Sandra Longmore began work on three paintings during a visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for an artists’ retreat in January. The Washougal resident wasn’t quite sure how they would look when she was finished with them or what they would represent, but she was captivated by them nonetheless. She wasn’t sure why, but she knew they were going to be important.
Longmore finished two of the paintings in Mexico and completed the third after returning to the Pacific Northwest. But it wasn’t until March that she discovered the true purpose of the paintings and the connection between them.
“I didn’t know it was a series until I came home,” she said. “At first I thought I might wipe them and start over, but when I started to really look at them, I saw how they fit together.”
The three works of art, she says, tell a story about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My eyes are really open because this is just not the way life used to be,” she said. “If you’re really a creative person, and you’re working with creative energy, you show what the generation or culture is feeling and experiencing. If you look at art from the Renaissance, or even back to the caveman days, it’s a reflection of that particular age.”
She’s quick to add that “she didn’t foresee” anything like the pandemic when she was painting, though.
“It’s not like that,” she said. “My style has changed over the years, and right now my art is coming from my subconscious. That’s where the COVID-19 paintings came from.”
The paintings are titled “COVID-19 Bubble Arrives,” “Warriors” and “The Healing.”
“The first one says, ‘Something’s coming. It’s coming from an ancient source, and it’s big,'” she said “In the second one, the warriors represent the strong energy that it takes to fight COVID, the idea of being successful, and maybe also the role of the essential workers.
“But the third one is still a puzzle to me,” she continued. “There’s a lot of layers and unanswered questions. It says, ‘Things are going to be scary for a while, but eventually they’ll be all right.'”
The paintings are for sale on Longmore’s website, sandralongmore.com, which also features a variety of her work from her decades-long career. Although she’s skilled in many different mediums, she focuses mostly on painting and drawing.
“(Her style) has loosened up quite a lot,” said Judi Whiting, co-owner of the Vancouver-based Medallion Fine Art School, where Longmore taught for 17 years. “She’s more focused on interpretive, expressionist art. She probably adheres less to realism and is more into emotion and interpretation.”
Open to change
Longmore, 78, has been creating art for virtually her entire life.
“I started thinking I was an artist at age 5,” said Longmore, who grew up in North Dakota. “My mother and grandmother had to clean houses, and during the times when things were rough, they put me in a boarding house to keep me busy. I did a lot of painting and drawing, and whatever mark I made was the best in the world, according to them. I love the process of creating. I love the feeling that I can create something with just a pencil and crayon.”
As Longmore creates, she sees “exciting truths, concepts and funny coincidences come together before (her) eyes like a jigsaw puzzle,” according to her website. But more than anything, she wants her work to tell a story via unique “energies.”
“(My inspiration) is fresh and different every time,” she said. “I just let the paint go on canvas, and an image starts to form and a story comes together. Sometimes it comes together right away, and sometimes it takes a little while, but when it’s done I laugh and smile. I find it really interesting to see what happened. I don’t try to make (the story) happen. It’s like a combination of the painting and me as two friends taking a journey together.”
Longmore, who earned degrees in science, art and psychology from Portland State University,has lived in Washougal with her husband, Tom, for the past 40 years. In the 1980s, she ran a business called Sandra’s Fine Art Apparel, selling self-painted upscale clothing items before a fire destroyed her home studio while she was traveling from California to Arizona for an art show.
Just like that, her business was gone.
“That was one of those life-changing events,” she said. “The funny part about that was I wasn’t upset. It was kind of weird. I just turned (my attention) to the next thing. I knew I didn’t want to keep going with the (apparel business). It got to be too much work. I always just wanted to be a full-time artist.”
Since then, her work has been featured in a variety of books, magazines, galleries and exhibits. She’s also earned numerous honors, degrees and awards, including “Woman of the Year” from the National Association for Professional Women in 2013.
By the mid-2000s, however, Longmore was ready for something new. Fortunately for her, Whiting was looking for a new teacher for her school, which Longmore had been attending as a student.
Whiting’s decision to hire Longmore “worked out for the both of us,” Whiting said. “(Longmore is) very sincere, and very much a people person. She related to her students.”
“It’s a very unique school. People from ages 5 to 85 go there,” she said. “The kids were wonderful. I loved to see their progress. Their eyes would light up when they created something they were proud of.”
She served in that role until earlier this year, when she resigned to focus on her artwork.
“She’s always on to something new, and I admire her for that,” Whiting said of Longmore. “I admire her openness to new ideas and new concepts.”