Downtown in the Fifties
by Hiram Carruthers Butler

Joop Sanders was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1921. He arrived in New York and began studying drawing at the Art Students League with the German-American artist George Grosz, who had been a cofounder of the Dada movement. Sanders met Willem de Kooning in late 1942 and began frequenting the downtown cafeterias. When the Eighth Street Club was organized in 1949, Sanders was the youngest founding member. Sanders painting was unequivocally influenced by his fellow Dutch-American, de Kooning, in whose studio he worked for a short time 1945. Sanders first abstract work dates from his time with de Kooning.

Pantagruel, 1955. is roughly painted and reflects abstract-expressionist Angst at its fullest. Yet, like its namesake from Rabelais’ work, it is also good-humored. American Commercial colors elevate the pitch and serve to delight. Along with the serious expression there is a capricious and fanciful, almost mocking stroke.

In the mid-1950’s Sanders left New York For Europe. In I960 he was the first young American painter to be given a one-man show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which played a crucial role in introducing advanced American art to Europe. Sanders established a considerable European reputation. This move—just at the time abstract expressionism was being accepted in America—resulted, however, in his being overlooked as one of the first younger artists to contribute to the style in New York.

Sanders returned to New York in 1959, where his work became almost monochromatic and field like. It never was impersonal; he always retained an emotional content. During the 1960s, Sanders created sectional paintings which could be arranged in a variety of configurations by the owner or even construed as three-dimensional sculpture.

Sanders* Gong, 1979, places the power of abstract-expressionist color and painterliness within a more formal and refined structure. Shapes are larger than in his earlier work. The dominant purples, deep greens, and pinks are rich and more closely hued. The combination results in a powerful, serene rhythm. When asked about incorporating earlier tendencies in his art, Sanders responds, “thc artist is like Sisyphus, punished by Zeus to try forever to roll a rock uphill which forever rolls back upon him.”