The hallmark of Joelle Sander’s paintings is color. The renowned artist, Wolf Kahn was the first to note this in her work with pastels. “You are a colorist,” he pronounced and “indeed,” Sander stated, “he has been right. As a painter, I have thrived on color over these past twenty years.”

Sander, however, only became a painter, after being a successful writer for over three decades. Publishing in newspapers, magazines, poetry journals, and scholarly books, she also wrote a prize winning book, BEFORE THEIR TIME: FOUR GENERATIONS OF TEENAGE MOTHERS. It was awarded “Best Adult book about Children” (1991-1992) by the Anti-Defamation League’s Braun Center for Holocaust Studies. In fact, Sander discovered painting by complete surprise--over a disturbing event. In 1991, fire officials in her community told her they would have to burn down her 1830’s barn, because it had become “dangerous.” As she recounts the day of the fire, “I was so distraught, I grabbed my camera to record what felt to me like the barn’s death."

Only after several months, did Sander dare look at her photographs. “Slowly, I realized that I had captured the barn’s raging flames, its blackened beams fractured into sharp angles-- all thrown skyward. I knew too, that I needed to ‘recreate’ that fire, but this time under my control,” she stated. Ironically, she felt an attraction to the myriad colors, compositions and movements she had captured. As she put it, “I knew I wanted to give my own interpretation to the images that evolved in that fire, imagining for the first time, their colors, textures and compositions as paintings.”

Sander signed up for her first oil painting course at the 92nd Street Y. In addition to painting models and still lifes in class, on her own she undertook what she came to call her “Fire Series.” She worked on these for over two years, each one becoming an abstract representation, of the intensity and fury of that fire.

Sander is at home with realism, abstracted representation and pure abstraction. She painted, for example, a purely abstract series called "Listening in Color", paintings which grew out of phrases she remembered her father saying to her as a child, like “Live It Up!”, “Smell the Viburnum”, “Take the Big Step.” His words came to her, two years after he died, but only in her studio. “Their persistence and my curiosity about why his words were returning, pressed me to paint from them,” she stated. Without using his words on her canvasses, she created the energizing feelings they had originally created in years back. Her thick, luscious colors, accompanied by vigorous or a slower, graceful movement caught the sense of optimism and adventure she felt. Beyond the success of what became her first solo show in 2005, her exhibit was critical to Sander. “I realized that out of the utterly intangible, I had created both the substance of his encouragement and my gratitude.”

Sander’s next solo exhibit entitled “Color as Refuge,” will run in 2011 from January 9th-March 11th, at Sarah Lawrence College. This will be a group of abstract representations based on forms and patterns in Nature.