Manhattan Arts International|
Ellen Sanders, Painter
Interview by Melissa Goldberg
Sanders' work is full of vibrant colors and images that
captivate the viewer. Lines, curves, circles, and colors weave
together to form patterns that invite the imagination to speculate
how the artist could have painted such intricate, hypnotizing works
of art. In her Artist Profile in the Manhattan Arts Online Gallery,
Judith cites her love of science and art as her inspiration.
Reading this, I couldn't help but wonder how Judith
connected the supposedly opposing fields into such magnificent work,
how she managed to metaphorically turn her art studio into a
laboratory and vice versa, and what she has learned in the process.
When and how did it
occur to you that biology could be fused into your love of art?
JS: Art taught me about the infinite uses of
color and the manifold ways both color and form can be combined.
When I went to graduate school, science taught me that the flow and
changes that can occur biochemically are also infinite.
Biochemically, transformation and liberation are going on within us
all the time; glucose transformed and liberated into energy, for
example. Interconnection, flow, pattern, variation, and small
step-by-step transformations can be found in both the biochemical
and art worlds. Soon I realized that art and science were one
template for me.
Synchronicity, acrylic on canvas, six 66" x 32" panels
MG: What do you believe is the main connection
between the two fields?
JS: The essential visual and visceral elements of
both art and science are the infinite aspects of both realms. Both
are the epitome of possibility, whether it is the interweaving
pathways in biochemistry where molecules join, move together, and
intertwine to create new compounds, or whether it is the infinite
possibilities and permutations canvas, paper, brush, and paint have
to offer. For this reason my energies are pinpoint focused on
pushing the boundaries of both realms using color, form, vibrancy,
and scope to convey my core belief that art and science inspire
feelings of possibility and transformation.
MG: Is there an experience or moment you
consider the turning point in your
JS: Although I was an artist when I went to
graduate school to study the sciences, I, however, could not have
anticipated the deep artistic experiences I was going to have as my
biochemistry professor began to draw biochemical reactions on the
board. I knew I wanted to study the sciences and I knew there was an
elegance to the field, but I soon learned that there is a beauty,
mystery, rhythm, and flow to science whose depth I could not have
imagined until those biochemical reactions were written on that
simple chalkboard. I had attended graduate school to expand my
knowledge, to learn new things, but could not have anticipated the
effect the sciences would have on my artwork. The beauty of the
inner workings of the cell, the complexity and simplicity of
molecular structures, the exquisite flow of chemical reactions, all
struck a profound chord for me. And from that moment on my artwork
became the synthesis of two worlds, east and west so to speak, and
the spirit, mind, and soul of art and science are now for me the two
parts of one expanded universe.
MG: How old were you when you first became
interested in art?
JS: When I was six years old and
began my first art classes I painted the requisite still-lifes each
student was assigned but was truly enthralled by the endless power
and permutations our abstract assignments offered. As simple an
exercise as arranging squares, circles, and triangles—overlapping
them, separating them, emphasizing the various shapes formed within,
and experimenting with the use of different colors to form different
impressions—all opened my mind and I saw art as expansive with
infinite possibilities. Also, having grown up in New York, my
parents would regularly take me to museums and galleries where I saw
first-hand the endless possibilities of art. Sculpture, paintings,
drawings, even the scale and beauty of the buildings fed and freed
MG: How old were you when you first became
interested in science?
JS: Over time science began to fascinate me and
seven years after graduating from college I began graduate school
for my Master of Science degree. All through graduate school I
continued with my painting while at the same time learning of the
beauty and complexity of both the cell and its biochemical
reactions. In the end my science education turned out to be as
crucial a part of my art education as were my courses in painting
and drawing and literally the day after I graduated with my science
degree I went back into the studio full-time bringing my new
knowledge of science with me.
Calm Templation, acrylic on 640 gram paper, 41" x 46"
MG: What brought the interests (in art and
JS: My interest in art goes back to the very
beginning—from my childhood art classes and from my frequent visits
to museums and galleries. My interest in science came to the table
later. As time went on and I worked at my art, I began to feel the
need to study science, having had little education or interest in it
before. Just to go to graduate school I first had to study the basic
science courses I hadn’t studied as an undergraduate and began to
take courses on my own in biology and general and organic chemistry.
This set the stage for my revelation in science, for even in biology
and the study of the cell membrane, and in organic chemistry and the
study of the 3-dimensional relationships within atoms and molecules,
I gradually began to see the foundation, the primacy, the integrity,
and the absolute beauty of the scientific world.
MG: Other than biology, is there anything else in
your life or the world that influences or inspires your work?
JS: Often we are offered a worldview where there
is much negativity. In life, in daily life, we can sometimes see
more negativity than positivity. In emptiness, in darkness, even the
slightest perception of light, of form, of color, is a welcome
relief. To focus on the expansiveness, the flow, the inspiration,
even the reassurance and relief that the two worlds of art and
science can provide, is important to me. This is by no means an
attempt to be a Pollyanna or to be unaware of the many dimensions of
the world. But I do know that the best places where we can hope to
find ourselves on a daily basis are the places where we can feel
free. To depict a sense of place where there is the potential for
freedom is important to me. To bring a nod of yes into the world in
the guise of light, form, vibrancy, and color is always my goal.
MG: How do you approach starting a new painting?
How much planning is there before hand?
When I begin a painting the
feelings I focus on are feelings of possibility, expansiveness,
harmony, freedom, renewal, and transformation. The question I always
love to ask myself is what combinations of form and color will help
to depict these feelings. I spend a lot of time mulling over this
question that I so love because I love color and the multitude of
effects depending on the brushstrokes I use, and of the vibrancy,
transparency, or opacity of the paint. And I love form, forms
evocative of nature, evocative of the natural world, and evocative
of our inner natures. To begin, I roughly sketch out the piece in a
sketchbook, knowing that it will grow, change, and become as I begin
to work on it.
MG: How much do you discover while you are in the
process of painting?
JS: The rough initial sketch of a piece starts
the process, and the color palette is not far behind. The process of
a work beginning to grow is a fascinating one to me. I thoroughly
enjoy the process of creating a piece because a relationship begins
where you want to do what is best for the piece and that often, if
not always, requires change, movement into new directions, and
addition of color or color gradations. To focus on one thing for a
period of time, to work on it and to ponder its possibility is
always a revelation and an expanding experience in itself. One often
discovers that the beginning sketch of the piece was a jumping-off
point as form and color meld together to become the final piece. As
the piece grows there are always new decisions to be made, but there
is also always the constant dedication to that particular piece and
its particular message. And in the end one has been given the
opportunity to learn even more than anticipated about synergy, about
harmony, and about the flow of a piece.
MG: How do your paintings relate to one another?
Would you say they were individual from others, a connected body, or
somewhere in between?
JS: Themes of interconnectedness, growth, and
transformation are always my focus. I feel that form and color are
powerful and can open up worlds. It is important to me that each
piece is distinct from the other, but throughout my work the
synthesis of art and science to their essential visual and visceral
effects to depict the crucial senses of place where there is
metamorphosis, flow, and possibility is the overriding
liberation and transformation need to be seen and felt.
Biochemically liberation and transformation are going on within us
all the time. Glucose transformed and liberated into energy, for
example. Knowledge of the possibility of change, of support during
that change, the fact that one is not stuck in one place but that
movement and momentum are possible are very important to me. With
form and color liberation and transformation can perhaps be
communicated so that we can be reminded of who and what we really