Consider this description of a 12-year-old work as a not so simple, but revealing portrait of local philosopher/artist Jeff Strayer: The piece, enclosed in a 30-by-50-inch frame and behind glass, defies photography. It is hung upon a narrow upstairs hallway wall in a weathered early 20th-century wooden home in the city's near west end. The work once hung briefly in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and contains mounted 35-mm expended film canisters, some black and white photographs and other documentation which amount to archival evidence. It was part of a mid-1990s exhibition "For the Love of Art," initiated by former museum Director Emily Kass and designed as a way to involve local artists and raise money.
"Emily had this idea of giving out first chairs, then, later, small hobby horses to artists who in turn were to paint, decorate or otherwise manipulate and submit them for a showing," recounted Strayer who has lectured Philosophy, Ethics and Aesthetics at IPFW since 2002. "The Dadaists took their name from the French word "dada," which translates as hobby horse. So rather than just decorating the horse I devised another, two-part approach."
Strayer first photographed the interior of the City County Building lobby from eight positions then mailed the undeveloped roll of film to an address picked randomly from the local phone book. Simultaneously he packaged the hobby horse in a plain box and sent it, also without instruction, to the mayor's office.
"You have to remember," Strayer continued, "this was in the 'Unabomber' days. But Mayor Paul Helmke just opened the package and placed the miniature horse on his credenza without much attention."
If you want a definition of conceptual art, that's it. Taken a step further it was a case of a Trojan horse of a different color. For Strayer the actions were a composition using elements of chance, historical reference and humor. A performance that resonates with the dictum that artistic knowledge trumps the art object itself.
The 55-year-old Strayer began his pursuit of the subject-object relationship while growing up in Warsaw. The oldest of three children (his father was an insurance agent and real estate investor, his mother a homemaker), his early readings in philosophy (especially Bertrand Russell) and art led him to earn a BFA at the University of Miami (Florida) and. later, his MFA from Chicagos Art Institute.
To support himself Strayer embarked on a teaching career, first at Saint Francis and then onto IPFW, concentrating on Philosophy. For a measure of the depth of his studies visit his online syllabus where you will discover an intimidating outline of readings in essentialism, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of logic and aesthetics.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the home he has shared for 10 years with Angela Boerger, the well-regarded marketing and political consultant and their cat, Zeus, "the real ruler of the house," Strayer cultivates the time and space he needs.
The artist moves easily between three separate spaces in worn leather shoes and rumpled pants. The largest space, converted from the original first-floor parlor/dining room is his working studio, replete with a drafting table and a large, specially lit table surface and assorted tools. On the second floor a small room is equipped with a computer and serves as his writing room. Across the hall is another small, book-lined enclave where I suspect most of his work goes on. Two of its walls are filled floor to 10-foot ceilings with books on art criticism; the third is laden with works on philosophy, and the fourth with a collection of scientific treatises ranging from evolution to quantum theory.
In the center of the room sits a small desk upon which rests two thick unabridged dictionaries opened as one would find them in a classroom or public library. Cradled on top of the science bookcases rests another pair of large dictionaries.
It is here where Strayer smokes his tobacco pipe and where he conjures up the content of his book manuscript due to the publisher in September. Its title: Subjects and Objects: Essentialism, Art and Abstraction (an earlier abbreviated version is contained in the above mentioned citation on Strayer's IPFW Philosophy of Art 575: Advanced Problems in Aesthetics).
Okay, stop and take a breath. I know this is thick stuff. but it is relevant to our subject here. Maybe Keats' lines closing his Ode On a Grecian Urn will help us with some disambiguation:
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,-that is all
"Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
To a large extent philosophers don't always make the best writers, Hegel and Kant for example," advises Strayer. But that is not the case with his own work, as he has had several papers published. In addition, as a member of both the American Philosophical Association and the American Society for Aesthetics, he has presented papers at those association conventions and several other academic settings, including upcoming appointments in Milwaukee and Toronto.
As to his art, Strayer continues to produce, although less frequently with writing deadlines looming. Subtle-colored, abstract and text-driven pieces are the core of his collection. Major painters like Rothko, Mondrian, Reinhart and Newman have impacted his earlier paintings. They have been shown as part of numerous local and regional galleries and museum exhibitions.
In his most current work can be found traces of the likes of his favorite minimalists - Joseph Kosuth, Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt.
"Some art is so technical and intellectual that it is like philosophy, theoretical physics or advanced mathematics," Strayer said in response to a query about the conventional assumption that one must be an intellectual to appreciate art.
"Artists who are producing work of this kind, me included, are concerned with establishing boundaries that certain kinds of creative investigation allow. And just as theoretical physics cannot be understood without a great deal of education, the same is true of certain artworks."
Strayer's reoccurring theme exploring the object-subject is very evident in a series of five small saddle-stitched paper bound books variously titled Decisions, Untitled No. 5, Still Life with Fruit, Wine, Audiotape and Projections, Intentions and Portrait of An Unknown Lady. Originally published in New York in 1982, the limited-edition collection is part of several prestigious American museums, including the Metropolitan and Modern in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Art.
These personal and sometimes confessional anecdotal slices of his life incorporate concrete poetry, 35-mm slides, typographic expressions and film negatives which give the viewer X-ray images of what the artist was up to at the time. Like ribbon-tied bundles of letters retrieved from the attic or imbedded codes launched into space via Voyager, these chapbooks have become archeological clues to their time and place.
Strayer is not a one-or even two-dimensional man. His outside activities include hiking (10-15-mile treks), food and cooking (he's never met a cuisine he didn't like, including black bear in a Norwegian restaurant), traveling (he gets to Europe as often as he can and would like to settle there), the cinema (he loves foreign films; Fellini is a favorite) and music, especially classical (his favorite 20th-century composers are Elliot Carter and Ralph Vaughan Williams).
Taken together Strayer's accomplishments and interests make a classic recipe for a supreme cosmopolitan and citizen of the world.
He's been known to sit as a panelist in the "Crit!" series at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art,. Catch the next one and experience him first hand.
by David Tanner
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102