Experiencing Art and Life With Sage Gallon: An Interview
Like wind, love, and gravity… art is a force of nature. It is a message from our creator, the spark of excitement in a crumbling world. An artist isn’t just the conveyer, he is the gatekeeper opening up a portal to a new reality.
Art can make us transcend through a spiral of complete ecstasy, deep darkness, or somewhere in between.
Encountering the works of Sage Gallon was a pseudo-psychedelic experience. It doesn’t take a special mind to figure out the peculiarities of his outstanding art forms. I could, in an instant, tell by just looking at them. The way he expresses his paintings with utter ingenuity, the colour choices, the story each work tells, the emotions they emit—everything points to the man behind their creation; Sage Gallon.
And so I set out to inquire about him, his journey, and what makes up the artist he is today.
Can you tell us about yourself?
Sage: I’m Sage Gallon. I was born in Wyandanch, New York. It’s a small town in Long Island. ‘Sage’ isn’t the name I was given at birth, but one given in prayer. However, I consider it to be my “real name”. My parents were kids when they had me, unmarried too.
My dad was drafted into Vietnam when I was a baby and my mom was sent to a commune in Northern California when I was two. I remember dad came home with PTSD—they didn’t have a name for it then—and wanted custody. Then, I was sent to a commune when I was four, to live in a place called Synanon. I spent my formative years living there, raised by hundreds of people from every walks of life.
Me, my mother and her then-husband moved back to NYC in 1979. It was a very difficult adjustment and it was there I found solace in art. There were a lot of fights which led to a divorce and once again, it was just me and my mom. Growing up in Hempstead, I was a square, insecure kid. Art was always my salvation at the time.
How did you make a career out of Art?
Sage: After graduating from high school, I moved to the city to attend F.I.T. There, I found a group of friends who I’m close to till this day. In my early twenties, I started experimenting with drugs. I got hooked quickly and soon find myself living on the streets. My addiction lasted over ten years and carried me across several states.
I started painting in 1994 while living in Washington, D.C. and after producing over 400 pieces, I stopped painting for almost twenty years. I moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and got sober in the early 2000s. Suddenly, in 2013 I had a devastating relapse. After my first exhibition in that same year, I came home one morning, no drugs, no money, just a lot of pain. I had some old dried up acrylics and a piece of torn canvas. There and then, I scratched out a painting, pouring all of my pain onto that canvas.
In 2014 I was named one of the 40 black artists to watch for in NBC’s ‘The Grio’. At the same time, I moved into a sober living facility. I started painting a lot and posting them on social media, not thinking much about it. Still in 2014, I sold my first painting for $250.00, started having solo exhibitions, interviews and the rest is history as you know it.
Was there a defining moment where you decided to follow the path of an Artist?
Sage: I guess the defining moment was shortly after my first sale in 2014. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always found solace and salvation in creating, but never imagined selling my work. It was always a form of prayer and meditation for me, something personal. I started to realize that I was not “the Artist” but a vessel used to create work that people were drawn to or affected by.
What influence or inspiration drives your creativity?
Sage: Women are a huge influence on me personally and in my work. I was raised and inspired by beautiful, intelligent women with strong goals; from my mother—to who I owe everything— to my grandmother, to teachers and to friends. I also draw a lot of inspiration from my life; from homelessness, from addictions, from love and everything in between. I find everything I’ve been through, seen, and learned form a lasting impact on my work.
Does it matter if your work is perceived as “beautiful” by people?
Sage: No, not at all. People thought Vincent Van Gough was a horrible Artist in his day. Not everything is for everyone. The only thing I find “important” is if I’m honest and open to the process of creating. This goes for all of my work, from painting to photography, from filmmaking to recording. Art is, as they say, subjective. Besides, a lot of my subject matter aren’t meant to be pretty.
Do you have a favourite painting?
Sage: There are a few pieces I’ve done that I am deeply connected to but there are paintings by other artists that I LOVE.
If you could collaborate with any artist from the past, who would it be?
Sage: I guess the tops would be Geoffrey Holder, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Basquiat, Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh. It would be a great to experience creating with this group.
Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you hadn’t chosen to be an Artist?
Sage: I didn’t choose. I don’t think any Artist chooses this life. I think it’s one given to you. I can’t imagine what my life would look like without Art.
What advice would you give to someone trying to follow in your footsteps?
Sage: Don’t! I think we were all brought here for a unique purpose. I would tell a person to follow their heart, be truthful to their process. You should trust the talent and gifts God—whatever God is to you—has given you. Don’t ever give up and don’t ever let someone else define your who you are. Use all of you and be open. Challenge yourself and don’t get too comfortable.