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 For Strayer the actions were a composition using elements of chance, historical reference and humor.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
Friday, April 28
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Concordia Comedy Festival — Concordia Lutheran High School presents a showing of comedy films from middle and high school students, 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, Room 101, Neff Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 483-1102
Tapestry: A Day for You — Day of inspiration, renewal and education for women in all stages of life with keynote speaker Ann Curry, 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $75, 483-1111
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Blooze Faktor — Blues at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., cover, 483-1311
Chris Worth & Company — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 557-1563
Classic Voice — Variety at The Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, (260) 482-1618
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at The Venue, Angola, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 665-3922
Expanding Man — Variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
G-Money Band — Blues at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Hubie Ashcraft & Travis Gow — Country at Billy's Downtown Zulu, Monroeville, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 623-3583
The Illegals — Rock at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 483-5526
IPFW Bands & Choirs w/Fort Wayne Children's Choir — Classical at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
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 American Legion Post 241, Waynedale, 8:30-11:30 p.m., no cover, 747-7851
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
Rebecca Rego — Americana/country at Two-EE's Winery, Huntington, 7:30-9:30 p.m., no cover, 672-2000
Secret Mezzanine — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 432-8966
String Theory — Acoustic variety at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 260-745-3369
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Trichotomous Hippopotamus w/Trackless, John Fishell — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., cover, 267-5303
The Why Store — Rock at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, (260) 387-5063
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Big Dawg Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Bucca Karaoke w/Ashley — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Dance Party w/DJ Rich — Variety at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., cover, 422-5055
DJ dance party — at Rum Runners, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., ,
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Tap Haus, New Haven, 9 p.m., no cover, 493-6622
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Scott — Variety at JR's Pub, Leo, 9 p.m., no cover, 627-2500
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., ,
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 w/DJ Chuck — Variety at DW Bar & Grill, Churubusco, 10 p.m., no cover, 693-8172
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at Portside Pizza, Columbia City, 9 p.m., no cover, 691-3333
Karaoke — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Karaoke — Variety at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m., no cover, 488-3344
Karaoke — Variety at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Karaoke — Karaoke at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Rockstar Karaoke & DJ w/Scotty — Karaoke at Backway Lounge, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 665-5081
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at 4 Crowns, Auburn, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 925-9805
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Kevin — Variety at Danny's Italian Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 484-4444
SureShot Karaoke w/David — Variety at The Green Frog Inn, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 426-1088
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Bottle and Bottega, Fort Wayne, 8:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 494-1020
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Funny Little Thing Called Love — Romantic comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Home and Jamie Wooten, 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and May 5-6 and May 12-13, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
The Little Mermaid — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre musical based on the Disney movie, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Next to Normal — Tony Award- and Pulitzer-winning musical about coping with mental illness, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 498-2270
The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare’s now somewhat controversial comedy about the battle between the sexes, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 12-13, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
A Wrinkle in Time — all for One productions’ adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, PPG ArtsLab, Auer Center for Arts & Culture, Fort Wayne, $11-20, 422-4226
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37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
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
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
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, $6-$8 (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
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
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Juxtapoz Magazine: 25 Years Under the Influence — A chronicle of the iconic magazine’s evolution into one of the most influential magazines of art of the counterculture, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Norman Bradley and Friends — Exhibition of works by friends and colleagues of the late Fort Wayne artist, Tuesday-Saturday thru May 20 , Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
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
Perspectives Live Butterfly Display — Up close and personal perspectives of the Conservatory’s newest collection of live butterflies, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 25, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Robert Williams: SLANG Aesthetics! — An exhibition of new work by the artist considered the godfather of the lowbrow, pop surrealist and colloquial realism art movements, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 23, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
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, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3, Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru May 20 (Cinco de Mayo Fiesta featuring mariachi music by Mark Meussling 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 5), Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568