Joel D. Sager (b. 1980) is a contemporary American painter of landscapes, still-life and portraiture. Often drawing on such standard subject matter with economy and singularity— a solitary figure in a room or misplaced sock on a bed— the conceptual element of his work becomes a contemplation on meaning for even the simplest objects: person, place, or thing. 

Sager's process often involves a distinctive mixture of media, incorporating tar with oil pigments, or wallpaper with squid ink, or graphite and cut paper.  Through these unique media compositions, Sager's paintings create a new voice on fundamental elements handed down from art history. 

Sager’s work has been shown internationally from Hollywood, California to Yokohama, Japan and can be found in both private and corporate collections. His paintings have been seen in print at True/False Film Fest and in the publications of Persea Books, New York. Sager resides with his family in Columbia, Missouri. 



Joel Sager brings to the September Exhibit a new series rooted in folk art and replete with emblems of Midwestern sensibility. In each piece, Sager sets his cast of subjects in a foreground that seems at the edge of wilderness, the wild and the cultivated sharing 2-dimensional space in a composition almost decorative in its level of arrangement. Soft rendering pulls the featured subjects just a bit into a sense of three dimensionality without intending full realism.  A tomato plant, a Missouri grandmother, the drape of a Buffalo plaid on a horse - these seemingly quite particular subjects have been conceived in actuality as archetypes, drawing from the well of Sager’s own Missouri roots, memories, and paradigms of place, but most importantly from his imagination. Just beyond each scene, any sense of civilization dissolves into mystery.





Backlit with the remaining twilight above a wooded expanse, a structure looms, weathered and still, as if discovered by chance on an evening walk. Drawing on the results he’s achieved in previous series, Joel Sager has developed and accumulated a combination of techniques that allow him to approach familiar domain with fresh effect. The masking of negative space and painterly, subtractive process he employs in his latest work contribute to a play of presence and absence, and speak to the origin of each subject in the artist’s imagination rather than historical record. Like the subject matter of much early American folk art, these forms are archetypes rather than direct representations that aim for accuracy, and serve a composition and mood above all else.



Joel Sager has returned, time and time again, to the Missouri landscape that so many of his viewers recognize. Midwesterners know well the scenes presented by each of our seasons - the tenderness of spring, the saturation of summer, the crisp anticipation of fall, and the eerie stillness of winter. Sager has brought us each of these at times, but finds especially in winter the resonance of a mood present through so much of his work: something like nostalgia, the acknowledgement of loss and darkness present even in the midst of great beauty and familiarity. The land is a constant, holding history but existing independent of it, and Sager’s winter landscapes are appropriately haunting, seemingly softened by atmosphere and time.



Constantly active in the studio and producing 3 - 6 series of artwork each year, Joel Sager regularly adapts, reinvents, and develops the drawing and painting techniques through which he captures subject matter with a signature darkness-tinged nostalgia. Often, the subjects themselves take viewers a long way toward the emotion Sager seeks to elicit, reminding them of long-past memories, familiar landscapes, or inherited objects laden with history and the weight of the passage of time. In his newest body of work, Sager strips away reference to the recognizable subjects of previous series, leaving himself with color, form, composition, and surface design as the only avenues to the sensibility he always seeks. A bold experiment for a known representative painter, Broken Garden is a wordless, subjectless appeal to the emotive, intuitive region of the mind.



No stranger to fraught portraiture, Joel Sager derives his most recent subjects from historic mugshots. The prescribed format of these photos, along with the context of their origin, overlays the presence of an unwitting model with an implied narrative. The subject’s story is boiled down to an image in a record and the expression on their face. The presence of pattern and selective rendering make these works undeniably drawn, distinct from the source photos, and elevated by the tenderness with which they are revisited. Antique frames further this recontextualization, turning the historic characters into endeared ancestors, at home on a mantle of family photos.



Joel Sager’s recent series of monochromatic landscapes in sap green and black ink capture the tornadic, saturated atmosphere of Missouri in spring.  While the images can verge on photographic representation, following naturally from a previous series referring to antique postcard imagery, these scenes are the product of memory and imagination. Without a specific referent, the imagined locations somehow become more familiar, housing more than the component foliage, ground, and structures and blooming into the realm of the nostalgia and emotion associated with a remembered scene. Sager’s facility with ink on paper allows a balance of control and the relinquishment thereof, at once precise and unruly.



Joel Sager’s most recent work brings new technique and presentation to familiar subjects. Each individual landscape takes form out of the bloom of black ink on wet cotton paper, with a sense of atmosphere and mood. Every piece can stand alone, but Sager has brought together the entire body of work in an installation that invites participation in an imagined narrative, the viewer becoming the discoverer of a collection of images–akin to postcards, postage stamps, or pages of an album–with an implied but unknown history.  


(note: not all works photographed)


Albums from the Attic, a new series by Joel Sager, represents the continued exploration of a theme: stark and romanticized depictions of the Midwest landscape presented as an observation which could be described as both bleak and sanguine, in equal measure.  Each piece is an original, painted on the highest quality 150 pound cotton rag paper with limited media of ink, salt, and water.  You will find within the albums a variety of imagery ranging from the maelstrom of imagined tornadoes to more peaceful pastures of fog and fences.  While the paintings certainly depict a familiar somewhere, they are absolutely nowhere in particular, drawing on quintessential elements of what one might see every day.  This is true also of their temporal setting, feeling simultaneously historical and new, a fiction of found imagery that connects the viewer to place and atmosphere.  



Miniature Landscape paintings by Joel Sager, available now.


While watching old movies, Joel Sager was inspired by the superficial compo- sitional divide between foreground actors and backdrop setting. Working from inherited and found antique photographs, he has superimposed highly-rendered graphite and ink portraits over invented background scenes that open the entire piece up to interpretation through context. The highly-restrained use of color in the recurring red rose connects the individual works both visually and conceptually. Titles divulge a hint of suggested narrative, but viewers are left to further imagine the character and his or her era, place, and story. 


2017 Late Summer Exhibit

New, narrative portraiture by Joel Sager draws heavily on early American folk paintings, balancing warm rendering of some features with an intentional flattening and skewed perspective in other portions of the composition. Gazing out at the viewer, each subject embodies an expressive role and a connecting point to a larger story, hinted at through the inclusion of peripheral objects, animals, and accessories. Representation in this work favors the decorative over the realistic, and allows us to contemplate the potential symbolism of sometimes incongruous items and expressions. Ever-present in Sager’s figures and portraits is a tinge of something sinister, lest we be led by the beauty of a traditional method to feel a rosy nostalgia. A rich, odd narrative lies just beneath these highly composed, imagined portraits. 



Joel Sager’s new landscapes in oil, wax, and tar, saturated with the rich, verdant hue of freshly-cut grass, convey an impression of time, season, and even humidity, that reaches beyond the visual. Actually matching pigments to wet grass clippings, Sager aims to capture the saturated atmosphere at the start of Missouri’s summer. He plays with opacity and relativity of color, placing deep, layered green and violet at one end of the value spectrum, and waxy cerulean and chartreuse at the other. Details are omitted in shaded areas at woods’ edge, but with no sense of depth lost in the silhouetting of his foliage. These scenes are at once general and specific; they are imagined landscapes with no exact referent, but they will feel particular and familiar to any Midwesterner who’s been outside in summer as light fades and twilight is suddenly realized.



This spring, Joel Sager continues the thread of his previous two series with new, illustrative vignettes in ink and graphite, atop found objects and in antique frames. Where the first of these bodies of work mimicked sinister storybook illustrations and the second focused on allusion to nautical motifs, this newest series zooms in on individual characters, presented almost as cast members from a circus. The limited use of banner text both roots the subjects in a vintage fair setting and subverts viewers’ expectations a bit, turning everyday people, traits, and objects into icons. Sager pokes fun at stereotypes via pun and exaggeration in these works, yet with an attentiveness that reveals a little nostalgia and tenderness for the subjects.



In this series of ink and pencil drawings on found objects and paper, Joel Sager refers to nautical iconography while building a sense of narrative. Like his previous series, these works seem to be illustrations disembodied from an antique tome, the sense of history aided by the incorporation of found, vintage objects. The combination of tightly controlled ink line drawing and tattoo-like application is supplemented with graphite gradients, so that the finished composition, while alluding to other processes such as etching, mezzotint, scrimshaw, and tattooing, has a value range and line quality not quite achievable with any one of these other media. 



In his newest series, Joel Sager has created illustrative vignettes in ink and graphite, atop found antique photographs and ephemera. These substrates alone do much to elicit nostalgia, but Sager builds on the history of the object-surfaces with drawings that evoke, via both style and subject, a sense of aged, storybook wisdom. The narrative illustrated is none of an extant text, but from the artist’s imaginations associated with his found objects and images. While whimsy is certainly not absent this series, the drawings are actually vessels for something a bit sinister, akin to the Grimm Brothers’ allusion to darker human tendencies embodied as wolves or witches.



In his latest series, Joel Sager brings a new combination of media and technique to familiar subject matter.  These rural structures are built via meticulous collage atop mixed-media landscapes of painted photo-transfer, lending the entire composition a sharpness of focus, with precision reminiscent of early photographic processes. Just as the barns of the Missouri landscape that were already weathered when Sager’s generation explored them as children, these structures are visibly aged and deteriorating, housing literal and figurative decay and mystery. Like much of Sager’s work - and like memory in general - these scenes are tinged with darkness that hints at loss and questions our ability to hold on to the past, even when it is captured in an image.


2016 Late Summer Exhibit

Joel Sager returns to portraiture in his latest series of oil, tar, and wax paintings.  Executed on wood panel, like cathedral altar pieces from the middle ages, there is a static quality in each subject’s pose, reminiscent of early depictions of Adam and Eve.  However, vitality is compensated through exaggerated features: rosy ears or glassy eyes.  The models are expressionless in profile, and have been captured in a moment of contemplative vacancy, but in this vulnerability the viewer cannot help but seek to glean insight into the psychology or mood of the subject.  A solitary depiction of a butterfly serves as a tandem visual element to each portrait.  While they are an aesthetic garnish for the series, their context is equally as important as any of the model features, each a preserved specimen of tenor and vignette.  



Joel Sager’s latest series is an obvious nod to early naturalist renderings of flora and fauna, but with corresponding detritus found along the way wryly included within each image.  With a folk art feel and emphasis of design over spatial perspective, the oil paintings have been rendered on parchment and then shellacked with sailboat varnish to wood panel, adding another layer to the sense of enshrined anachronism.   Environmental implications aside, they are documentation with levity and an inspired display of the line so often blurred between art and science by way of methodical observation.  


2016 Spring Exhibit

2016 Late Winter Exhibit

2015 Winter Exhibit


2015 Late Summer Exhibit