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First Person Artist: Sandra Scolnik And The Saddest Paintings in the World

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Surely after the first suicide bomber targeted her procession upon her return to Pakistan from exile, Benizar Bhutto knew that a possible end was near. Her friends and correspondences confirm that she got her affairs in order afterwards-- just in case-- even pointing out where to look in the event that the worse would happen.

I thought of Benizar Bhutto and the prism through which she must have viewed her last stretch of life when I saw Sandra Scolnik's latest work, "The Saddest Paintings in the World." In this series, Scolnik envisions her own death and the processions that would accompany it. For years, Scolnik has painted self-portraits and domestic scenes in which she almost always paints herself as a group of characters in some sort of theatrical landscape or interior. The paintings are small and detailed, the subject and situations are a result of an outpouring of emotions and images onto the panels about her inner life, memories and relationships with her family and friends.

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SICK, Sandra Scolnik, 9" x 14" oil on wood panel 1997

Kimberly Brooks: What inspired "The Saddest Paintings in the World"?

Sandra Scolnik: Right after having my second child my images became very dark. I think all of the new life I created around me was making me fearful of death so I decided I would paint myself on my deathbed. I was able to exorcise these thoughts by making paintings about my worst fears.

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FAREWELL, Sandra Scolnik, 11" X 14" oil on wood panel 2007

KB: I can completely relate to motherhood setting off an artistic trigger--we have that in common. What have you been working on lately?

SS: I made several paintings about being sick and dying recently. These also relate to losing my father to cancer and the homesickness I experienced after moving to France. In these I'm really trying to push the narcissistic melodrama as far as I can.

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FUNERAL PROCESSION, Sandra Scolnik, 24" x 41" oil on wood panel 2007

KB: When Bhutto was assassinated last Thursday, did you think about how she might have viewed her death?

SS: Yes, I did. A lot of people have an idea that the afterlife will be great, that they will be in heaven or reunited with their loved ones or reincarnated and this makes them less afraid. I read somewhere that Bhutto's father told her that they would be reunited in the afterlife and I hope it's true. If I knew for sure I was going to see my dad again I wouldn't be afraid either. I have a fear of flying and my husband always reminds me that if the plane goes down at least we'll all be together and that I'll be gone before I know what happened and I am comforted by this because (like Woody Allen), "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens."

KB: What other subjects are you exploring, how do you accomplish it through your process?

SS: In this series of work, I am thinking a lot about memory, and for the first time I am attempting to paint without using any visual aids, such as photographs or models... I am also using repetition to explore physical memory, I am trying to make a physical memory of my image in the muscles of my hands like a violinist who learns to play a song by heart.

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WAKE, Scandra Scolnik, 11" X 14" oil on wood panel 2007

KB: What do you ultimately seek to impart on someone who views your work?

SS: It is my intention to make beautiful paintings. I hope that whoever looks at my work will get a little lost in the worlds I have created.

Sandra Scolnik was born in Upstate New York and received an MFA from SUNY Albany. She currently resides in France with her French husband and two small children. Sandra Scolnik's is represented by CRG Gallery in New York. She will be showing a group of new paintings with CRG Gallery at the Armory show March 2008. To learn more, please visit www.sandrascolnik.com.

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists' work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view all the columns and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com