Forget the old paintbrush and palette, this is the 21st century. The new supplies? Bingo cards, dog biscuits, mirrors, bottles or anything that you can manipulate.
These are only just a few of the items Roger Sayre uses in his works of contemporary art. Sayre, a photography professor at Pace University in Manhattan, spoke to Castleton State College students on April 10. The talk began with Sayre displaying a childish painting of a panda on the large screen in Herrick Auditorium.
“I made this in third grade,” he said about the first piece of art he ever won 1st place for.
After the panda, Sayre explained a bit of the chronology that led to his current career. Starting out as a photography major in undergraduate school, Sayre only worked with “straight photography.” After random jobs including cleaning fish in Alaska and running a store on the Appalachian Trail, Sayre reached graduate school, to receive a Masters in photography.
After a year, Sayre was “not that satisfied with the work I was doing. I got tired of just looking at the world through a camera.”
With influences such as Robert Frank, Sayre began to play around with his photographs, experimenting with them by doing things that should never be done to them. Over exposure, dust, scratching, all of these were embraced. Sayre began working with photograms — pieces of art made by placing objects directly on photographic paper, then exposed to light.
Sayre wanted to approach photography from a different angle, trying to show photographic reality.
“We all accept photographs as reality when they are not really,” said Sayre.
The newly inspired Sayre continued to think photographically, but began to make art in an unusual way. One of his pieces, a self portrait in shadows, was created by hanging Polaroid pictures from the ceiling that were arranged in such a way that when light hits it, it creates a shadow on the wall that resembles Sayre’s face.
“Some people say it looks like Lincoln. Don’t worry, I’ve heard it already,” said Sayre.
Sayre works with light, angles and shadow to create more pieces of art, such as “Chair,” which is simply mirrors angled to reflect light in such a way that when you look straight at it, it resembles a chair. As time when on, Sayre’s work became interactive with the viewers of his work.
“Sitting” is a piece that sits in every art show that Sayre has. But, it is not really a piece of art itself, rather what it does that is art. A large portrait booth is set up, and a person has to sit, staring at their reflection for an hour’s time. This happens throughout the gallery showing, and participants are told to move as little as possible. At the end of an hour, a portrait is taken, and put onto the wall of the gallery, adding to the show.
According to Sayre, “Sitting” shows not only a moment, such as a quick photograph does, but rather looks more into who that person is in that hour. People have a hard time sitting still. Blinking, getting up to go the bathroom, turning their head when they get distracted and even the littlest movements are important.
“Over an hour everything kind of blends together,” said Sayre.
During the talk, the chronology all sort of fell apart, but Sayre filled in the holes as best he could. At one point, Sayre traveled to Italy to work on a residency there. The challenge was to create art on the site of Trullo Della Luna. Sayre and his wife noticed there was a lot of garbage around, so they decided to make a trullo, which is a traditional stone dwelling with a conical roof, out of bottles and mud. If you stepped into the trullo, light would go through the different colored bottles. At night, they placed a light inside it so that all of the different colors could be seen.
Not even Sayre knows how to explain what kind of art he works with. If anything, he can only give a bulleted list of what he does. Sayre label’s his work as “photography/conceptual art/ sculpture”.
“It’s so lame for me to not know. I want to have a one sentence answer,” he said.
“Roger is the first speaker in what we hope to be a long running artist lecture series,” said Tom McGlynn, an art professor new to Castleton State College this year.
McGlynn, who hosted the event, plans to line-up at least one artist a semester to come speak with not only art students, but the entire Castleton community. Being new a new professor, McGlynn wanted to start new programs as well. McGlynn wants to use his connections, and make new connections in order to continue the series.
The artist lectures are funded by the dean’s Lecture Fund, as well as the Art Students League.
“I’m excited about bringing artists I know to introduce my students to contemporary art by exposing them to living artists, not only dead ones,” said McGlynn.
Art students find this series particularly interesting and useful specifically. For junior Jamis Lott, seeing real life artists show their work gives him reassurance in what he is doing.
“There’s a time in your life when you are really questioning, where am I going to go, or what am I going to do with an art major?” said Lott.
By bringing in artists such as Sayre, students at even such a small school as Castleton State College can experience fresh art. Sayre knows himself how difficult it is as an art student.
“It’s not really a huge jump, you just have to take chances,” said Sayre.
For more information about Sayre, and more photos of his work, go to www.rogersayre.com.