Messer’s postcards from sabbatical

Though he is currently on sabbatical in Southeast Asia, Associate Dean of the School of Art Sam Messer has been sending back to campus photographs of sketches he has made while traveling.
Though he is currently on sabbatical in Southeast Asia, Associate Dean of the School of Art Sam Messer has been sending back to campus photographs of sketches he has made while traveling. Photo by Sam Messer.

Though Associate Dean of the School of Art Sam Messer is currently on sabbatical, it does not mean he has quite left campus.

Since February, Messer’s office has been accumulating a paper trail documenting his travels through Southeast Asia and India, in the form of photographs of the hundreds of drawings Messer has completed while abroad. On a near-daily basis, Messer sends the photographs to video lecturer Johannes DeYoung, who has papered the back wall of Messer’s Green Hall office — which also functions as a micro-gallery known as “Sam’s Space” — with a rapidly expanding collage of the printouts.

The photographs serve as a record of the drawings he has done in the last two months, Messer wrote to the News in an email. He added that drawing and portraiture allow him to get to know the people and cultures he encounters abroad.

“Drawing is a universal language,” he wrote. “It opens doors that often would remain closed. … [T]he distance between myself and the people I meet through drawing quickly disappears and allows for a more intimate exchange. For me, portraiture is a collaborative act.”

Sam Messer

By approaching people in hopes of drawing their portraits, Messer has befriended, among others, a leper from the city of Varanasi in India and an 80-year-old Buddhist monk from Myanmar who barely survived an uprising against the military government over an increase in gasoline prices.

“After three months of drawing people in India, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, I have changed,” Messer wrote. “I am more aware. [Drawing] exposed me directly to lives totally different than any I knew before.”

While drawing is his way of learning about new cultures, Messer said he is not interested in keeping the drawings for himself. After taking a photograph of the sketch, he gives the piece to his subject, a habit he got into after seeing how much joy that gift gave the leper in Varanasi.

DeYoung said Messer’s humanitarian impulses show through in the photographed drawings he has received over the last two months.

“One of the amazing aspects of his work is his interactions with the people over there,” DeYoung said.

DeYoung said he has also received a number of video clips from Messer, which he has since placed on Messer’s faculty page on the School of Art’s website. This often-humorous footage includes such comedic gems that show Messer stuck in a narrow alleyway, or attempting and failing to pass by a cow with a defensive streak.

“He’s constantly sending me videos,” DeYoung said, who added that he suspects Messer does not sleep.

Lisa Kereszi, a photography lecturer who has helped take over Messer’s administrative duties in his absence, said she knows Messer as a prolific artist who is constantly in motion, drawing and sketching. Sitting at the desk in Messer’s office with DeYoung’s collage all around is like “being hugged by Sam’s creative energy,” she said.

Messer will return to campus this Thursday.

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