Steven Sachs’ 30-year retrospective at Barbara Archer Gallery marks the emergence of a wide-ranging artistic talent.
Until now, many people thought the well-known owner of Artifacts just put frames on other people’s art. Sachs, in fact, has made considerable use of the tools of his trade in creating a number of his sculptures. Picture frames are reused in ways by turns funky, elegant or both.
Sachs, whose formal training in art is limited to a few classes in drawing and ceramics, plus more recent study in welding, shows again just how much self-taught artists can teach themselves. Some of his sculptures show Southern folk-art influences, such as figures with perforated-metal heads or found-wood dogs with pebbles for teeth. Others are the stylistic opposite, tightly fitted pieces that reveal an intimate knowledge of the lessons of modernist design — such as a series of boxes that range in size and materials from a wooden “Tall Box” to a small, square “Silver Box with Pinballs.”
In fact, Sachs has explored any number of opposites. One 1994 painting is so built up with sculptural layers of paint that it required eons to dry. In contrast are sparely painted, meticulously experimental 1992 symbolic cityscapes best viewed with the 3-D glasses the gallery provides. The spectrum encompasses whimsical near-cartoons and a sober 2009 drawing of the last words of martyred visionary Giordano Bruno.
Sachs’ oeuvre suggests a cheerful soul given to innovative reflectiveness. Anyone who can recycle film in the beautifully interwoven pattern of the 2010 sculpture “Will It Always Be This Way?” is inventively meditative. Anyone who would combine wood and steel tools in the 2009 “Would Steal Tools” or stone and a pair of scissors in “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is as fond of puns as of the modernist sculptures whose example lies behind these assemblages.
“Urban Archaeology,” a wall piece that greets viewers at the gallery entrance, may be a key to Sachs’ diverse interests. Consisting entirely of roadway-flattened cans and metal objects that Sachs found particularly fascinating, it isn’t for sale at any price.