Spirituality meets biochemistry

by Cheryl Rezendes Rulewich

The Recorder, Greenfield, Massachusetts

Thursday, July 5, 2007


One fine day, Judith Ellen Sanders was sitting in a science class at the University of Massachusetts, preparing for her masters degree in nutrition, when her other life as a visual artist changed forever. Previous to this time, Sander's artwork, which had always been abstract, consisted of hard lines and shapes. But on this particular day, Sanders had an art epiphany. Her professor had just drawn a biochemical pathway on the blackboard. It looked something like this, only with curves and dips: o → o → o → o → o → o. The o's represent molecules, while the arrows show each step of transformation, as the molecule morphs into another entity. Sanders was mesmerized. She found it to be nothing short of stunning. "It was a dance," explains Sanders. "It was beautiful and elegant."


Sanders, now a resident of Amherst, went on to complete her schooling in science, alternating between hard intense studying, painting, exams and more painting. She ended with a master's degree in nutrition while also having studied biochemistry and toxicology. The day after graduation, Sanders went back into the painting studio, working full-time on her art. It was a logical step for Sanders. "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," explains Sanders in her artist statement. "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. 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."


"Songs of Summer" an exhibition of Sanders' artwork, is currently on display at the Greenfield Community College downtown building. Here you will find
"Enchanted Forest," "Circles of Light," "Luminescence" and "Tree of Life" among other finely executed paintings. These paintings are filled with light, pure color, energy and illumination. As one stands before these large and abstract artistic entities, it becomes clear how Sanders has used her own experiences, within the scientific process of question and methodical observation, to uncover a personal vision of a similar step-by-step process in life, a life where possibilities are truly limitless.


For Sanders, these paintings are as much about spirituality as they are about biochemistry. Or, rather, they are simply about life, about personal transformation, about what is physical and truly metaphysical. "On some level, with each piece I am creating a new world," explains Sanders.


Even Sanders' process for creating these large paintings seems executed in a methodical, almost clinical process. After creating a large exacting sketch, Sanders traces the imagery onto paper using a large light table. Then, with small bits of 3M tape purchased by the case at her local auto body shop, Sanders outlines every shape in the painting before filling in them in with color - creating very sharp, crisp, hard-edge outlines - a contradiction to the flowing, organic shapes these edges actually embody. In essence, Sanders is drawing with tape and then coloring in with a brush; a great exercise in patience for any scientist or artist on a quest for the meaning of life.


With both the works on paper and canvas, Sanders chooses to leave the background white, intentionally creating the absence of a background, so as not to distract the viewer's eye from the shape, rhythm and dance of the piece.


"Building and Growing" is a significant painting on paper that measures 30" x 37". Four architectural columns painted with squares of yellow, black and brown support a golden arch from which purple, blue and lavender fire-like shapes spring forth. Around each column, a bright green vine curls and snakes its way to the top, bearing shapes of blue and purple leaves that could easily be mistaken for butterflies. Bird or dove shapes painted in gold, yellow and orange fly atop the arch bearing messages in their beaks. This painting exemplifies life, growth, renewal and freedom. It projects a vibrancy that would be impossible to miss or be unaffected by.


With "Enchanted Forest" the sinuous shapes and swirls of orange, red, blue, yellow and green are dense and enticing, drawing one in. It is as if the imagery is really of living, breathing beings with long elegant tentacles that somehow lure and embrace anyone who dares to venture into the vast and colorful world of Judith Ellen Sanders.


It is Sanders' hope that her creations on paper and canvas will give us a sense of light and freedom, opening up the realm of possibilities that are truly available to us. "With form and color, I feel that liberation and transformation can be communicated so that we can be reminded of who and what we really are," Sanders says.


Having recently presented a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge this past October on the beauties of science and regeneration, Sanders herself is currently in a period of gestation as she spends time with her 17-month-old son. She sketches during his nap time and wonders how her work will change when she returns to the studio. In the meantime, she is working with another artist to expand her drawing skills and marvels every day that "...out of your own self, you can't be sure what will happen. That is why I am here," explains Sanders. "That is why I am alive."


"Songs of Summer" an exhibition of paintings on paper and canvas is on display now through the month of August at the Greenfield Community College downtown building. Located at 270 Main Street in Greenfield, gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. to noon. For more information, please contact Sanders directly at (413) 695-4223, or by visiting her web site, www.judithellensanders.com.