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Sam Gassman art exhibit set to open

BY LUCY TRANKINA | AUGUST 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Rorschach test is a psychological examination in which a patient views inkblots and describes what he or she sees. The inkblots have no meaning; the patient's interpretation is what matters.

This is the idea behind Sam Gassman's new art exhibit.

He will showcase his work through Aug. 30 in the Studio Arts Building. The opening reception will be 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 26. Admission is free.

Eleven years — that's how long Gassman has spent his summers working at the University of Iowa. His works have included metal sculptures, flags, and foam fabrics.

The flood of 2008 has shaped his newer work. The flood destroyed the metal studios in which he usually worked, forcing him into a new medium.

In discussing his new work, Gassman recalled advice he once received from a retired professor: "One day you will stop making these stupid sculptures. You don't have to make everything."

He is finally taking that advice and focusing on drawings.

The straight lines of a sketch fascinate him more than shadows. He has even reinterpreted Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper with an inkblot.

"You go to lunch with Sam, and he will have had 15 different ideas by the time dessert arrives," said Scott Smith, a theater writer, composer, and friend of Gassman's for three years. "It's a constant process, constant invention."

Gassman draws from right to left and then left to right. He scans a subject with his eyes and then draws the mirror image.

"Sam has a broader dream life than anyone I know," Smith said. "He streams his dream life into his work, so he's working on a conscious and subconscious level."

Gassman's art is influenced by the psychological phenomenon "pareidolia, "in which an insignificant image seems important. For example, seeing animals in the clouds is a type of pareidolia. The brain quickly identifies what it sees using very little information, and he creates his work with this idea in mind.

Smith believes there is no set way to interpret art.

"What you take away from it is what you get," he said.

Depending on his mood, Gassman works in dead silence or to the sounds of opera singer Maria Callas. The two extremes highlight his complexity: His artwork ranges as wide as his personality. He said he doesn't like "middles."

"Artists make art because they must," Gassman said.

He said he thinks art is created with a combination of hard work and luck, and he suggests people "try a lot and listen to yourself." He wishes more artists knew how to promote themselves, and he believes artists "make art for the whole world, not just themselves."

Gassman's advice for aspiring artists?

"Unless you're one of the miracle children of the cosmos, work hard."


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