Sometimes in your life you meet people and don’t realize at the time what an impact that person is going to have on your life. It is as if that meeting, that bumping into, slightly changed the course you are on. That change, though slight at the time, makes a huge difference later on. You end up in a completely different place, just because of this one encounter.
Joel Sager is one of those people in my life. I met Joel late 2003. He was a recent William Jewell graduate and had moved to Columbia so his then wife could go to medical school. I remember seeing his work for the first time. It was dark, and pretty rough. But there was a soul to his work that was clear and true. His unusual use of materials was intriguing as well. His process is acrylic under-painting, collage of construction paper and newspaper, tar wash (yes tar, as in roofing tar), removing portions of the tar with turpentine, then he goes back over the top with oil paint. The result is an antique feel. The process of adding the collage adds an interesting visual texture. It was a combination of this things that lent his rural lanscapes dept and richness.
In those early days we really didn’t have a great space in which to show paintings. I was part owner of a craft shop at that time. Although it was not the optimal space, I hung the work nonetheless. That was in essence the beginning of PS:Gallery. Although I didn’t know it at that time, my desire to have a great space in which to show Joel’s (and other artists) work was a driving force in the path that my future took. Within three years of meeting Joel, Chris Stevens and I opened PS:Gallery. Joel is our associate curator and in an invaluable resource both personally and professionally. I am sure I could, but I can’t imaging ever running the gallery without him.
One of the joys of being friends with artists is the ability to see the progression of their work over time. In those early years, Joel primarily painted rural landscapes. He painted amazing Barns and Silos, with bits of newspaper being whipped through the foreground. He was depicting the destruction of the rural way of life. He had recently been through a tornado and that chaotic element was always present in the work. There was always a bit of sadness too. Over the last almost six years, I have seen Joel go through a divorce, remarry, and have a son. It has been miraculous to watch how those momentus things have seeped into Joels work. It is an honor to be able to see every painting. One of my favorite things is to see is work in progress (Joel is very protective of his studio and is hesitant, to say the least, to allow even me to see work in progress). Sometimes I get to sneak a peak at upcoming work. I love that with each new show I get to see a new body of work that Joel has painted. I love that the work today is light, and fun, and even quirky. Now you see rubber duckies, and armadillos in the living room. Joel’s color pallet has expanded and his soul seems lighter, but no less deep. His work has gotten smarter, more mature, and I think more interesting over the years. Just as Joel himself has.
Of course it is about more than just Joel Sager the artist. Joel Sager is also my friend. Beyond the gallery, I have been with Joel as he has gone through a divorce, remarried and I held his son in my arms within a week of his birth. Joel is a huge part of PS:Gallery’s success. He does almost all of the graphic design work for the gallery. He works most of the hours that I don’t. He is really smart about art and always makes sure that I don’t get too complacent. He pushes my boundaries (and sometimes my buttons) to the benefit of the gallery and my person. One of my favorite times in the gallery is when we hang the new shows. For three full days Joel and I, and many times other helpers, pull down, pack up, and ship off the last exhbit, then we clean up the gallery and unpack, lay out and hang all of the new art work. There are a ton of small thing that get done inbetween, but for three days we work side by side, in jeans and dirty t-shirts, laughing, talking and reconnecting over art. Sometimes late in the day when we are exhausted we have piggy back rides or chair races in the empty gallery. Sometimes when we can’t figure out what to do or we just hit a wall, we stop and order food and sit down and split a plate of pad thai. It is usually sometime in day three that I am once again hit with the overwhelming feeling that I am blessed to be doing what I am doing. I always realize at some point that this is where I am supposed to be. After all the work it done, and the gallery is cleaner than it usually is we “Walk the Show”. We get as many of the helpers, employees, owners and artists that have the time and are interested and we start outside the front door and walk the show. We look at the gallery as if we don’t live there. We walk through and talk about the art. It is amazing. Joel is one of my favorite people to walk the show with. Because Joel, although an art snob (he doesn’t exactly deny this), is very very smart about art. He, unlike me, knows all the right words and can articulate things that I can only think. If ever you come in the gallery and Joel is working, ask him to talk with you about one piece or artist. I always walk away from our conversations feeling smarter than I started.
I could go on, but I won’t. As it is, I have probably already embarrassed the heck out of Joel. I will say this. Joel Sager is an incredibly talented artist. He is also a brilliant young man who has a bright future ahead of him. I am privileged to call him my friend. Love you Joel!