The Education of Paul Sahre – Part IV


Sandwiched between Dunkin’ Donuts and a driving school, it’s dark in the winter, hot in the summer, and always smells of coffee. An old refrigerator rattles in the corner. A water cooler stands wanly nearby. Desks are elementary school surplus, a million names carved into the tops, a million wads of gum stuck beneath. One room is the office, the other is the silkscreen studio. It’s just Sahre, his Boston Terrier, Sid, and his intern, Joon Mo Kang, a former student. Indeed the space looks like a Sahre op-art piece about potential; just superimpose the words In Progress over it to complete the point.

PORTFOLIO* was a 2,600 square foot, 3-year retrospective of Sahre's portfolio class at SVA. Assistant curators (and former students) included Lindsay Ballant, Jennifer Lew, Abigail Smith, Joon Mo Kang, and Brian Ponto.
An exhibition at a lower west side gallery operated by SVA in Manhattan. PORTFOLIO* was a 2,600 square foot, 3-year retrospective of Sahre’s portfolio class at SVA. Assistant curators (and former students) included Lindsay Ballant, Jennifer Lew, Abigail Smith, Joon Mo Kang, and Brian Ponto.

And that is the point. Sahre is a work in progress. His education is a work in progress. His career is a work in progress. His journey has just begun. The Office Of Paul Sahre (O.O.P.S.) has been open just over five years, yet it somehow seems longer. To Sahre, it’s all coming together … or coming apart, depending upon one’s perspective. “I’m exhilarated by the diversity of the things I am doing, but I’m leery about being all over the map, too. Clients want to know what you are—‘he’s a book designer,’ ‘he’s an illustrator,’ ‘he’s a teacher,’ ‘he’s an author,’ ‘he’s a poster designer.’ I am many things … is that good or bad? I don’t know yet.”

But, by most sane measures, Sahre is successful, or at least very busy. Publication design remains his cash crop. He’s also a regular contributor of op art to The New York Times, Washington Post, and Esquire. SoHo Rep Theatre receives a lot of his time and energy, and he helps the AIDS Institute of the New York Department of Health with publications rife with charts and graphs—“a good information organization challenge,” he offers.

He’s currently jazzed about a project with Marvel Comics, designing a book called Maximum FF about the Fantastic Four. He’s also designing a poster for the University of Minnesota’s summer workshop series, Design Camp. Boredom is not an issue for Sahre. But it’s experimental work that stirs his passions most.

Sahre's senior portfolio class st SVA
Jeremy Diamond performing “What is Difficult to Endure is Empowering to Recall,” in Sahre’s senior portfolio class st SVA.

Whether it’s on a silkscreen poster or witnessing it among his students, Sahre is captivated by experiences that bring him closer to the sense of exhilaration he felt at Kent State. Before he had a “real job,” that experience that made him realize that design was a calling, not a career choice. Just as his concept theme approach forces students to keep after an idea until they have tried to exhaust every possible articulation of it, Sahre’s idea of fun is to get the most out of a thing, to distill it to its purest, simplest, most concentrated form. Strong brew—not everyone’s taste.

“I have tried to give my students a taste of what I experienced at Kent State. There, I was responsible for figuring out what I was studying, why I was studying it, and where I was going with it. I stayed up many, many nights running on adrenalin. I took photographs, designed typefaces, made posters, and designed books. It was so fun and challenging. Since then, I’ve tried to return to that ideal, but it seems that everything afterward, especially the jobs I had, were not it.”


He has found “it” again. The education of Paul Sahre has come full circle. As a student at Kent State, he discovered his calling. As a cubicle worker, he lost it. As a teacher and volunteer, he is rediscovering it daily. “At SVA, if I could create a class in which the kids got a taste of the exhilaration I once felt, I figured they’d know how good it could be at least once,” he says.

In Sahre’s mind, that memory would be a place where they could return. The recollection would offer a refuge after other experiences—money, clients, disappointments, compromises, ethical lapses, dumb-asses, and mean-spirited bosses—had drained them of their passion. What Sahre discovered through all this was that he needed both Kent State and a shitty string of cubicle jobs, both the pain of Baltimore and the triumphs of New York. He needed them for comparison. Like Adam and Eve. Heaven and hell. Dante and Virgil.

Some need a map. Others need a companion. Others travel on pure instinct. Sahre’s lucky to have all three: a roadmap of past experiences, a brilliant new wife (Emily Oberman), and the courage to follow his heart. And he now knows one thing for certain: If you remain in the School of Life, you’ll get smarter, eventually.

“When you stop learning, you die,” Sahre says. “Right now, it all seems new again. I‘m not exactly sure where I’m going, but I’m going to get there.”