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Artist Origin Story: James Sager

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JamesSager-SelfPortrait1

James Sager's "Self Portrait 1"

As a realist painter, James Sager accurately captures the forms of things, though he stops short of slavish Photo Realism. Which is to say, Sager simplifies and makes clear. His compositions have good bones. Their underlying order holds his fleshy surfaces together; their simplicity lets the viewer read the complex details of his scenes at a glance. (Easier said then done.) Sager teaches art students how its done at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota. He began teaching himself a long time ago. It all started with television.

What put you on the path to being an artist?
In my earliest memory, I'm maybe three years old. Our family was watching a rocket launch on our old black-and-white TV set — it was one of the early Mercury missions, either John Glenn or Alan Shepard. The rocket was sitting there on the launching pad. We all watched. Then they started the countdown.

And your eyes were like saucers?
Yeah. I imagine they were. I was captivated by the whole idea of it, as any little boy would be — power, adventure, heroism and stuff like that. I had to draw it! And I remember doing some kind of drawing of the rocket ship. After that, I made more. Many more. I had a rocket ship fixation for a while. Then, I think I started drawing dinosaurs.

I think there's an alternate earth where dinosaurs draw people.
No doubt! But I couldn't get over the thought I could create worlds, dinosaurs, anything I want on a piece of paper.

I know what you mean. It's like “I made that.” I turned a blank piece of paper into reality. It's magic!
Yeah.  I think that's why I was always so fascinated with money. It's beautiful! It's a piece of paper, right? But it's real. Adults take it very seriously.

It's paper with magic powers!
Yeah. I remember my parents letting me play with money. Then I tried to make my own money. I wish I still had some. But the thought was always there in the back of my head: “Money is a drawing on a piece of paper. If I make that drawing, I can create money.”

You were a budding counterfeiter.
Or J.S. Boggs. You remember J.S. Boggs?

Vaguely. The William Sanderson character in “Blade Runner” ... ?
No. Boggs was a conceptual artist with an amazing rendering ability.

That would've been my second guess. The fake money artist?
Bingo. He'd draw facsimiles of bills — dollar bills, fives, not high denominations. Then he'd use these bills as currency — he once tried to pay for donuts with a dollar bill that he'd drawn. That created a bit of a stir. He said, “This is art. It's gotta be worth a dollar.” But the authorities didn't see it that way. They raided his apartment, which was exactly what he wanted. I can't help thinking, that could've been me ...

But you never tried to spend your homemade money.
No. I just kept making art. Looking back, I think that was the right decision.

Last modified: February 16, 2014
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