Early life

John Sanders was born into a family that lived with creative endeavor at its very core.

John’s mother Isca Sanders-Jörgensen was a professional opera singer who filled the family home with song. John’s father, Joop Sanders was a first-generation New York School abstract expressionist who participated in the legendary Ninth Street Art Exhibition in 1951. In his youth, John was accustomed to seeing such family friends as Milton Resnick, Elaine de Kooning, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

In his earliest years, John’s family relocated from New York City to Europe, with stints in Amsterdam and Majorca where, as John recalls, “We lived in a castle for roughly $50 a month with a maid.” By the time he was eight the family had settled back in New York for good.

At 14, John was introduced to working with physical materials in an art class and with the encouragement of his father, became a fairly serious sculptor by the age of 16. Joop’s support of and engagement with his son’s creative endeavors was a constant during his very long life. When he was 18 and attending Nassau Community College, John was introduced to working  steel with an oxygen-acetylene torch and welding by the sculptor, Abram Schlemowitz. Among John’s many apprenticeships to sculptors and painters included a particularly long one (about 20 years) to family friend Milton Resnick. Postgraduate studies were carried out in Berkeley, CA.

John began showing his work in group shows: Union Carbide Gallery in 1976; Bronx Museum of Arts in 1977. His early one-man shows were at Worth Rider Art Gallery in Berkeley in 1979 and Max Hutchinson Gallery, New York in 1982.

In 1980 John bought a building marked for demolition in the lower east side and built an enormous studio where he worked for several years and focused on the creation of large works. Later, inspired by David Smith’s sculpture practice at Bolton Landing, John converted a dairy farm in Abrahamsville, PA into a large-scale studio and sculpture park, a project he would repeat, beginning in 1994, in Roxbury, NY where he currently lives and works and where hundreds of his sculptures can be seen. John credits the dramatic Catskill mountain views from his property with asserting a strong influence on his practice.

Roxbury, NY 1999

“Wherever an artist lives, they're influenced by the nature around them. These mountains are rare because they’re geometric. Have you noticed when you look out there, there’s circles, triangles and everything like that?”

Mountain views from Sanders' studio in Roxbury
The work

In John’s long career, he has created significant bodies of work in stone, wood, copper, bronze, steel and stainless steel, as well as paintings in oil and works in pastel. Drawing on his experiences carving wood and stone, he pioneered a technique he calls “flame-carved steel” which involves making gestural modifications to solid steel forms with high-powered cutting torches.

“At first, I just used the flat plates of steel which I just cut with a torch—just the edge cutting. And a few years after that, I started adding blacksmithing. I have big forges here. Not only was I bending the steel—which is impossible to do when it's four or five inches thick unless you get it white hot—but I was also carving it directly.”

John recognizes a subconscious struggle with mortality at the heart of his creativity and addresses anxieties pertaining to impermanence by, “breathing life and a sense of motion, like a permanent dance” into a material as rigid and inert as heavy sheets of steel. His process is determinedly intuitive and improvisational, eschewing models and sketching altogether in favor of discovering each piece as it develops.

“The piece starts to speak to you. The work you do, you think it's a certain way until you look at it the next day and if it's really a good piece, it's different every time you look at it. Ultimately you don't even know who did it.”

His body of work also contains a decades-long process of accepting what he now sees as a mysterious and inescapable presence of the human figure.

“I struggled against it because I love abstract art. I mean, to work figuratively—you don't want to compete with Michelangelo. I'm really a sculptor’s version of the early abstract expressionist painters, because that's where my influence is. But no matter how hard I try to not be figurative, the human form always comes into the work. And now I don't really care.”

Flame carving. 2007


Solo Shows

Robert Steele Gallery, New York, NY 2004
Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York, NY 1992, 1994
Osuna Gallery, Washington, DC 1983
Max Hutchison Gallery, New York, NY 1982
Worth Rider Art Gallery, Berkeley, CA 1979

Group Shows

Robert Steele Gallery, New York, NY 2003
Huntington House Museum, Andes, NY 2001
Addition|Subtraction, New York, NY 2001
Paradise Sculpture Park, Guilin, China, 1999
Chesterwood Sculpture Show, Stockbridge, MA 1998
Haus Ludwig, Saarlouis, Germany 1997
Andre Emmerich Gallery, NY, NY 1992
Top Gallant Sculpture Park, Pawling, NY 1990-1997
Elizabeth Harris Gallery, NY, NY 1992
Socrates Sculpture Park, L.I.C. NY, 1991-92
Elston Fine Arts, NY, NY 1991
Schlesinger Gallery, NY, NY 1990
Schlesinger-Boisante Gallery, NY, NY 1989, 1988, 1983
Katzen-Brown Gallery, NY, NY 1988
Pat Hearn Gallery, NY, NY 1987
El Bohio Center, NY, NY 1987
Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY 1985
Virtual Garrison, NY, NY 1985
Nassau County Museum, Roslyn, NY 1984
Unangst Gallery, NY, NY 1984
Max Hutchison Gallery, NY, NY 1984
Treffpunkt Kunst, Saarlouis, Germany 1983
Sculpture Sites, Amagansett, NY 1982
University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA 1980
Bronx Museum of Art, Bronx, NY 1977
Union Carbide Gallery, NY, NY 1972

Robert Steele Gallery. New York, NY 2004.
John at work in Shanghai. 2000