Inside the Studio

John A. Sargent III

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
Through graduate school at Ohio State, my work had an educated, intellectual, and conceptual disposition. There was a lot of responding to fundamental questions of existence-the questions of why. These concerns are like the Big Bang or gravity in the artwork, but they are in the background now.  Now I am more concerned with creating something beautiful and peaceful, thoughtful but fun. Color, light, and nature dominate the subject matter, and to that end my artworks are emotional responses to the world.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
The best advice came in two questions at different times. The first was at my undergraduate thesis review at Trinity College, when my professor George Chaplin asked, “Who are you?” I remember blathering on about who knows what nonsense. I was then told that thinking about who I am from time to time is invaluable.

The second was when my father asked, “Who is the work for?” I was complaining that I was a misunderstood artist, and he really let me have it.  It is authenticity, honesty, clear intentions, knowing that the work goes out into the world and will be received not based on my concerns, but rather based on the concerns and values of the viewer… And to that end what value am I providing for the viewer?

Prefer to work with music or in silence?
I am always in motion when I work, usually standing, so there is a kind of dance that is already occurring. Music is a huge part of my life, as I am also a so-so musician. I usually start with the music on; but if I am really in the work I am not very aware of much else…so it can get very silent.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be? 
That is an impossible question to answer. There is the childish work of my son, for absolute freedom. There is a portrait of my family I created that I hold very dear. There are works by Old Masters that I covet, but to say which one at any given time changes with the thoughts of the day, or the moment. I do have a pretty good copy of the Mona Lisa I did in the early nineties that hangs in our breakfast nook as a shrine, with Christmas lights…it was that or a soup can… kind of a joke about art and life.

Who are your favorite writers?   
I used to read lots of philosophy, and modernist literature about physics, the universe, and quantum mechanics.  It was all pretty heady and I got what I got.  Currently, I am reading biographies about the American founding fathers.