John Burt Sanders 'Indivisibler' exhibit minimal, texture-laden

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 8:41 p.m.

On display at 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown, the exhibit ”Indivisibler” features the work of John Burt Sanders. Minimal yet texture-laden, the dozen or so mixed-media pieces in this exhibit explore a wide range of relationships in scale and composition.

These monochromatic works exist as single panels, diptychs and triptychs. Restraining the gestural intensity of Color Field painting through an approach of contemplative reserve and investigative process, their inscrutable surfaces belie a nuanced equilibrium between emotive passion and formal rigor.

For example, one of the largest works on display is “Philotes.” Comprised of hundreds of vertical lines hand-drawn in lard on tarpaper, the piece incorporates a standard grid structure as a skeletal construct. Over this basic structure, Sanders applies parallel lines that produce an image that is carefully controlled, yet seems to shimmer due to a surface movement that keeps the viewer's eyes from being able to focus on the grid.

Nearby hangs an even-larger, untitled installation comprised of eight equal lengths of pink fiberglass insulation, hung vertically to create yet another succinct pattern. Here, texture takes over, and the hand of the artist is removed.

In a way, it's as if one piece could not exist without the other. And in this space, they, perhaps, would have been better served if hung side by side. Nevertheless the artist's point is made, and that is that the viewer must surrender himself to the arrangements that Sanders has concocted, whether they be experiments in texture, composition or design.

This is further emphasized in smaller arrangements of paintings, grouped side-by-side as if to force specific connections.

For example, Sanders has flanked the painting “Peter Pan Kills Piggy” with two smaller, untitled works. All three pieces incorporate muffled colors that challenge the viewer's perception in a way that invokes op art. As one tries to bring these pieces into focus, one cannot be sure the patterns presented are actually the result of mental effort.

In “Peter Pan Kills Piggy” the lattice of horizontal lines that fill the composition are not stripes, but individual shapes, almost cloudlike, that seem to rest lightly against the surface. The untitled work that hangs to the left of it is comprised of terrycloth towel and pink fiberglass insulation spread over a wood panel. This, along with another untitled work hung to the right of it, which is comprised of a print of the artists own chest in graphite on contact paper, challenges our perceptions of what it is that the artist is trying to grapple with. In essence, the seemingly disjointed nature of this triptych serves to underscore the inherent tactility of each piece that comprise set.

In the piece “Sort, Saturate,” Sanders blends a variety of methods and mediums he had explored in the other works previously, such as combining tar paper and lard, resulting in one of the most vibrant and exuberant paintings on display here.

In this piece a latticework of dark, seemingly burnt lines, are arranged as if an obstacle course under a thin sheet of clear vinyl. Here, Sanders explores rhythmic and counterpoint relationships, allowing the eye to move from one area of the composition to another rapidly. This sense of motion is abetted by the subtle modulation of color, while the overall feeling of airiness and suspension gives the created patterns a sense of endlessness and continuity.

Here, as opposed to other works in this exhibit, Sanders' work could hardly be more straightforward or stripped down. It is resolutely abstract and literal, devoid of references to things beyond itself.

In other small paintings, such as “Rappaccini's Daughter” and “Courtyard,” the lines play against the surface while zones of color convey a sense of translucency. It is safe to assume this illusion of depth was not necessarily intended by Sanders, yet, at the same time, there is no obvious commitment to eradicate or explore it just to make a point.

Overall, Sanders' work can be summed up as demonstrating a certain sense of control in fusing a conceptual approach with the spontaneity of action painting of the 1950s along with the tactility so prized in the materials embraced by the minimalist artists of the 1960s and '70s. As such, they are rich with interpretive possibility — like musical chords improvised in major and minor keys.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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