If you head over to Finley’s Bar & Grill on Friday night, you’ll get a chance to see Nelson artist Rhandi Sandford live-painting as part of the Blue Night culture crawl. But she doesn’t guarantee you’ll like what you see.
“If I didn’t have so many friends I would feel a little self-conscious,” Sandford told the Star. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been called a creep or a weirdo.”
Playful, subversive, dirty and strange, Sandford’s work is comparable to that of legendary artist and Hunter S. Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman. That’s a comparison she embraces. When preparing for a photo shoot, she had to be careful no “vaginas” mistakenly ended up in the frame. That’s what got her reported on Facebook earlier this year.
“I’ve always been a dirty little pervert with my art since hitting puberty,” said Sandford. “However, my style has evolved in the last few years to the point people can look and say ‘I think Rhandi did that.’”
But of course she’s also received positive feedback.
“The best thing I’ve ever heard is they just said they feel something. They don’t know if they like it or not, but it makes them feel weird inside. That my art can give people feelings at all is pretty great.”
What are some telltale signs you’re looking at a Sandford? Oversized eyes, exaggerated genitalia, wrinkles, mushrooms and hybrid animals often appear. Her images are playful, disturbing, and often hilarious.
“I’ve been given back pieces because the owners have been creeped out. People ask me if I’m in therapy. I get asked if I’m high all the time. You’re kind of putting yourself out there. These things are all happening in my head and it’s only in the last three or four years I’ve been even able to show anyone what I’m doing.”
That started when a friend, Thomas Dininno, looked at a piece in her bedroom in 2012 and expressed interest.
“I don’t even remember the name of it, because I sold it so long ago, but it had some clouds with eyeballs and from the clouds there were fingers dripping down. Then there was giant green thumbs popping out of the ground. He was like ‘you do this?’ It was shocking to everyone I even did art.”
He encouraged her to apply for a residency, which she eventually landed. From there she kept going, and upon moving to the Kootenays recently, the self-taught 28-year-old decided she was hell-bent on becoming a working artist. That’s necessitated a multi-pronged, commercial approach to her craft.
“People say I work my ass off, but I never really feel like I do. I’m always hard on myself and feel like I don’t do enough. I want to do a graphic novel, I want to do huge scale drawings, and when you want to do that you’ve got to push it out, you know? I make prints, cards, colouring books, dolls, t-shirts. I’m going to start making fanny packs. I want to get stuff printed on fabric and make bags with it.”
A quartet of her creepy-faced dolls, many with a bizarre number of limbs, were on proud display in her bedroom.
Sanford said she was thrilled to be invited to live paint during Blue Night by organizer Brian Kalbfleisch, but she’s nervous about it.
“I’ll have my stuff prepped and I’ll have the idea, but all the shading and outlines and everything will be done in those two hours between 7 and 9 p.m. Painting in front of people is nerve-racking because there’s a point between when you start and when you finish when you hate what’s happening.”
She said she’ll probably be “cringing the whole time.”
Sandford plans to stay in Nelson long-term, and hopes to open a studio with friend and fellow artist Lauren Herraman. It’s because she’s surrounded by like-minded artists that she feels comfortable in this milieu.
“I feel like I fit in here because everyone’s so weird and awesome.”