Manhattan Arts International
Judith Ellen Sanders, Painter
An Interview by Melissa Goldberg

Judith Ellen 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.

MG: When and how did it occur to you that biology could be fused into your love of art?
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 career?
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.

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 my soul.

MG: How old were you when you first became interested in science?
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 science) about?
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?
JS: 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.

How much do you discover while you are in the process of painting?
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.

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 theme.

Messages of 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 are.