Relinquishing Control

Jim Sperber '87 teaches art classes on campus.
Jim Sperber ’87 spends a lot of time thinking about control, a skill he has developed to create the detailed line work in his colorful paintings but also something he wants to relinquish as much as possible—the paint drippings that cover his work appear serendipitous. His exhibit, currently open in the gallery of the Robert Lehman Art Center, perfectly juxtaposes these two important aspects of his work.
His paintings that jump out from the walls of the Lehman Gallery—he often uses wire to create a 3-D effect—show he is a master of a detailed, controlled technique. But in the center of the gallery a blue panel lies waiting for visitors to literally make their own mark on the exhibit. Sperber is hoping the community will stop by to drip paint onto it throughout the month.
“Essentially, I brought my studio to the gallery,” he said.
He’s planning to give the nine paintings the community creates to the school at the end of his time here. He says he’ll get the painting started, but after that anything can happen.
“I’m giving them the materials I work with and that’s it,” he said. “We’ll see what comes out of it.”
In addition to his exhibit in the Lehman Gallery (the formal opening is October 10, and it will run throughout the month), Sperber is teaching art classes to Brooks students during his time on campus. During a recent master class with 2-D and 3-D art students, he stressed the amount of freedom they have in their work.
“You can stretch wires across the top. You can do whatever you want, actually, that’s the great thing about art: there’s no right or wrong, there’s just do.”
After students had donned smocks and retrieved paint, brushes and panels from the supply closet, many sat still, brush in hand, mixed paints ready, clearly thinking through their first brushstroke. But 20 minutes later the white panels were mostly hidden behind paint—in some cases in carefully drawn patterns, in others with blobs of bright colors.
“The thing is knowing when to stop,” he reminded one student. But he also made his primary hope for the class clear.
“I really want them to find enjoyment in artwork,” he said.
It’s something Sperber clearly finds in his own work. A former videographer, he got his start in Michael King’s film class at Brooks. He switched over to painting because he likes experiencing the world directly, without a lens between himself and his subject. Painting is also more solitary, he says.
He acknowledges, however, that different artistic mediums are better for sharing different messages. He told students he was able to be more political while working in film. He takes a different approach with his paintings.
“I make work about time, process,” he told the students. “It’s meditative.”
Sperber is hoping anyone interested in painting will stop by the Lehman Gallery this month to contribute to his collaborative piece. Though he’s offering his materials and including the piece in the exhibit alongside his own work, he’s happy to let go of control of how the finished piece ends up.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I want them to do what they want to it.”
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