On Art – Jeff Sher

Last week I got an email from Bob Dylan. Not from him personally of course, but rather from his record company, who was kind enough to inform me, that Dylan’s latest video „Little Drummer Boy“ was being released and could be viewed on Amazon.com. I didn’t lose much time and headed over to Amazon, where I found some information as to the fact that the entire proceeds of Dylan’s new album „Christmas in the Heart“ would go to charitable causes, mainly to people who don’t have enough money to feed themselves or their families. I already own the album, but hadn’t spent any of my own money on it and so I felt bad for a while, because after all Dylan’s cause is a noble one.

Feeling somewhat guilty I decided I’d still watch the video, where only seconds later I found myself in the middle of an astonishing work of art. The video had been done by an artist called Jeff Sher, and it confirmed my long held belief, that Dylan knows what he’s doing. Not only that, but he also knows what other people are doing (right).

After all he’s made some great videos – „Subterranean Homesick Blues“ comes to mind – on the Album „Together Through Life“ he used photographies of Bruce Davidson in the clip for „Beyond Here Lies Nothing“. There wouldn’t have been any reason to doubt that Jeff Sher was the right choice.

I was really moved by the way he had made the clip, the way the pictures spoke to me, about what Christmas means to me personally. Which is not so much that it’s a religious holiday, but rather one where you get together with your family, reunite and have a good time.

Actually, I was so impressed that I started looking around on the web to find more information about Sher and a moment later, I decided that I would just go ahead and write him an email, to let him know how much I liked his video. I did that because I was thinking about my own feelings of satisfaction, when people who don’t even know me, comment on my work. I admit, I love that. And I thought maybe Mr. Sher would too. So I wrote him that email.

To my surprise he wrote back, only a few hours later and not only did he write back, he thanked me for complimenting him and was nice enough to share some insights into his work for the video as well as some very interesting details about his personal background.

His grandfather, he says, was actually from Vienna (Austria), which is where I’m sitting at the moment, but he had left the city right after World War I to emigrate to the US. He had worked as a barber here, but was apparently an extremely talented man, speaking seven languages. Unfortunately he died young and much of his life remains a mystery to Mr. Sher, who must have, however, inherited some of his grandfather’s talents.

Jeff Sher works in New York City now, he paints and he’s an experimental filmmaker. Successfully so! You can see some of his artwork on the New York Times Opinionater Blog, and not to forget, he’s responsible for the latest Bob Dylan video.

Mr. Sher was kind enough to share some photos with me (and with permission, the rest of the world as of now…) and told me a little bit about how it all happened. He’s admittedly a great Dylan fan, as am I, and he was asked to do the video for „Little Drummer Boy“ by the people working for Dylan. They told him that „he wants you to do what you do“, which actually makes me very jealous, because I continually find myself imagining how it would be if Dylan, or rather the people who work for him, told me something like that one day. Anyhow, Mr. Sher was left completely free in his choice of theme for the video. They only gave him five weeks time, which he spent painting picture after picture, which needed to be filmed, in order to create the video. Mr. Sher ended up painting around 2000 pictures, a workload, which is beautifully illustrated by the picture he sent along displaying all the paintings neatly stacked in his home.

Which makes one appreciate a work of art even more. Coincident or not, the fact that I live in Vienna and Mr. Sher having a grandfather who came from here, more so, the fact that he actually came here himself in 1969 and still remembers the morbid atmosphere of the town (nothing has changed…), the wine, the old master paintings at the Kunsthistorische Museum, and apparently to this day fancies the Austrian experimental film-maker Peter Kubelka, all that seems like it was made for being written here on my blog. Dylan meets Sher meets The Sandworm. A Christmas Carol.

More information about Jeff Sher:

The New York Times‘ Opinionator Blog

Jeff Sher’s Website

Jeff Sher on Youtube

Jeff Sher on Twitter

Susanne, 13 December 2009

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