Paintings by Janis Sanders on display at Edgewater Gallery
If you’ve been in Edgewater Gallery on the Green recently, you may have seen a tall man with a ponytail holding a tube of crimson paint in one hand as he scraped with a palette knife in the other, creating on the panel before him, his view of Middlebury’s Main Street. Meet Janis Sanders.
Usually Sanders, a native of upstate New York, likes to spend his afternoons painting outside, sometimes high on a bluff overlooking the ocean on the coast of Maine or Massachusetts. His work is iconic, in part for the two colors that dominate his seaside vistas: a glowing series of yellows, on a spectrum between polished gold and neon, and his hypnotic French ultramarine. With these two colors Sanders represents the power and intensity of the forces that shape the sea, sun and sky.
Sanders says his art is all about process. What happens on the canvas is what excites him: blending colors on the surface itself, building textures, and what he calls “tricking the brain.” To demonstrate, he spread a blue rectangle to represent the glass of the window across Main Street, because “that’s what you expect glass to be, blue.” Then he added a little red, which was the reflection of the brick Battell building bouncing back towards him.
His sparse set up poignantly seems geared to get him to the point of creation as quickly as possible: a cardboard box of paints, his plein air easel and all-terrain leather boots. This urgency is especially apparent in how he applies his colors: tube to knife, knife to panel. Scrape, blend. Repeat.
His expediency is not utilitarian; it’s “all about keeping the freshness,” Sanders explained. When he graduated from Syracuse University (with a BS in Psychology) his folks gave him a 35 mm camera. Sanders spent the summer roaming through the fields taking close-up photos of dewdrops and sun rays. “What it opened for me was the awareness of temporary nature of things,” he said, “the spontaneity of a moment. There are periods where there is a particular illumination on a drop of rain or blade of grass… There are some instances that are take-your-breath-away moments. Those moments are the things I try to capture in my paintings.”
Sanders began painting in his late 30s, that was 5 to 6 years before he decided he wanted to attend art school. “Going to art school was really a function of being frustrated with not having the tools to express what I wanted to convey,” said the 66-year-old Massachusetts College of Art alum.
“Art school was incredibly good training grounds,” he said. It’s where he learned that his style and interests draw him to painting fleeting moments. Moments that are like his favorite song from the musical “Oklahoma!” “Oh what a beautiful morning.”
“A three to four hour walk in the early morning with the birds ? a magical, glistening awakening time ? encapsulates my love of nature,” Sanders said.
Back Roads and Country Places, took Sanders and his easel outside and all over Vermont to paint 16 brand new paintings for his solo exhibit at Edgewater on the Green. It took Sanders just two months to paint all 16 works, not counting the research time in locating the scenes by driving around Vermont scouting.
“I grew up in Syracuse,” he said, “and there are many parallels between the Vermont landscape and the upstate New York landscape ? parallels in the barns, farms and the big sky. So this was personal for me.”
The structure of his chosen tool ? the palette knife ? lends itself to the sharp lines of Vermont’s old buildings, the fraying texture of old boards and the slope of a barn wall. In terms of color, Sanders’ new pieces predominantly feature the deep emerald of the mountains. But his favorite colors are not far behind. Yellow appears in the spots of pure sunlight that hit the corner of a red barn, the window of an old church, or across an open field. And his ultramarine gives us the sky above these landscapes we know so well.
Though this isn’t Sanders’ first time at the rodeo (he’s been exhibiting his work at Edgewater since it opened in 2009), it is the first solo exhibit he’s had at the Middlebury gallery.
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