The Other Kind of Artist

sher92-cropped“There are two kinds of artists,” a famous art critic pontificated. One type wants to build pyramids, skyscrapers, great objects to be admired in museums and palaces. This is the traditionalist, even in the ‘Modern’ tradition, the academic, the art-history-oriented, the sometimes excellent, sometimes boring, main-streamer. The other kind is the obsessive eccentric, the loner, the ‘do-it-your-own-thing,’ the don’t-give-a-damn about what the art world, the critics, the-collectors, the museums say. He’s an iconoclast, the nonconformist.. Izzy Sher of Odessa, Chicago, San Francisco, Big Sur and Berkeley was in the later group– a very distinguished gang in American Art.

The creator of the famous Watts Towers in Los Angeles, Simon Rodia, comes to mind. Both Rodia and Sher worked in metal and both built environments–Simon a tranquil city block of tall, tall towers, steel encrusted with shards of tile, shells and whatchamacallits, and Izzy a Berkeley block yard three-story maze of scrap metal, rusted pipe, intricately woven welding rod nests or chairs decorated with tin cans, drift wood and whatchamacallits. They are flamboyant, idiosyncratic, wild. They are like Izzy, the artist who made them.

Izzy was an intense, smallish man with the ancient, glittering eyes of the Yeat’s poem ‘Lapis Lazuli,’ who often wore a ‘secret smile,’ who spoke, at times, like the UC student of philosophy he had been on the GI Bill after serving in World War Two. His war, as he called it. At other times he was like a street-smart beat generation hipster. “This Rabbi’s going like a bat out of Hell,” Izzy yelled into the silence of the Berkeley synagogue according to Alan Temko who had been corralled to make up the minion for the Sunday service.

A born-again Jew Izzy had the iconoclastic irreverence of the philosopher artist, the musician who built bongo drums of recycled Queen Anne front porch pillars, who had a bass saxophone in his studio to blow on that was taller than he, who flourished in the role of agent provocateur, trickster, coyote, shaman.

Izzy Sher, an artist, a person, an intellectual, brings to mind a very different type of artist philosopher. Ad Reinhardt who wrote about art collecting– “you don’t get what you wants for what you pays for. You pays for what the artist wants, that’s what you gets. The artist is singing before the collector calls the tune.” And here Izzy Sher has called the tune.

-Mary Fuller, Sonoma, CA

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