Musician and visual artist Amery Sandford will be performing and creating in Fredericton this spring as part of this year’s Flourish Festival.
Amery Sandford’s participation in this year’s Flourish Festival has been a long time coming. Two years in fact. Yet she did manage to take part in the 2017 event without ever setting foot in the city.
“Flourish actually contacted me two years ago about participating and I couldn’t attend but I ended up sending some prints to them that they exhibited,” said Sandford, a Montreal-based artist and musician. “I feel like I’ve always wanted to make it out to Fredericton for this but it’s never worked out timing wise until this year, where I applied to be a part of the festival both as a visual artist as well as with the bands BBQT and Esme and the Dishrags.”
Flourish is possibly the only New Brunswick festival to highlight the work of both musicians and visual artists with equal footing. Moving far beyond simply having artists paint during a performance or offering them a spot to sell their work between sets, the organizers behind Flourish incorporate the work of participating artists into all aspects of the festival experience, from stage design to gallery shows and installation pieces through their venues.
This concept isn’t a new one for Sandford. She got her first taste of artist-festival collaboration as part of a similar festival in St. John’s, NL.
“My first experience in being involved in a music festival was with Lawnya Vawnya in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I did a drawing for an event that they do with Vish Khanna almost every year,” said Sandford. “I did this pretty ridiculous live drawing during this talk show style event that Vish hosted. I had to talk into this little microphone and tell everyone what I was drawing intermittently between interviews from artists and small sets by musicians that were taking part in the festival. There is a really embarrassing recording somewhere on the internet where I am describing the drawing that was inspired by the melting of snow in the Canadian spring time that often reveals garbage and dog terds. I think I had some members of the audience come and draw their own dog terd on my drawing too. Anyways, I did stage design for Lawnya Vawnya a couple years after that and it’s been really fun to re-imagine my drawings as backdrops for bands.”
Until recently, Sandford viewed her festival work, specifically her work in creating stage designs, as something altogether separate from her formal practice. But that’s no longer the case.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the life of my drawings and any other thing I’ve made, and always thought that doing stage design for festivals or shows has been a separate thing from what I think about in my capital A ‘Art Practice’, but maybe it’s not too different after all,” she said. “I guess I’ve always been interested in cultural spectacle and public events, so it seems like it would make sense to consider that when contributing visuals to a festival.”
Sandford has participated in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and the United States. She received her BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2014 and is currently fulfilling an MFA in Print Media at Concordia University. Working primarily in screen-printing and lithography, her work is heavily informed by the places she visits.
“I feel like I’m drawn to objects and architecture that look like they could be drawings that exist only in my imagination,” she said. “I also really like regionally specific stories that definitely aren’t paid attention to on an international scale, but that become a sort of cult thing for that one small town or city.
“For example, this summer I was in Halifax for a while and people were constantly talking about the agave plant in the Public Gardens. I guess around 25 years of age the plant blooms and then dies right after. I think I was simultaneously having some pretty cliché realizations at 25 at that time too so I was struck by that, and how out of place this desert plant looked in the Public Gardens, in its little cactus garden that as a whole seemed doomed to die come the Maritime fall. It did inspire some print work and also the song Agave by Esme and the Dishrags.”
Sandford’s use of irony as a political tool to reveal unspoken aspects of community and regional cultures has come to define much of her recent work. And she is not afraid to get in a quick jab when possible.
“Irony and cuteness are definitely deliberate things I do in my work,” she said. “I think I do it in both visual art and in my songwriting because I feel so conflicted about my own sincerity sometimes.
“I feel a discomfort when ultimately trying to feel a special connection to place in a country that glosses over a really traumatic history of colonialism through the use of benevolent and cute imagery. I grew up in a tourist town just outside of Banff National Park, and I feel like that environment has inspired feelings of disillusionment in relation to imagery developed by nationalistic storytelling and the tourism industry.”
Sandford and fellow artist Christeen Francis recently collaborated on a project to help raise funds for the Unist’ot’en Camp Legal Fund by rewarding donors with a piece of original artwork.
“We are asking that you show us proof of a suggested donation of $20 to the fund and we will send you a really nice screen printed poster,” said Sandford.
Check out more of Amery Sandford’s work and hear music from both her bands by visiting the links below.