Studio Visit: Jerry Savage
Studio Visit is a weekly Q&A with a local artist. Today, The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli visits with retired art professor Jerry Savage, 77, rural Sidney
Q: Are these paintings in your show "Identity Issues" at the Cinema Gallery new work?
A: They're part of a continuity of related issues. It's a journey, but they all have the same philosophical base.
Q: And what would that be?
A: I think painting is the physical manifestation of the rhythms of the body, which is in tune with the universe — and that painting never lies.
Painting shows the strong and weak qualities of the aspirations and hopes of the artist. What I mean by hopes — I guess everyone wants to be successful.
So my paintings have always been about inquiry. If you go through my website — jerrysavageartist.com — you can see five or so different concerns.
I'm influenced by the themes of our moment. I think they're worthy concerns, and they're relevant and shape our lives. How can you ignore them?
I think Pablo Picasso was the prototype. His blue period. "Guernica." He was an inquisitive and curious man, but his mojo was always the foundation work. A picture is always a picture regardless of the content.
Q: You retired from the University of Illinois School of Art + Design in 2000. What have you been doing since then?
A: I have another two series of paintings I'm working on. And I'm involved with an architectural firm in Chicago. I'm a concept designer for signature light sculptures, which involve movement and landscape design.
What I mean by signature: The work has to represent the aspirations of the company, its deepest philosophical beliefs, because I think content is important.
For this work, I've been involved with the intellectual resources of the University of Illinois. I consult with a lot of professors in different programs, like engineering, including Professor Gary Eden, a scientist of lasers and optical physics, and people in architecture, landscape architecture, geology.
It's such a privilege to live in Champaign-Urbana. The intellectual capital here is enormous, and the professors are so generous in sharing their resources. For me, it's the ideal place to work.
I consult all the time because I'm using materials and engineering concepts I can only sense intuitively. I have to find people who can actualize these works and make them happen.
Q: How long did you teach at the UI?
A: Thirty-five years. I loved it. The faculty was supportive and generous with their time. It was an absolutely wonderful place to work.
Q: I notice there are a lot of figures in these paintings.
A: I believe in body language, that your body can really give messages that your actions can't. I wanted these faces, especially the eyes, to show the real messages. So many of my figures wear hats because hats are the symbol of authority in our culture.
I know this is out of step with contemporary art — trying to deal, without words, with emotional understanding. These paintings are pure visual statements. They're one-stroke paintings.
Painting like that is like an athlete being in the zone. If you think about it too much you'll never do it. Trust your instincts and experience, which is almost impossible to do, even at my age.
Q: What kind of paint did you use for these?
A: The smaller paintings, watercolor. The larger, acrylic — with a special acrylic medium that gives a three-dimensional texture.
They're layered, which you can only do successfully with acrylic because it dries quicker than oil painting because the chemistry is so different: Oil paint ages quickly, and I paint so fast.
EDITOR'S NOTE: "Identity Issues: New Paintings by Jerry Savage" remains on display through Oct. 5 at the Cinema Gallery, 120 W. Main St., U. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.