John Sanders’s exhibition “Copper Bronze and Steel” included six large copper and bronze sculptures, two large steel sculptures, and six smaller copper and bronze works. There is a touch of David Smith and a touch of Mark di Suvero in these elegantly constructed works, part of whose attractiveness stems from the reds and golds of the copper an inherently beautiful material, welded to the bronze (these are one-off pieces and not part of an edition). The contrast between the copper and bronze is intended to engage the viewer in a dialogue of form and materials—color is not an easy given in these works of sophistication and power. The gestalt of the compositions references 30 years of work, increasingly oriented toward the play of light on form, as well as a highly developed sense of structure. As Ilka Scobie points out in the exhibition catalogue, the notion of suspension is a major motif in Sanders’s current work. Cocoon (2003) is a fairly large work composed of copper and bronze, a rectangular, frame-like structure with a pair of open tubular forms at the top from which abstract shapes cascade, suspended by ties to the vertical parts of the frame. It is a baroque piece of work: odd, organic shapes—fragments of circles, oblong shards of give the sculpture its double life of movement and rest. The action of this free fall of material can suggest a sprawling freedom won from tight confines, much in the same way a creature might burst forth from a cocoon. The colors are remarkable, with light playing off reds, golds, and silvers. It is clear that Sanders has given as much attention to the burnished surfaces as to the structure of the work. Additionally, the sense of complexity engendered by the discrete components of Cocoon argue for a very contemporary way of seeing form in space. Conversation (2003), an eight-foot-tall, forged steel sculpture, consists of bent and twisted steel parts welded together in a vertically elongated oval reminiscent of David Smith’s “Cubi” series. As the title implies, the steel components are in dialogue with one another: there is an exquisite sense of balance between the curved parts as they climb upward in space. Lower down, Sanders has pieced together a small bridge in the form of a rectangular bar between the two sides of the sculpture, its form is echoed in the ribbon-like extension that serves as the top of Conversation. Despite the abstract nature of its parts, the work can also be interpreted as a figure sanding in our midst. Formally, Conversation works extremely well, its separate pieces existing in active relation to each other and to the audience. Conversion (2003), a much shorter, horizontally oriented work, consists of partial curves welded to other fragments of copper and bronze. Light bounces off the sculpture’s many components in a way that illuminates its intricate structure. Conversion tends to be read more as a frontal work, and its base consists of partial circles supporting small pieces of metal welded to verticals rising from the low end of the work. Sanders is an original sculptor, given to flights of lyrical complexity. Copper Vibe (2003), for example, is dominated by a cascade of twisted ribbons of copper and bronze, so that the whole work seems to be in the throes of motion. His technical skill, coupled with a real ability to conceive and develop his own vernacular, makes for highly independent art. While the history of welded sculpture is very much established, even to the point of being considered old-fashioned by some, Sanders maintains his worth as an artist in command of his medium. The combination of intricate structure and beautiful surfaces demands an active involvement on the part of the viewer, who is meant to consider the details of the works over a period of time. Much contemporary art seems meant to be read in an instant, but Sanders’s work asks for a more complicated, time-based interpretation. His independence, developed within a framework aware of sculptural history, makes him a highly satisfying artist.
Catskill Mountain Region Guide Winter 2002-2003
The area surrounding the town of Roxbury, New York is well-known for its agricultural heritage, its close ties with history and its associations with the famed naturalist and writer John Burroughs. What few know, however is that a powerhouse in the world of sculpture maintains his home and studio in the softly rolling hills of the area. John Sanders, already well-known in the art world for his massive steel sculptures, has taken up residence in a farmhouse just outside Roxbury, and has converted a former dairy barn to serve as his studio, gallery and workshop.
He single-handedly restored the farmhouse where he and his wife reside from a ramshackle mess to a charming home, filled with light and color. His studio and gallery are located in a huge (it’s about the size of a football field) converted barn that John (also single-handedly transformed from its ruinous state. He will gladly five any visitor a tour of the barn, pointing out his improvements and modifications to the structure. His sculptures are placed on pedestals or are hanging on the walls of the barn. Proudly examining this cavernous space, John proclaimed, “sometimes I think I should just keep all of this to myself, and turn this into a gallery or museum”. It does seem like the perfect spot to display his work. The monumental scale of the sculptures would dwarf any small space, so it takes a large barn to display his work successfully. Upon seeing his sculpture, however, one cannot help but secretly hope that his plan to turn his barn into a personal art gallery does not come to fruition, as it would deprive the rest of the world of the privilege of seeing his art, which is some of the most impressive and inventive of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Born in New York City, art has always been a big part of John’s life. His father is a painter, and several of his creations hang on the walls of John’s home. John received his M.F.A. in Sculpture from Berkeley, and since then has exhibited in several group and one-person shows all over the world, including the Bronx Museum of Art, the Treffpunkt Kunst and the Haus Ludwig in Saarlouis, Germany, the Schlesinger Gallery in New York, the Osuna Gallery in Washington, DC, the Elizabeth Harris Gallery in New York and the Paradise Sculpture Park in Guilin, China. He has even exhibited locally since making his move to the Catskill Mountain Region, at the Huntington House Museum in Andes.
His sculptures, so perfect for the cavernous space of the barn, are also perfect for the outdoors, where they complement the landscape effortlessly. John has taken advantage of the hills surrounding his home and studio. Next to his home, which has a spectacular vista of the Catskill Mountains, he placed a single sculpture on a pedestal. That sculpture stands out beautifully against the vista, and seems to be a completely natural and organic part of it. If the visitor turns around, she will encounter a hill that John has cut into in order to create a backdrop for three sculptures arranged in a row. The cut-out hill thereby becomes an amphitheater where the softly undulating forms of the steel perform like actors on a stage. John has made several works both for natural environments like the one near Roxbury, and for man-made environments like office buildings and the piazzas in front of them. Asked if he takes the final location of a particular work into account when he creates it, John replied “Sure, sometimes, especially if it’s for an office building. But normally I just like to do what I do. I never expected my sculptures to look so great against the hill, but they do. And they’d probably look just as good outside an office building.”
John’s choice of medium—steel—and the forms of his sculptures—soft curves with lots of negative space—are the main reasons why they fit into and complement a wide variety of spaces. His sculpture is very unlike that of other artists who use steel or other metals as media. When one thinks of steel, one normally thinks of the hard, rectilinear forms that seem to come so naturally to the metal– in short, one thinks of skyscrapers. Artists like David Smith, for example, have used rectilinear structures in their steel sculptures, echoing those very same skyscrapers with which steel is so often associated. Smith also polished his metal to a very high sheen, so that it glistened in the sun. John, on the other hand, twists and shapes the metal so that it takes on organic, curving forms. He leaves large amounts of space on the interior of the sculpture empty, so that bits and pieces of its environment can be glimpsed through its moving forms. John also leaves the surface of the metal rough—on a finished piece, one can still see the joints where two pieces were soldered together. This gives the finished sculpture a very raw quality, like it is contradicting the perfect right angles of a man-made building and complementing the imperfect perfection of nature.
John’s workshop, where he spends the majority of his time, is in a relatively small room to one side of the barn. Inside the workshop is a tangle of steel, the pieces all irregularly shaped and ranging in size from the small and manageable to the very large. His sense of organization is amazing—there are probably thousands of pieces in his workshop, and he has them all arranged by size and shape. When he is working on a new piece, he simply stands back, decides what size and shape his new masterpiece needs, and goes to the shelf where he has it filed away. He can then solder the new piece onto the sculpture. He bends and twists the metal himself, with the help of a friend.
Steel, of course, is an extremely heavy metal, but John’s massive sculptures, at first glance, look extremely light and airy, like no effort at all needs to be expended to lift them. John attests to the fact, though, that they are extremely heavy—most of the pieces, even the modestly sized ones, require cranes and pulleys to lift and move.
Ultimately, John remains a formalist at heart—he creates his sculpture by deciding what is pleasing to the eye, rather than what makes the most important statement. John makes no secret of his disdain for Conceptual Art. He bemoans the current trend in the Art world, where deep meaning and an important message are used as the barometers for the quality of a work of Art. Upon seeing his sculpture, one cannot help but agree with him.
John is happy to receive visitors at his studio by appointment—is studio and his sculpture must be seeing in person to appreciate how wonderful it truly is. John is also happy to hear from anyone interested in his art. He has hundreds of sculptures available for purchase, and can work on commission for any special location. For more information, please call him at 607 326 3410 or visit www.JohnSandersArt.com.