Sandra Vlock on learning to call herself an artist

Sandra Vlock, practiced architecture for 30 years and always kept a sketchbook in hand. Despite her artful approach, she hesitated to identify as an artist until the establishment of Studio Vlock. Now, she stands at an interesting crossroads, navigating between fine art commissions showcased at Ritz Carlton, Belmond, and Auberge hotels, and the potential for licensing and mass producing her work. On this week’s Disruptive Design, DNN Editor in Chief Courtney Porter sits down with Studio Vlock founder Sandra Vlock, to explore her transition from architect to artist and the enduring influence of the participatory nature of the built environment in her creations. Click play on the video below to watch the discussion: 

Engaging with objects

The experiential and interactive nature of architecture is central to Sandra Vlock’s artistic journey. Her pieces elicit memorable experiences, shaping distinctive environments for social gatherings, quiet reflection, and visual delight. Studio Vlock sculptures are not static pieces but dynamic elements inviting participation and engagement. In the case of the fireball sculptures, the interplay between light and shadow, coupled with the organic qualities of weather-worn steel, encourages viewers to gather around.

Studio Vlock on collaborating to create a sense of place

In the case of the El Encanto Belmond Hotel in Santa Barbara, where many of her pieces live, the goal was to craft bespoke items that establish a sense of place. The focus of the hotel’s general manager was to ensure guests felt as though they could be nowhere else, something that comes naturally to Vlock. She repurposed antique mooring buoys into striking fire sculptures. Whimsical woodland imagery winds around their fiery centers, capturing the maritime wine country aesthetics iconic of the central coast.

Sandra block stands by her fireball sculpture
Sandra Vlock stands beside one of her Fireball sculptures installed at the El Encanto Belmond Hotel in Santa Barbara

If it’s wrong to call art “functional” Sandra Vlock doesn’t want to be right 

Is it wrong to call your art “functional?” This has been a longstanding debate among gallerists, artists, designers, and makers in the fine art space, something Vlock has never quite understood. The perception is that “functional” is marketing shorthand for work at a lower price point. This presents a challenge when one’s trying to be taken seriously as a fine artist and charge the rates that come along with it. Vlock doesn’t care. What she creates is functional. Functional captures her intention. Disregarding the advice to avoid the term proved to be one of her best decisions. It has become a calling card: clients and collaborators seek her out for functionality, and happily pay the price for her commissions.

Details from The Inn at the Ruin, Joshua Tree designed by Studio Vlock

Sandra Vlock’s works of whimsy

“There’s more freedom in architectural expression than in architectural execution,” she says. While a sculpture, by its very nature, adheres to the laws of physics, akin to a built structure, Studio Vlock sculptures achieve a sense of gravity-less whimsy through freehand sketching of the idea first. Whimsy is a quality frequently obscured in digitally conceptualized projects.

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The shared experiences, social engagement, and narrative interwoven into Sandra Vlock’s pieces through whimsical, biophilic motifs, mirror her enduring commitment to connecting people and nature through the built environment.

The profound impact of art and architecture on our experience of place

Sandra Vlock’s art opens a dialogue on the integration of all disciplines shaping the experience of a place. Her work extends an invitation to architects, developers, designers, product designers, and landscape architects, to approach their projects in a detailed, holistic manner. She argues that the artist’s contributions, alongside other elements like products and the landscape, should be considered at a project’s outset rather than as an afterthought or acquired solely to occupy space. When that happens – when the artist and all the trades are viewed as equal contributors, or at least considered earlier on in a project – calling oneself an artist becomes a little bit easier.

Patio heaters, but make it fashion

What lies ahead for Studio Vlock? The fire totems have sparked interest in a well-established market, elevating patio heaters to sculptural installations. Approached to license her designs, she is receptive to the prospect of mass-producing her work, with the condition of maintaining their quality and artistic integrity. Those are the kind of struggles that accompany scaling of any sort. So, while Studio Vlock fire features won’t be gracing store shelves in the immediate future, you can still commission your own or experience her creations at vineyards, spas, and resorts along both the eastern and western coasts, as well as in Bermuda. | For further information about Sandra and her work at Studio Vlock, please visit StudioVlock.com.

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