From pop songs to ‘pop’ art: Carole Bayer Sager shifts creative gears

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Carole Bayer Sager could sit back and do whatever she wanted. Like, relax. But this woman who’s written for everyone from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder to Barbara Streisand says that isn’t in her constitution. What she wants to do at this point is to paint. At age 65, she’s about to have a solo exhibit at the William Turner Gallery at Bergamot Station. Her work: Giant, realistic depictions of snack foods.

I visited the diminutive artist at the studio she built for herself in her “backyard” in Bel Air. We talked about her artwork, and what compelled her to paint sensual close-ups of popcorn and peanut butter and jelly, but mostly we talked about creativity.

Kids delight by Carole Bayer Sager
Nice place to work: Carole Bayer Sager’s studio

As I sat with her, my brain flooded with memories of the many talented people I’ve known who couldn’t quite kick it into gear and finish anything–lofty goals, intentions proclaimed with bravado, but with no resulting work to show for it. Why does this one woman manage to focus and achieve in seemingly any medium?  Many people have talent, said Ms. Sager. What’s critical is the drive–and letting the inevitable rejection steel you to try again. Even before she hit it big, she managed to focus, while watching people drop off the scene: “I was writing songs while substitute teaching high school because I couldn’t stop writing songs,” she said. Meanwhile, girlfriends would stop writing to have families, and other collaborators would throw in the towel. She kept going.

Avalanche by Carole Bayer Sager

After winning a Grammy and an Oscar and writing hundreds of hit songs, even Ms. Sager’s friends wonder why she feels she needs to show her paintings professionally. It’s not, after all, like she has to make a living. Money’s not the point, she said. The point is the validation of putting your work out there and having it seen and appreciated: “This was a new process, to just close the doors and take a chance. I’m very grateful that I’m in a place where I can give back and do what I want.”

As for why the snack food, she isn’t quite sure. “I started thinking about ‘pops’ because pop was my world,” she said. “Why not blow some bubbles and photograph and paint them? For some reason, I painted Cracker Jacks along the border of the bubbles. That lead to popcorn, peanuts, every day tiny little snack foods. Peanut waste on a black background, zooming in so close you’re almost in a galaxy. Friends said, ‘What’s up with that? I don’t know why. Someone suggested because my husband Bob used to manage the Dodgers. I thought maybe it’s because I had major food issues as a child. I was a chubby child. These were off-limit foods to me.”

Popping by Carole Bayer Sager

What will she paint next? “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just going to show up.”

Through December 1st at the William Turner Gallery, Bergamot Station