With an eye for despoiled landscapes, Lisa Sanditz captures the sublime















LISA SANDITZ’S landscape paintings vibrate  with compressed data- signature styles of  other artists, strange places that she’s visited  or heard or read about, brushwork techniques  that range from the broad and  splashy to the repetitively patterned. Cruising the Web is  one way that Sanditz gathers ideas. She loves “the collapsing  of space that happens through the Internet,” she  says, “with the ability to fly above a place, to walk  through it and to collect everyone else’s photos of it.”  That flattening of vantage points is expressed in Sanditz’s  wildly colorful paintings, which disregard the rules  of perspective in favor of bold design.

“She has taken the example of a quilt as a model and is  stitching together all of these pieces of information,” says  Elizabeth Dunbar, who, as curator of the Kemper Museum  of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, presented  Sanditz’s first museum show last year. “Her paintings are  very accessible on a purely aesthetic level, and they touch  on deeper issues if you spend some time with them and  thlnk about them.They’re beautiful, they’re seductive, but  they hover on the grotesque. Their painted surfaces are  very appealing but repulsive at the same time.”

Sanditz, 34, is tackling a problem that engaged many of  the great American landscape painters: How do you portray  the sublime? But the American landscape is not what it  was when 19th-century painters such as Thomas Cole,  Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt practiced  their art. Sanditz finds a malignant beauty in our society’s  polluted skies, poisoned streams and neon-illuminated  streets. “I am equally engaged by what is the beautiful and  what is the degraded,” she says. When not traveling, she divides  her time between New York City and a country home  in Tivoli, New York, close by the haunts of the Hudson  River School painters who popularized the grandeur of  American scenery. Even there, Sanditz finds industrial  taint. “I was kayaking on the Hudson River and this barge  of cars went by-hundreds and hundreds, or even thousands,  of cars,” she recalls. “It became a mountain itself.”  Someday, it may be a painting.

Raised in St. Louis, Sanditz came to art at an early age.  Her mother and both grandmothers were museum docents,  and Sanditz was looking at paintings by the time  she could walk. After graduating from St. Paul, Minnesota’s  Macalester College in 1995, she painted murals in San  Francisco-useful preparation for a later project, a 64-  foot-tall billboard, derived from one of her paintings,  which was displayed in 2005 in Lower Manhattan (along  with the work of two older and better-known artists, Alex Katz and Gary Hume) as part of a civic project sponsored by United Technologies Corporation.

In 2006, Sanditz executed a series of paintings of casinos,  including some in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. “The  surfaces are gory, but at the same time they’re really luscious  and beautiful,” says Dunbar. “Which, if you think  about it, is perfect for Las Vegas.” Sanditz has also explored  some little-known Midwestern sites, such as Sub-Tropolis, an enormous former limestone mine that lies beneath  Kansas City, Missouri, and is used today as a storage  and shipping facility In reality, the subterranean complex  has been whitewashed, but in Sanditz’s depiction, it is  ablaze in colored patterns that emphasize its structure and  unearthly illumination. “I wanted to accentuate the repetitive  aspect of the columns and the super-artificiality of  the light,” she says.

Her most recent paintings are set in China, where Sanditz  was fascinated by single-commodity towns, which  spew out fantastic quantities of socks, shoes, sweaters, and  so on. Two of her large paintings were inspired by visits she  made to pearl farms in the city of Zhuji with her husband,  Tim Davis, a photographer. She loved that the aquaculturists  mark the oyster beds with buoys of discarded plastic  bottles. In her painting PearlFarm I, the oysters are disgorging  pearls amid a wide expanse of bobbing plastic. On  the far horizon is a skyline painted in phosphorescent  hues. Ovals of light, like gaily colored pavers, recede toward  a pink-and-black apocalyptic sky.

In Zhuji, Sanditz had found a real-life place dedicated  to the task that she has set for herself as a painter-the distillation  of beauty from a despoiled landscape. “I was completely  enamored of this idea of precious objects being cultivated  from garbage,” she says. “It is what the sublime  could be now.”