“water ways” Artist Goes With the Flow

- by

With a new home studio and an impressive exhibit on view at Laney Contemporary, artist Katherine Sandoz keeps moving forward


LEARNING IS INTEGRAL to making art for Katherine Sandoz. She picks a subject every year and then she learns whatever she can about it — past subjects have included Hawaii, magnolia trees and katniss plants, for example. She talks to scientists, artists, students in divinity school and even quantum physicists. She reads books on ecology, biology, visual culture and foundational texts from world religions. When she has studied enough, she paints.

For “water ways,” an exhibition on view at Laney Contemporary through June 1, Sandoz chose the lotus, a flower that grows in mud but due to its superhydrophobic nature, blossoms pure white even in swamps. The exhibition includes 44 works on canvas and more than 20 sculptures whose components were appropriated from “Katniss,” a mobile sculpture made of colorful acrylic pieces that hung in the lobby of the Jepson Center in 2019, all of which are inspired by the lotus. The show fills both the upstairs and downstairs galleries of the unique brutalist building in which Laney Contemporary is located. 

Woman dressed in black standing in an art studio full of colorful abstract paintings
Photo by Emma Hopson

In creating the works, Sandoz was especially inspired by the “Lotus Sutra,” a Buddhist scripture that offers a path toward enlightenment. In the exhibition, Sandoz imagines that her lotuses become actors in the great drama that is the universe, as do all beings. “The lotus is a mirror of so many of our musings,” says Sandoz. In the paintings, the form of the lotus unfolds in layers of colorful acrylic paint.

The lotus, while inherently beautiful, does not need beautiful circumstances to thrive. In Georgia, Sandoz says, you are more likely to find a lotus plant in a watery ditch beside a gas station than you are in a cultivated garden. In fact, to draw studies for the show at Laney, Sandoz often drove to a mile marker sent to her by a friend, where she would find a lotus pond blossoming alongside an asphalt highway. 

“The Tower”
“The High Priestess”

In a mirrored room on the top floor of the gallery, Sandoz’s lotus sculptures are grouped together on pedestals, seemingly floating like they would be in nature. Reflected in the ceiling and walls, and awash in sunlight during the day, the colorful sculptures morph and flood the senses, just like the sky does on a day full of changing weather. When combined with the paintings hanging throughout the space, all of which are made with water-washed acrylic paints that mimic the watery conditions the plant needs to thrive, Sandoz’s lotuses embody Wassily Kandinsky’s quote: “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” The exhibition, in turn, can be seen as an exploration of the path to nirvana. 

It’s been a busy few years for Sandoz. Concurrent to the exhibition at Laney, a site-specific exhibition of Sandoz’s work is now on view in the Thompson Hotel at Eastern Wharf. Sandoz also recently built a new, larger art studio behind her Vernonburg home and began a collaboration with fellow artist Ashley Woodson Bailey that includes sweatshirts printed with her iconic water-infused compositions. 

The lotus is the leading lady in her most recent body of work, but Sandoz always returns to the salt marshes of Georgia for her core inspiration. In the same way that the tides rise and fall every day near her home and studio, Sandoz paints. “I know that I paint so that I can learn and I’m learning to paint,” she says. “They are both rising and falling in that same tidal way.” 

Emily McCarthy Savannah magazine cover

Find this feature and so much more in Savannah magazine’s May/June 2024 “Leading Ladies” issue.