Artist, Sage Gallon Opens Up About Love, Death, and Drugs
Sage Gallon has overcome unimaginable heartbreak, trials, and tribulation. Now standing strong in his truth, he has more to share with the world on his terms.
Where did you grow up?
Sage: Well, that’s an interesting question. I’m turning 50, and I feel like I’m still growing up. I was born in Suffolk County, New York, a small town called Wyandanch, on Long Island. My parents were just kids when they had me.
In 1972 my mom was sent to a commune in Northern California, a place called Synanon. I moved to Synanon in 1974 after my father returned from Vietnam. When my father returned from the war, he was not the same – like many of the boys from his town. When he wanted to get custody of me, everyone thought it best that I move to with my mom.
I spent my formative years living in a Commune with 475 individuals from all walks of life. I knew who my mom was, but in this environment, she was not my primary caretaker.
Synanon started as a place where drug addicts would go to get clean and change their lives. My mom was sent there by my grandmother due to some issues mommy had. My mother lobbied hard to get me there, and I was one of the first of the “dope fiend” kids to live there. We lived as a family with acres of hills, wide-open spaces, a sky full of stars, and lots of adventures. Constructed with love, compassion, honesty, empathy, and togetherness is the foundation of who I am.
In 1979 my mom, stepdad, and I moved back to New York. We spent six months in Harlem, on 158th St. We then moved to Hampstead, Long Island, where I grew up.
Who inspired you to be a Painter?
Sage: I’ve always been fortunate to have some amazing and creative people in my life. My mother would get art supplies from her job and bring them home for me. My father was brilliant, broken, but brilliant; he was among so many other things, a fantastic artist.
I also have a dear friend who was a special needs teacher at my high school, Kim O’Quinn. Kim lived in the city [Manhattan]. I will go out there and stay on weekends. She’d take me around to all of the great museums, galleries, and art openings. Kim also introduced me to some great writers that have profoundly influenced my work.
James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, and Alice Walker, to name a few. Linda Sheer, my Art Teacher in High School, was also a great inspiration, and she also provided me with the only training I’ve ever had. Linda always challenged me to go deeper into seeing more.
Ansel Adams, James Baldwin, Herb Ritz all influence my approach and my work along with Vincent van Gogh and Basquiat, but the two KINGS for me are Geoffrey Holder and Gordon Parks. These two men are what I aspire to be.
In 1993, a good friend and mentor, Walter ONeal, took me to an art store in DC. Walter bought me a bunch of supplies, paints, canvases, brushes. I was in the grips of my addiction; then, I would sell the pieces I did for $5-$10, as much as I needed to buy drugs or food.
What was the first thing you painted?
Sage: When Walter bought me the art supplies, he dropped me off at the place I was staying in NW DC. I sat on the couch (where I slept), turned on MTV, and started to paint. Although I’ve always drawn, I was still afraid of painting. I thought, “If I make a mistake, I can’t erase it.” I’ve since learned that there are no mistakes. I finished the painting in about 30 min and called Walter. He came back to see it and loved it. I titled it ‘Blue Solitude.’
At that time, consumed with drugs, pain, and homelessness, everything I was feeling just poured into that painting ‘Blue Solitude.’
How did homelessness and overcoming a drug addiction change your life?
Sage: Wow, that’s a loaded question (no pun intended). So many ways is my short answer. Growing up as a child, I was a square. I got good grades, never got into any trouble, under student, Top 10% of my class, and prom king. Because both of my parents battled substance abuse, I hated drugs and alcohol. I didn’t smoke a cigarette until college. My introduction to drugs happened in my early 20s.
My descent into darkness was fast and epic. I went from having three jobs, my place in Brooklyn. I had great friends and danced all night at the Sound Factory, The Tunnel, Better Days to picking out of the trash for food, and being a prostitute (short-lived) in Time Square.
I met some homeless people that were squatting in an abandoned building on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. Panna, an older woman who was an addict, would try to talk me out of using, but I had money, so those talks would often not last long. However, it gave me a lot of insight into people and to myself.
Within the year, I became the very person I would have stuck my nose up to; the person others cross the street to avoid. Homelessness taught me humanity because that was the thing that all of the judgmental eyes tried to strip away from me. I try, in all of my work, to connect with that humanity, we are, after all, one.
Getting sober has been life-changing. I’ve not been perfect, though. This year for instants has been challenging. The court dates and conviction of a former friend, Jay Bennett, who broke into my apartment stealing all of my equipment, including my hard drives with all of my work, several friends dying, and of course, the most prominent body blow of my life, my mother dying.
I am lucky, though; I have a lot of good friends who do not let me stay in the darkness for too long. My Dad died at 47 behind his addiction. The truth is, I shouldn’t have made it out of my 20’s. “God, I offer myself to you to build with me and do with me as thou will.”
You lost your mother this year, our condolences. What do you miss most about her?
Sage: Everything!!!! My mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on January 23, 2019. We had gone into the hospital for a standard procedure on Monday, and she died on Wednesday. I’m so profoundly grateful that I got to be right there by her side through the entire thing. She was not alone and knew she was deeply loved. She did not suffer. It all happened so fast.
My mother was one of the most incredible people I have ever known, not because she was my mom; she just was. She had me when she was very young, still a kid herself. She faced so many obstacles, from being molested as a child to sexism and racism as a Woman.
My mother was a woman of heart; she extended it to everyone she came into contact with. Her hello would usually be a hug and kiss. Being you’re a homeless person or an A-List Celebrity, it didn’t matter who you were. I miss her heart, her smile, her brilliance, her support; I even miss our arguments. She sacrificed, gave, and taught me so much. I’m about to cry, so, next question, please.
New York or Los Angeles?
Sage: I LOVE NY, it is and will forever be my home. The energy, the Art, the music, the diversity and accessibility of New York is unmatched. Paris is close, though (I love Paris). Los Angeles is a great city, as well. I’ve lived here since 1997. Once I was able to navigate through that “Hollywood” thing, that weak handshake while looking over your shoulder to see who’s more important, thing… but when you find your center, and you find your tribe, LA is truly an amazing city. Besides, it’s always fun calling your East Coast friends while you’re heading to the beach in January, LOL!
Sage: I’m pretty active online. On Facebook and Instagram, you can follow me at Sage Gallon. You can also go to my website Instagram: @sagegallon. To see my music videos and short films, the best thing to do is follow me on my YouTube Channel, Sage Gallon.
When you are not painting, what else do you do creatively?
Sage: In 2012, some friends and I created a little film company. We purchased a Canon to shoot our skits. I ended up inheriting the camera. It sat in a corner for three months. One day I looked at it and thought I better sell it, give it away or learn how to use it.
At the time I had a convertible, I would drive around the streets of LA with the top down, the zoom lens on and photograph homeless men and women. I wanted to capture them, having been homeless myself, because I know how invisible one feels in that situation.
I shared the images with a good friend and mentor, David Stork, who is an incredible Photographer. David loved the photographs, and he gave me some advice that changed my life. He said, in his South African accent, “Sage, get out of the car. Take the zoom lens off and talk with these people. It’s only then you will capture the soul and not just the situation.” I did just that, and it changed my work.
From my Homeless Series, Matthews 25:40, to my Crack(s) Series and especially my Queens/Kings Series, shown at the African-American museum in Philadelphia.
I also write poetry. Funny thing too because I’m a horrible speller, LOL. I self-published my first book of poetry in the early 2000s, entitled “Naked Under My Clothes.” I wanted to take the reader on a journey with each poem meticulously arranged.
In 2015, I, along with my co-producers, DJ Donnie Boom and Rico Lucky, created my first Spoken Word CD, Naked Under My Clothes. I wrote and produced the first Videos for the project the same year. We have currently three videos/short films in the anthology to date, and we are looking forward to making “Naked” into a series.
My business partner and I are currently writing and developing several projects, including an animated series based on the Wu-Tang Clan as kids. We have a Feature Film project titled “Aurora.” I’m very excited. My dream cast for Aurora includes Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Cher, and Barbra Streisand.
I think artists never stop creating, and it’s essential for us to create in as many ways as we can, or else we will self district and die.
Do you do custom work? If so, what does that entail?
Sage: No, not really. Custom work is challenging for me. When I paint, it’s a spiritual thing. I don’t know what I’m going to paint when I step up to a blank canvas. So when doing custom work, it’s like painting with handcuff for me.
What is the start price for a piece of your art?
Sage: I sold my first painting in 2014 for $250.00, a watercolor — the most expensive painting sold for $12,000.00. Pricing depends on the pieces, the time, and the work put into them, as well as the emotional connection I have with the painting. It all depends is the short answer.