Dozens of paintings are propped up against windowless concrete walls and whitewashed pillars, waiting to be hung in a cavernous room on the fourth floor of 79 Perry St. in Buffalo's Cobblestone District.
There are violent abstract expressionist swipes of red paint on white canvas and sweeping calligraphy on thick layers of paint and majestic, Turner-esque renderings of sunlight struggling to break through dark clouds. These contrast with six meticulous paintings, lined up in a row, of a lonely gingko, soon to be joined by a series of hyper-realistic drawings of figures and nature scenes in charcoal, graphite and ink.
Judging by the wildly divergent styles, you might think that the industrial space was being prepared for a show from a particularly eclectic group of artists.
But every last piece came from the hand of Sarah Myers. Her name has not yet registered on the radar of Buffalo's art community, but that will change in a significant way when her first major solo exhibition opens in the unorthodox art space Friday.
This exhibition, curated by Myers' close friend and Albright-Knox Art Gallery curator Heather Pesanti, is the story of the artist's pure and unvarnished infatuation with natural beauty. It incorporates work from 13 years, during which she has followed her obsession with paint and ink across an ever-expanding repertoire of styles and techniques.
Myers, 28, began her art career in earnest when she was 15, traveling every night to figure-drawing classes at colleges and studios across Western New York. After graduating from Hamburg High School in 2001, she studied briefly at the Pratt Institute in New York City before moving to Italy, where she took classes at the SACI school in Florence and studied Renaissance techniques in an academy there. Myers later returned to Pratt and lived in New York City until 2008, when she moved back to Western New York.
The Perry Street show grew out of a proposal Myers made for a highly competitive mural project on Buffalo's West Side. Though she didn't get the commission (it was awarded to a California artist), Myers may have snagged something even better: the attention of Albright-Knox Director Louis Grachos, who served as a juror for the competition and immediately took an interest in Myers' work. The show is Myers' attempt to represent the breadth of her career for Grachos' eyes -- an exercise to which the public also happens to be invited.
For Myers, the act of painting is more than executing a preconceived vision. It's an act of self-examination reflecting the roiling currents of her life.
"When you're in front of a blank canvas, it's like everything that's ringing true is going to come out and everything that's not is going to come out," Myers said. "That's probably why when you look around, you see like 10 different personalities here, because it came from so many different places."
Take her tree series, for instance. When Myers returned to New York City after two years of studying and painting in Italy, she experienced an unexpected bout of culture shock. In her small apartment in Brooklyn, with no art supplies other than a roll of paper, some ink and an old calligraphy pen, she began compulsively drawing the gingko tree in her backyard. Her many iterations of that solitary little tree served as a scrolling record of her mindset at the time -- and as the inspiration for the recently completed series of paintings in the Perry Street show.
In other series, Myers explored her fascination with light, with the human figure and with the potent and inexhaustible beauty to be found in nature.
Myers is addicted to the act of painting itself, and to the feeling that arises when she's made a successful work of art. Any attempt to describe what she's after -- that ineffable realm many artists and musicians aspire both to inhabit and to broadcast -- inevitably falls short. But here's Myers' attempt:
"You cannot put your finger on it. It comes from somewhere else, and I don't know where that place is, but I seek it. It's very powerful; it's what makes me feel the most freedom and it makes me feel the purest," Meyers said, gesturing out toward her paintings. "That's what these are. They're my representations of that very unique and indescribable freedom that exists in that place that art is made."
Pesanti, who curated the show, put it this way:
"To me, it seems like she's exploring her interior world. She probably paints because she has to. I don't think she's happy if she's not painting; but I think also she hopes to affect people with it," Pesanti said. "Everything that she owns has paint on it. And you can't give her anything that isn't going to get paint on it. It's very, very endearing, but it's funny because it really kind of sums her up."
Myers' approach to contemporary painting may seem anachronistic, especially in an age when artists routinely bury their intent beneath thick layers of explication, captured in artists' statements that seem to require some sort of mystical key to decipher. Enjoying much of this work, which can be worthy in its own way, often hinges on how deeply the viewer understands the full historical sweep of modern and contemporary art.
What's new about Myers' work is its utter lack of concern with all of that. The paintingson view in the Perry Street space speak to Myers' own obsession with the act of painting itself, a journey she began shortly after college and continues to explore with fierce dedication today.
"She's just a painter who's in love with painting and paint and the medium and the way that her hand operates with that medium," Pesanti said. "What you see is that she goes through periods: her tree period, her abstract period, her ocean-Turner period. But she's always just returning to this great, deep love of paint."
Myers also draws a great deal of inspiration from her upbringing. Her father, Michael Myers, was a prolific and highly sought-after commercial photographer with Myers Studio, a venerable company launched in 1950 by the artist's grandfather, Gerard Myers. Myers said the work of her father, who died seven years ago, had a strong influence on her art career.
"What I remember most about him is when we would drive, if there was something beautiful, he'd always point it out and we'd always appreciate it," Myers said. "The deepest desire I have is to be in touch with beauty. I know it's what keeps me interested in creating art. Because beauty is very powerful, and it goes deeper than what something looks like.
"For me, the work fulfills a part of me, and hopefully for other people, that is really unobtainable in any other way."
Sarah Myers' work will be on view to the public from 6 to 11 p.m. Friday on the fourth floor of 79 Perry St.. Visitors should enter through the loading dock on Illinois Street, where they can take an elevator up to the exhibition space. After Friday, the exhibition will remain on view for a month by appointment only. For more information or to contact Myers, visit www.sarahmyersfineart.com.