seeing the seasons emerge.”

Although she missed having her children visit — a son in Vancouver, B.C. where the border was closed due to COVID, and a daughter in Boston — she said she hoped they could safely gather by the end of April. In the meantime, she said she enjoyed living in this community, along with many other artists. “It’s really a special place.” 

Many of the works in her current portfolio, which is being shown at a New York City gallery beginning this week, show a kind of Cubist approach of taking images apart, and creating something new out of them. Each piece may have elements of color, texture, shadow and shape. “I like the cutting, tearing and re-arranging” her works, she said. The viewer may be used to seeing images that are photoshopped, but viewers studying works like those shown on this page will realize that they have been collaged and layered by hand. Each work will go through different stages, she said, as she’s making it, and the final stage is “what the observer takes from it.”

It’s probably not a coincidence that a viewer is reminded of the way a bird builds its nest of found objects that serve a purpose as they become part of a whole. “I love the big osprey nests on Shelter Island,” she said. “You’ll see weird things hanging out of them — pieces of balloon, for example. They’re wonderful.”

The show is running at the Yancey Richardson Gallery, at 525 W. 22nd St. in Manhattan from April 15 to May 28. The works include a group entitled “As Birdsongs Emerge” including some shown here. 

Notes from the show describe the experience of the observer, which completes the creative process: “The viewer is challenged to use their eyes, mind, and memories to navigate the picture plane and question the strata of seeing.”

The show at the gallery includes a collection she completed earlier, “The Certainty of Nothing,” born out of a trip Ms. Fifield took to Angkor, the ruins of the Khmer Empire in northern Cambodia. In contrast to the colorful “Birdsong” images, these are stark interpretations depicting 

“what the lens cannot show,” according to her summary of the works. “I continue to use elements both natural and man-made; the formal elements of light and line and hand-wrought interventions – tearing, folding, puncturing, layering and drawing. My palette goes to extremes – deep dark and unknown to bleached pastel and ephemeral.” In addition to the works on display, the gallery has a book available that Ms. Fifield produced, where the works are not only illustrated, but her own “interventions” include tiny punctures on the pages that allow light to infiltrate and offer the viewer a unique perspective as they view these timeless ruins a world away.