The Recorder, Greenfield, MA
Thursday, December 12, 2002
The Art Scene
Sanders' work of overlapping forms blossoms into art
By Nina Bander

The late physicist David Bohm believed that the creative process of both the scientist and the artist were very similar. In his book called "On Creativity", Bohm states that "neither scientist nor artist is really satisfied to regard beauty as that which tickles one's fancy'. Rather, in both fields structures are somehow evaluated, consciously or unconsciously, by whether they are true to themselves', and are accepted or rejected on this basis so the artist really needs a scientific attitude to his work, as the scientist must have an artistic attitude to his." This beauty' appears in both fields when an artist or scientist clicks into a solution or theorem that somehow assimilates into a dynamic and creative totality.

This is the sensibility inspiring Amherst artist Judith Ellen Sanders, a painter whose designs describe the elegance of scientific and artistic thought. Sanders began to link the two processes together while pursuing a master degree in biochemistry at University of Massachusetts. "The beauty of biochemical processes, the reactions that are happening all the time inside of us, the beauty of it all really touched me," recalled Sanders, who received her degree in 1988 and now works for a toxicologist. " I began melding my art with the science in an attempt to communicate senses of freedom and flow."

Freedom and flow are important concepts to Sanders, who has incorporated bird and water imagery in almost all of the paintings in her current exhibit at the Burnett Gallery in Amherst. Most are very recent works, with only one or two pieces dating from a few years ago. The colorful forms are painted against pristine white paper and are of rather large scale. The crisp curves and tapers she uses create a simply elegant visual language, a world of continuous change that moves towards and away from complexity as does the world around and within us. It is both familiar to us and "true to itself" in the way that Bohm described.

"The breakdown of sugar into energy takes place in fourteen to fifteen steps, each step a slight change to the next one...If you look at these reactions written out in a textbook there is a bird-like flow to them, everything sort of flows together beautifully", said Sanders, who sometimes expresses this in layers of color changes within a specific palette.

Because her sinuous shapes repeat, mutate, take flight or flow, there is a lot of movement inherent in the work. "Freed Spirits" shows a grid-like arrangement of lotus flowers that add to the abstract shapes of smooth, sleek birds, their profile similar to Brancusi's interpretation of aerial movement in his "Birds in Space" sculpture. "The birds and flowers change the color of one another, and together they liberate the birds up and out. There is a synergy between the forms, a sense of support. We need to feel supported, that the universe is benevolent, to feel hopeful, if we want to make changes in the world. We have to feel there are possibilities; the birds are metaphors for freedom and opportunity."

"Latitude" appears twice, with a smaller giclee print of the original large acrylic on polyester canvas hanging at one end of the gallery (this one must be eight or ten feet across and five or six feet high.) Worked in autumn colors highlighted with darker teal and mulberry accents, this piece features a central circle broken by a grid. Each cell within the grid is alive with abstract designs, while streams of overlapping bubbles surge over and out of the boundaries of the circle. Overlapping forms create designs on different layers, due to hue and intensity where they cross.

"Primordial Spark", "Moon Rise" and "Energy Field" use texture to create another dimension. Sanders uses a white underpainting using short, directional strokes of thick acrylic paint, over which she applies translucent colors. To my eye, the reflective surface gives an impression of plastic and seems to trap Sanders joyful and spirited forms onto their surface. In contrast, the works that are given generous breathing room on large sheets of heavy white paper seem to embody those possibilities for change and growth the artist is seeking to express.

This may seem inconsequential, but working colors across huge snowy fields without blotting or smudging is admirable in itself. Sanders says the process is an exercise in patience but that the sheer size of the work gives her a sense of "letting loose".

Although the overlapping of form requires planning and foresight, she prefers to let the piece blossom as she works on it rather than planning it our before she sets things down. Masking decisions within this complexity is a process she likens to working a crossword puzzle.

Sanders is also very aware of the need to stem this complexity before it gets overwhelming for the viewer. The structures never become chaotic; although some do have a sort of wild abundance to them, a certain deliberateness to each arrangement keeps anarchy at bay. There is aesthetic evidence, so to speak, of a coherent Whole from which these details are extrapolated, a Whole that is implied only through our participation as a viewer, and our need to assimilate experience into meaning. Bohm wrote, "we create a world according to out mode of participation, and we create ourselves accordingly. Only the two together can change."

"Variations on a Few Different Themes: Paintings and Works on Paper" by Judith Ellen Sanders at the Burnett Gallery in the Jones Library, 43 Amity Street, Amherst.

Hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9 am to 5:30 pm, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 am to 9:30 pm. The exhibit runs through December.