13 March 2013

Showroom Model: For Display Purposes Only

I once had one a lot like this. Had it for many years, put it to a lot of use, so it had quite a patina on it. Mottled with patches and blobs of impastoed paint caked along the lower brace. Multicolored skeins and drips, layering one atop the other many times over. Each layer, each drip told a story, referred back to this or that specific work that was created on the thing. The phase when I was big on using lots of neutral and earth tones. The later phase when I used a lot of solvents, going for for lots of washed-out "atmospheric" effects. Referring to a particular stages in my artistic development...back in the days when I used to do that sort of thing

Lots of stories tied up in the thing. Like the time I missed what could’ve been my big break. Had landed a show at a downtown gallery, my first solo exhibition. A noted art critic – widely read and respected by his peers and readers alike – had agreed to review it. I figured that this was to be my ace in the hole, because I knew he was in corner, very much liked what I was doing. Not that I expected it to lead to sales right away, but a good review from him would’ve definitely paid off in the long term, would have generated ample interest in my work. But en route to the show, he and his wife got into an argument in the car, which led her to accidently steer into oncoming traffic, which put them both in the hospital with minor injuries, which meant that he missed the show. Sure, a couple of reviews appeared, but they were each written by some piddling, unimaginative hack who wrote for local publications whose readership couldn’t give a shit about art and therefore never bothered to read the art reviews section in the first place.

Or the one about the big show that took place not too many months later. It had been in a new gallery space in a huge semi-raw loft space, recently opened by a partnership of local aspiring art scenesters. The opening was a fairly big to-do and a lot of people showed up. It was a good mix of work, and my own was hung with a couple of other artists who were well established on the city’s art scene. A lot of paintings sold that evening, including three of my own. Turned out one of the partners who’d been brought in to open the venue had claimed he had considerable financial backing on the venue. Thing was, he didn’t – he had lied about it all. So to cover his ass, on the sly a couple weeks later he booked a clandestine late-night rave in the space, hoping to pass off what he raised on door admissions as the promised fiduciaries. Of course, the other partners in the venture found out about it later, because a number of paintings hanging around the place were damaged or destroyed by the attending revelers. Including four of my own, three of which were the ones that had been purchased. Which proved to be neither nor there, since none of 'em had yet to actually write out a check or anything.

Shortly after that I got an agent. She worked some connections and got me into a gallery that had a pretty decent roster -- lots of big names. So many big names, in fact, that I became something of a "backroom artist." And by that I mean the sort of of backroom artist whose stuff never comes off the shelf back in the storage cubby, because the big names stay up on the house walls all the time. So that proved to be the potential score that went absolutely fucking nowhere.

I guess I should've reckoned early on that it wasn't going to go anywhere. Back when I was first starting out, and I sought to score an assistantship under a renown German artist whose work I was very taken with. He'd come to town for an exhibition, and I approached him at a party after the show's opening. I made my pitch, told him I thought it would be a great opportunity -- if he were willing -- to work in his studio. He was evasive, I felt really awkward, as he was standing about with a number of admirers and associates, knocking back some beers. When I could tell that my effort had hit a brick wall, I changed the subject, asking him if his work was as well-received in Europe as it was here. He grimaced and said that European audiences were different. They'll be polite to your face, he told me, and then once your back is turned they'll "get drunk and tear you to pieces." A friend later told me that once I'd left, the artist and his friends proceeded to do much the same to me -- mocking me as soon as I was out of earshot. That they'd snickeringly dubbed me "painter man." Apparently I had been naive in more ways than one, had misunderstood the nature of his work. Yes, his work consisted entirely of painting, but apparently -- in the end -- it wasn't painting, had nothing to do with painting, was a wholly different enterprise. Theoretically, at least. But I was too young to get that at the time. He thought painting was a trite, obsolete, and moribund mode of artistic production; therefore what he was doing wasn't really painting. He was just painting condescendingly.

Like I said, lots of stories. About setbacks, betrayals, personal failures and shortcomings – all sorts of other things I could tell you. Stories prompted by that easel I had, if I still had it. But fuck it, who cares? Not me, not since I gave it up. Put it all behind, and found something else to do – something less chancey, something more reliable, more lucrative.

No, I don't have the old one anymore, thank god. Too many memories tied to it. Got rid of it some years ago. Donated it to the art department of a local university, who were happy to take it. And then recently I got this one. Yes, the old one originally only cost me about eighty dollars, and this one cost me over 2K. But this one is better. First, it doesn't take up as much room as the old one I used to have (I used to like to work large), so it much more easily fits in this space nicely.

The other advantage to this thing is that I have no personal connection to it. I had nothing to do with any of the paint that you see smudged and slung across the thing. Somebody else -- probably some low-waging schmuck in a warehouse somewhere -- did all that. It arrived that way, readymade.

Which is good, because I don't really like talking about myself, anyway. Never have. Maybe that was part of my problem, why I was doomed with that prior enterprise of mine from the start. Because that sort of thing can be a handicap in certain lines of work, especially ones where you're frequently expected to schmooze and to – y’know – "sell yourself" and that whole rigmarole.

But they’re right, it does make for a good conversation piece. I suppose I could put something on the thing, but I like it the way it is – just standing there like that. I like the way it calls attention to itself. I like that, in the way it calls attention to itself, it seems to be saying something about what I do. Except that it doesn't. The only thing it has to do with me is that it's something I bought.

There's pretty much a similar story behind that antique Underwood manual over there on that desk. Except that I damn-near flunked the typing course I took in high school.

So, what can I get you to drink?

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