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Alumni Spotlight: Janet Sawyer

I was among the students in 1963 who were seeking a deeper way to realize our commitment to our art than could be found in the current offerings of our schools. I had come to Brooklyn from Virginia where I was an art student at Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond. The previous summer I had met a Pratt student at the summer outpost of the Art Students League in Woodstock, NY who extolled the teachings of Mercedes Matter and soon I moved to Brooklyn myself and had the opportunity to study with her. Mercedes Matter wrote her legendary piece “What’s wrong with U.S. Art Schools?” that year, and the formation of a new school based on our needs and expressed by her ideas quickly become a reality beginning as drawing classes in a loft on 14th Street. Those classes provided me with an intense experience. It was here I felt (as many others did) that I learned not so much how to draw, but how to see. Of course, doing the work day after day was the only way to achieve progress as Matter always emphasized, but it also seemed that her very person created the excitement of feeling that what we were learning was connected through her own history and life to the very heart of Modernism in art.

Support for the new art school grew and soon it had an actual embodiment in the acquisition of a Broadway loft. I well remember the cooperative spirit in those early times when everyone pitched in painting walls, making easels, forging curriculum etc. Respected artists were brought on board as faculty, classes commenced, and it was up and running as the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting & Sculpture. There was much to choose from, and I valued classes with Charles Cajori and Esteban Vicente in particular.

1971. Group left to right includes founding NYSS students Irene Peslikis and Janet Sawyer with Alice Neel, Dee Slack, and Lucia Vernarelli. “That’s my painting behind us. Alice Neel was always very supportive of our group, Restocking Artists.” – Janet Sawyer

Although I transitioned exclusively to my own studio before the School’s move to 8th street, I have always kept in touch with the people involved and enjoy attending NYSS programs and events and viewing and participating in its exhibitions. It seems the spirit of the foundational ideals and goals that were established in the beginning are still present in the current School while it stays vital in the very different art world of today. For my own part, set on a path in those formative years, I have always continued to work as a painter, and have exhibited continually since 1972. This March I am showing recent work at Blue Mountain Gallery some of these paintings are pictured here in my Montauk studio.

Janet Sawyer: New Paintings
Blue Mountain Gallery, 547 West 27th St. New York, NY
March 3rd  – 27th, 2021

 

 

Snapshots From NYSS

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