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Toward a New Vitruvian Man: Douglas Sanderson’s Vision

By Douglas Max Utter (writing for William Busta Gallery, 2013)



          At a glance, Douglas Sanderson’s painted geometries, rendered in ink and acrylic on mylar, may seem to be all about formal properties and design issues. But a longer look reveals more richly associative depths. As subtle rhythmic qualities and nuances of application come into focus, so does this artist’s poetic and intuitive strength, and an overall impression of intense, significance-laden activity. A gallery full of these paintings generates an almost audible aesthetic “hum,” like a metaphysical machine shop.

          Not that Sanderson’s paintings are in any sense machines. He refers to some of them as “torsos” – those that present an ovate or circular cluster of figures like the “Flower of Life” linear motif, for instance. In recent years he has also made vertically oriented pieces that present an overlay of nodal geometric forms, which he associates with the chakras of traditional Indian medicine. Underlying Sanderson’s fabrications, then, is a metaphysical vision of the body and its system of energies. The machines that can be sensed quivering beneath the hood of his paintings are human, are ourselves.

          Sanderson’s vision is an intuitive account of physiological functioning, but in terms of ramification, rather than incarnation; he tells an abstract story about the integration of sense and spirit, about wandering and about experience. Maybe Sanderson’s painstaking cloissonism, involving the careful juxtaposition of a brilliant range of hues, delicately stroked or puddled in carefully sequestered patches of thick and thin paint, is also something like printed micro-circuitry. After all, the human-embellished world now shades into natural forces, on a scale that can only be appreciated either imaginatively or statistically. Maybe the poetry of science and the potential of biomechanical frontiers are finally crossing cultural membranes. Sanderson uses his screen-printed geometric templates as the veins and limbs of a Vitruvian sort of “Man” – like Leonardo’s because it stretches the proportions of the human mind to fit more universal, mathematically expressive forms. His accomplishment is to strike a balance between analytical and intuitive modes, and to make that balancing an act of poetic force.

          He does this at least in part by soliciting the jointly suggestive powers of color and texture. Sanderson’s tessera-like cells – the spaces occurring in between his geometries and arabesques – are most notable for the intimacy they convey, richly inflected with echoes of modernist and contemporary painting. When we touch a thing to inquire or to express, when we place a finger with intelligent deliberation, to test and break the surface tension of a drop of liquid – that is the sort of action Sanderson’s small tiles of color perform; not depiction, but a kind of participation.

          His colors absolutely bloom, and it’s almost as if a fresh breeze ripples through the rigid designs, bending and loosening. As an art form, painting in general lifts and carries a grain of our perception like the wind bearing a scent, and this trace of ourselves is the true seed of any painting’s liveliness. The trick is to speak any one of the luring languages of the eye, to evoke

the morphogenesis that stretches its net of changes from the higher math of particle physics to the blossoms that flower in the brain. It’s more a way to achieve identity, than a way to see. Douglas Sanderson’s paintings nurture the flicker of spirit at the base of perception, transposing and performing essential properties of the human experience.

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