by Frank Merkling
The News Times –Modern Living Feature
Sunday, March 31, 1985
A month of St. Amand is about to begin.
An exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Michael St. Amand, a lively Danbury artist, will open today with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Housatonic Art League barn gallery in New Milford and run through April 19.
On April 21 an exhibition of work by the 7- to 13-year-olds St. Amand teaches at the New Milford Youth Agency will open at the same gallery and run through the end of the month.
After that, who knows?
“I am considering breaking into the New York City art scene,” St. Amand wrote not long ago in one of the detailed letters about himself which he is in the habit of sending around from time to time.
Call it chutzpah if you want, this kind of self-confidence carries the day.
And anyone who has seen the young artist in his lair can tell you that the self-confidence was hard won.
“I started out very angry,” St. Amand said in the living room of the second floor plus attic he rents in a house on a busy Danbury street, “because I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere with my pictures.
His art may be avant-garde but the straight, slight figure with pale blue eyes was put together in retro style – early Travolta haircut, a diamond in one ear, a big silver bracelet on one wrist, a Hawaiian shirt worn outside blue jeans. “But in my works for this show,” he continued, “all of them done during the past two years, I got out of my harsh mood and became soft again.”
The blue eyes gazed steadily at the listener even though St. Amand smoked one cigarette after another and preferred standing up to sitting down (“I’m very hyper”).
“That’s why the show is called ‘Ever-Changing Moods’ – because you keep coming down from the third world.” He didn’t elaborate.
In terms of painting, his own three worlds are surrealism, abstraction and multimedia.
The most recent works are spare and almost minimal mixtures of, say, acrylic with waterproof ink that make use of clear line and primary color.
Somewhat earlier are semiabstract canvases bristling with neo-expressionist ferocity, not to speak of elegant “industrial sculptures” made from junk and machine parts.
St. Amand’s guide to the surreal world was Alexander Shundi, with whom he studied for a couple of years at the Wooster Community Art Center in Danbury.
That was after he quit Danbury High School at age 15 “during the riots” in 1974, contenting himself with a certificate of equivalency rather than a diploma.
But the restless youth didn’t stay long at Wooster either.
“I walked in and found a bunch of old ladies painting still lifes,” he recalled with astonishment. “I was bummed out.”
“Later I went back and studied with Al (Shundi). I also took a sculpture class with Richard Klein and Bill Woody’s class.”
“I don’t believe in pieces of paper,” St. Amand summarized, alluding to his tendency not to complete courses and perhaps also to the fact that he was married last June but is separated from his wife. “If you work hard and keep pushin’…”
Certainly this artist has worked hard at his art—and keeps pushing it.
He’s been painting and sculpting for a dozen years and “drawing, like, forever.”
He supports himself by selling his work, teaching in New Milford and doing posters and advertising design under the studio name of Imagination Unleashed.
In St. Amand’s attic, along with an elaborate installation of toy trains, is a darkroom where he attempts to achieve crossover effects with paint on photographic prints.
He will even do drawings of people’s houses “if I have to.”
In all this he has been helped by what appear to be a battery of friends who trade items and services with him.
“Everybody brings me junk and I give a lot away,” St. Amand said, glancing around the room at the many plants, all of which were gifts.
“I go out a lot—I used to tend bar at places like the Red Lion in Ridgefield—and I know everybody in town.”
“I have my own staff of secretaries who get my letters out,” he continued, deadpan, “and a friend in Northville who makes my frames.”
The young man who knows everybody in Danbury was born there 26 years ago and adopted by a Robert F. St. Amand, a carpenter, and his wife, Renee, who is now assistant town clerk. He has a sister a year younger, likewise adopted, and predicts that she will be working with him someday.
St. Amand remembers that in Broadview Junior High School art class “they cast a body and I was the model.” By the time of high school, he says, he had pretty well taken over his parents’ basement.
He was starting to get into comic-book art and do cartoons and illustrations on his own, and he claims to have thought up the troll-like creatures he calls “Trills” before all those gremlins started populating Steven Spielberg movies.
He made buttons, worked the crafts-fair and flea market circuits, took a job at Levine’s automotive machine shop on South Street.
Most significantly, as it turned out, he went to work for the potter Howard Haas in Redding.
“Mrs. Haas—she designs jewelry as Heidi Wurlitzer—had all these art books,” St. Amand said. “I read Man Ray’s autobiography, the poetry of Frank O’Hara, a book on Paul Klee.”
“I wanted to do it myself.”
“I have a very high IQ,” he went on matter-of-factly, “You know the fine line between genius and lunacy? That’s where I am.”
“Anyhow, Man Ray (surrealist), Matta and Gorky (abstract expressionists)—these painters I like, I’ve also done a series of stoneware reliefs but they’re all gone.”
Not yet gone are a pair of paintings on concrete blocks, which decorate a staircase lighted by stained-glass panes, and a college he made out of rejection slips from comic-book publishers.
The young man has a sense of humor.
Necessity was the mother of invention also in “Fur,” one of his most impressive paintings.
Some of the same resourcefulness seems to mark St. Amand’s classes at the New Milford Youth Agency, whose executive director pronounces him “off the wall but sensational with the kids.”
St. Amand teaches there four hours a week and believes that is the first year the agency has had art classes.
“I try to show the kids different colors and techniques without their knowing it,” he said. “Once a week I take the sculptures they make to the Senior Center for firing on a kiln there.”
The exhibition that opens April 11 will include clay pieces by the preteens together with their colored drawings and watercolors.
“When the kids say ‘OK, you’re an artist, big deal,’ I whip out my portfolio and they go ‘Wow!’ I took them to the Paul Frazier sculpture show at the Washington Art Association last month and they went nuts.”
St. Amand said that as an artist he feels condensed and repressed in Danbury.
There are no galleries here to show work like his. Even the art books he borrows from the library are “out of it,” he finds.
He first exhibited at the Housatonic Art League, of which he’s a member, two years ago and sold every painting he showed—all six of them.
“I didn’t have enough pictures and I didn’t do enough to publicize that first HAL show,” he admitted. “I was still the young maverick.”
“Maybe I was scared of the publicity. I know when I’m ready to do things.”
In the meantime he has gone on to show his pictures at the Charles Ives Center’s Musical Fair America ’84 and to win a mixed-media award with one of them at the Richter Association for the Arts annual exhibition.
“The March 31 show will be very different,” St. Amand promised.
“Not only are there a lot of works but my friend Don Landers, who’s a communications consultant in Danbury, is sponsoring the reception and paying for the invitations. I’ll have champagne and hostesses, not just your punch bowl in the corner.”
Evidently the public-service announcements for the show on WXCI-FM, the radio station of Western Connecticut State University, start out by referring to him as the “the renowned artist.”
St. Amand laughs at this. On the other hand, isn’t he responsible for it?
“I feel very comfortable with myself now”, he acknowledged simply, after a pause and without arrogance.
“You know I did a high school class in Newtown a few years back. I was a nervous wreck—I went in with a couple of paintings and I even wore a tie.
“But by the time it was over the kids didn’t want me to go,” he said. “I think I really reached them.”
This artist sees a children’s book in his future, maybe printmaking. But first he wants to do some traveling.
“My goal is to get to France,” Michael St. Amand said.
“I want to walk down the 2-1/2 miles of the Louvre, to check it out. I want to pick up some history.”
“Ever-Changing Moods,” an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Michael St. Amand, opens today with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Housatonic Art League barn gallery, 74 Bridge St., New Milford.
The show continues Thursday through Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m., through April 19 The work of St. Amand’s students at the New Milford Youth Agency will be on exhibit April 21 to the end of the month, with the same viewing hours as above.