Artist Shuns Modern Art in Favor of Old School

Michael SaylesOne of the 47 works from Sayles' latest collection, "The Black Drawings," on display at Cafe des Artistes to Nov. 15.
British artist Michael Sayles goes back to "old school" techniques without sacrificing originality in his current exposition, "The Black Drawings," at the CafО des Artistes restaurant. Currently, 47 works of Sayles' decorate the walls of the restaurant.

Sayles' work is in collections in Europe and the United States, although certain pieces will soon find their home in Moscow.

Restaurant owner Dolf Michel said he is sure to add some of Sayles' work to his own collection. All of the drawings are on sale -- one adorned with a real gold chain is expected to sell for 10,000 euros ($13,400).

Michel said it was the artist's personality and charisma that led him to display his works in the cafe. "I met the person first, and then his work, but they match perfectly together," Michel said.

Sayles' collection of drawings made with graphite pencil and featuring everyday objects could not be further away from his previous work. "Techno," a video installation, featured 33 monitors showing nodding gay skinheads.

Installations by necessity involve a lot of people and technicians in a collaborative effort, Sayles said.

"I was missing the solitary thing, being in the studio, not having anyone but myself and my skill," he said. And he was becoming disenchanted with contemporary art. "I criticize contemporary art because it's mainstream. I find it irritating, arrogant. Video didn't fulfill me, I was still missing something."

Sayles' disenchantment with contemporary art mediums prompted his change to more "traditional" mediums. He writes of such contemporary art in the introduction to his current catalogue. "It is with certain knowledge that only with an audience is the work complete ... somehow this feels like a lie, arrogant and cynical." Ironically, "Techno" never got an exhibition, whereas the drawings on display at CafО des Artistes do not need to be seen in order to be art. As Sayles explained: "[Art] is an experience susceptible to all things, which can eventually come into my work. My life experience is food for my work."

Working alone, it took about a month to complete some of the larger pieces in the exhibition. The drawings on display range from a can of Vienna sausages to a hand reaching for an empty toilet paper roll. Some pieces are so realistic that they could be mistaken for photographs, while others allow for more imagination. The unifying factor is the impressive detail achieved with the graphite medium, depicting everyday objects and experiences, some inspired directly from Sayles' life.

The centerpiece of the show, "Old School," depicts a pair of well-worn high-top Nike sneakers. "I had sneakers just like that. That man in the suit, that's me. Wearing the same suit," he said, motioning to another piece.

Not all of the drawings relate directly to Sayles' life. "Before, I was more the subject matter of my work. It seemed honest. Less now. Now, I take an observation of something which I can relate to. Some are more direct than others."

Born to Jamaican parents in London, Sayles has studied in England, France, the Netherlands and Germany, where he currently lives and works. He attended the Гcole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but Sayles insists that art school did not make him an artist. "I knew that art was my main interest through my formative years. Later, I started to realize that I could only be an artist."

The exhibition runs through Nov. 15 at CafО des Artistes, located at 5/6 Kamergersky Pereulok. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 692-4042.