Lisa Grossman Commission / Women Artists

Lisa Grossman, Study, Oil on Panel

Well, it looks as though one of my corporate clients is about to commission Lisa Grossman to execute a mural-sized work in oil. Lisa’s not with my gallery, but with Dolphin, which is one of the most sophisticated galleries in the Midwest.

Why do I dig this? She’s an exceptional landscape painter who is more abstracted than literal, she understands the power of understatement, and she’ll have a prominent position in the collection–sending a positive message to women artists of all ages. Also she’s a fine gal.

And those are some of the reasons why I dig this.

Excerpt from Cool Nation

This is the ninth section from the fourth chapter of the novel. All other excerpts are on the sidebar.

Lives Forming

On occasional Sundays at different times of the year we would drive to St. Joe to visit Cary. The drive through the Missouri hills and the little Missouri towns was cheerless�not because of the landscape, which was beautiful, but because of where we were going and what it meant. Mom�s characteristic quiet would deepen as we neared the asylum, Dad�s tough veneer soften, and we�the children�would fall silent. We knew that this was not a time to ask for favors, or to tell them that we were hungry, or to argue among ourselves. This was a time for silence, and silence only.
Then we�d get to the town and drive among its Depression-era buildings and bungalows, past the house where Bob Ford shot Jesse James, past the gloom and squalor of the bottoms, and finally up the hill through the gates of the asylum, its well kept grounds and Victorian buildings, where pajamaed inmates roamed the lawn with their orderlies and nurses.
In the main building we would wait in the high-ceilinged lobby, and listen to the distant grunts or shouts that emanated from far-away rooms, and watch as occasional drooling patients went stumbling past in the company of a nurse. If the patient were a man he might stop and stare at Stephanie with animal hunger, and if she was pissed she�d stare back, or perhaps just turn to me and whisper, �God let�s get out of here.�
Finally, after however long, Cary, with his flaccid body and pale flesh and dark-ringed eyes, would come down one of the corridors with an orderly and be turned over to us. Mom would kiss him and Dad would shake his hand and say, �Well, you�re looking good,� and Cary would smile his little kid smile and say he was feeling good, and then in a tense, bewildered group we would go out the door and across the grounds, maybe to go for a walk or on into town for lunch or for a drive to the river.
It�s not as though Cary was much like many of the others in the asylum. He didn�t grunt or drool and he was never, that I know of, stuffed into a straitjacket�although you could never be sure of what went on there in the maddening hours of night. He was coherent most of the time, and was always kind and never cruel and not without a form of intellect. Why then was he there? Only because he couldn�t make it out here. His black depressions, his hallucinations, his jumble of insecurities, his having been rejected at first by girls and then women and at last by society itself, all brought down on him a weight that, when combined with his schizophrenia, left him without a place where he could fit into our world. He simply couldn�t find anywhere to fit, just as in his own way Jackie couldn�t either.
But Jackie faked his role through bluster and bravado, where Cary faked nothing. He didn�t know how to play the role, any role; didn�t even have that basic talent that most of us fall back on each day in pretending whatever it is we pretend. And so time after time, after supposedly having gotten well, he would be released and take some dismal job and get an apartment downtown, and stock it with his comic books and TV dinners and Playboys, and try again to fit in, and sometimes it might even last a year. Then my parents would get a call from a landlord or a doctor or maybe even Cary himself, and if it was he would be sobbing and saying how he couldn�t do it, he couldn�t do it, and gravely Dad would nod and say he�d be right there, and go get him, and recommit him, and the whole thing would start again.
I never would have guessed then, at age eight, that fifteen years later Dad and I would go back to that same asylum, back to those same echoing halls, to accompany my brother�s body to Kansas City, and arrange the funeral, and then accompany the body to the Durrand plot in the Ozarks, where four generations of our people�Civil War veterans, tough frontier women, wealthy landowners, white-trash miners�were buried, and bury him among them, and say thanks that finally he was at peace. Of course you can�t guess those things, or alter the harshness of the day when finally they�re realized. I don�t doubt it�s better that you can�t.
But on occasional Sundays we would drive to St. Joe to visit Cary, and after an afternoon together leave him there, then drive home again, the tension in the car thick, Mom�s melancholy like a cloud above us, Dad forever wondering what he had done wrong, and no one able to do a damned thing about it. That was my oldest brother�s world. I loved him, but even as a child I was grateful that that world wasn�t mine.

Our stacks of forty-fives grew until forty-fives were no longer enough, and we graduated to albums: The Turtles, The Temptations, The Animals, The Mamas and the Papas. Our lives were dominated�you might even say controlled�by music. The record player in the girl�s room, the record player in the den, and, when were lucky, the big Hi-Fi in the living room: a massive piece of veneered furniture that we always turned up louder than we were supposed to. Then there were the radios, with the fast-talking DJs and the never-ending roll of hits and shows like Make it or Break It or the Top Ten at Nine or the Top Forty Countdown. We knew all the songs and we sang all the songs and it seemed there was rarely a moment when the music wasn�t jamming.
In the car Stephanie was faster with the buttons than anyone, Mom learning to tolerate it as she switched from station to station, skipping the ads, forever searching for just right the sound: The Byrds, The Buckinghams, The Association, The Monkees, all bands that Mom didn�t mind and some she even liked. But when The Doors or The Stones or, later Hendrix came on, Mom would tell her to change it or turn it off. Those were bands that frightened her, although she didn�t know exactly why.
Whenever Dad drove we listened to his Easy Listening music, and that was it.
One night though, not long after Help! came out, when we all were home and a fire was roaring in the fireplace and Dad was in his easy chair, reading, Stephanie talked him into letting her play the album on his stereo. He�d just taken a bath and was in his robe and his hair was still wet, and as he sat and watched us dancing across the room you could see the love in his eyes: we playing music he detested on his big Magnavox, he just sitting and watching as we danced.
Allen and I didn�t dance so much as shook. The girls though had all the moves down, with just the right motions of hip, leg and arm. They got them from watching shows like Hullabaloo and Shindig, which they studied with the intensity of worship.
While we danced and spun Stephanie whispered something to Jean, who whispered something back, they ran upstairs, ran back down, went behind Dad�s chair, and began combing his hair down until it covered his eyes, more or less in the mode of John Lennon. He sat there with the hair over his eyes and all of us shrieking and Stephanie running off to get Mom and bringing her back, and Mom sitting down and laughing at the sight of him, then Stephanie and Jean pulling Dad onto the floor and saying dance dance, and he breaking into something that was a cross between the Jerk and the Pony, and Stephanie saying no no, like this, and trying to show him, then finally he sweeping her aside and grabbing Mom and pulling her onto the floor as �Yesterday� came on, and the two of them, Mom somewhat embarrassed, dancing a ballroom step across the room while the rest of us watched.
It was a silent moment for them, and you could see it as they left us behind, going back to a place that was theirs alone, that no one else would ever touch, that maybe was gone now but still was alive back there somewhere, and in that sense still whole and warm and strong. They danced the entire song that way, looking only at each other and completely forgetting us.
Then �Dizzy Miss Lizzie� came on and it was rock and roll again, and they retreated to the sofa, holding hands as we broke up the room. The girls tried to get Dad to dance again but he wouldn�t. He just sat there holding Mom�s hand, sitting in a way that they hadn�t sat in a long time.
You�d never think music could do things like that, but it could, and did.

James Woodfill / Keeping Things in Perspective

James Woodfill, Sky Line,, Sulgrave Corporation, Kansas City

I don’t know if it will transpire this year, but I’m certainly hoping to work with James Woodfill on an installation of one of his light sculptures. The one at left crowns a condo tower–The Sulgrave–on The Plaza. James is a pioneer in this medium, and one of the best. Besides, the dude’s a hoot.

I prefer that approach to the over-serious one. Sure, we’re trying to create exceptional art, but it ain’t like we’re making world history, or improving the lives of millions of the downtrodden. It’s only art, man, and while important to the evolution of society, it’s likely wise to keep things in perspective.

James Woodfill, Installation

Friday Tips For Artists: Your First Public Shows

JJ’s, Kansas City; paintings by Mike Savage

When I first started my art business in the basement of my house, in 1991, I had no public space for my artists. Did this mean that the work wasn�t any good? Of course not. I was happy with much of it, and grateful that these artists had entrusted me with their careers. The challenge was to get them public exposure until I could afford to open the gallery�which came two years later.

Consequently, I set up exhibits in corporate lobbies, upscale restaurants, and in the homes of wealthy socialites (which inspired Matt Kirby to remark: “Oh sure, we’ll get a bunch of rich folks and throw them through the door.”) I also entered the artists in select juried shows all over the country. The initial sales we made in the restaurants weren�t numerous, since no sales staff was on hand. To deal with that, I offered the wait staff a 10 percent commission on every prospect they brought me, which increased sales–not a bad beginning.

Please understand, displaying in venues such as these doesn�t make you look less credible. You�re in the process of establishing a following and collectors. Any appropriate venue is fine. After all, a gallery will look on you more favorably if you�ve sold several works than if you haven�t.

Regarding restaurants: These can work well for selling your art over time, but only if the lighting is good and the setting upscale. It also helps if the managers and wait staff feel genuine passion for what you do. Just make sure that you provide plenty of professionally laid out postcards printed with your contact information and, if possible, try to have an opening that�s listed in the paper. Beyond that, simply enjoy the gig. When done well, it can be a major step toward gallery representation. In fact, I discovered one of my best young painters–Allan Chow–in a Malaysian restaurant a couple of years ago. This turned out to be a very good thing for both of us.

Sure, you don’t want to stay in the restaurant-display gig too long, since this is only a step toward bigger things. But it can be a worthwhile step, which you shouldn’t shy away from just because the snobs look down on it. Snobs look down on everything, including each other. What do they know about making it as an artist? Very little. I advise you ignore them and do what you have to in developing your career. Please just make sure you have some fun along the way. The snobs will applaud you after you’ve succeeded; that’s how they work anyway.

Previous Friday Tips For Artists

High School Talk 4 / Consultation / Screenplay

Spoke today to kids in the art dept at Lincoln Prep High School, near 18th & Vine. I’m the teenager in the black shirt. Really dig this school. Great kids, dedicated teachers, exceptional programs. Place just hums with talent. I’m going to help them set up mentoring programs in a variety of disciplines, in the arts as well as business. Will also award some internships in various studios. Will also gang them with corporations for other needs. Expect it will go quite well.

The rest of my day? Consultation for a prospective corporate client, answered emails from a couple of overseas readers, completed appraising a civic collection, and helped draft some more legalise in a few contracts. Sick to hell of looking at contracts, but they’re essential.

Best part of the day? Working on the screenplay. Title: Trading in Souls. 2nd best part? Inspiring those kids. I know the latter should come first, but I don’t like to lie. Besides, the screenplay serves a similar purpose.

High School Talk 3 / Screenplay

Paseo Academy, photo by Don Wayne

This morning I spoke to a crowd of about 200 kids at the Paseo Art Academy. This is magnet school for the arts, part of the Kansas City School District. Some people might consider it Inner City, but to me it’s just another group of talented kids looking for a little direction. Talent’s the same whether in an urban or suburban gig; the only difference is the opportunity. I always try to bridge that.

So I spoke in this huge auditorium. Most of the kids were interested, some could have cared less. These were seniors just anxious to move on. I remember that feeling. But after the talk, a group of kids came up to ask about internships, as I’d suggested. And I mean internships that pay real money; none of this work-for-nothin stuff. So I got their names, and will set them up in studios over the summer that correspond to their discipline. That should be a good start.

Beyond that, what did I do today? Well the good part was working on a screenplay, the bad part drafting contracts, but you can’t have fun every day.

New Commission / Vernon Brejcha

Upcoming Brejcha Installation

This rendering shows a hospital lobby in which we will eventually install a very large work in blown glass, by Vernon Brejcha. Erik Beier and I will serve as engineers. The illustration shows more or less how the piece will look. Actually less: it will be far more colorful, more dynamic, more interesting. It’ll also weigh about 1000 lbs. This is just a rough illustration. I’m the guy looking out the window. Perpetual dreamer.

When I first took Vernon on, we couldn’t get these commissions for giving them away. He got discouraged, my assistants got discouraged, I got discouraged, I just didn’t show it. Now Vernon’s averaging four commissions a year. Sure, it took about five years to create that demand–backed by a lifetime of effort–but the key was to never say die, and never cease promoting him. Well, he deserved it.

Cardboard Cut-Out for a Client’s Site / Brent Collins’ Sphere

I know, when you’re doing a large project, that you can scan images onto images, or do a CAD scan, or some other kind of freaking scan to establish scale, and all that’s cool. But nothing beats, for my thick head, taking a piece of cardboard that is the approximate size of the work, and hauling it to the site.

In this case I won’t discuss the site yet, just suffice to say that this was the ONLY way I could be satisfied with the scale–acknowledging that the cardboard represents a mere part of the installation. What will it be? A sphere by Brent Collins, and yet not a sphere (hard to describe).

Now we’ll do the image scans. I’ll show what the piece will look like later.

Excerpt from Cool Nation

This is the eighth section from the fourth chapter of the novel. All other excerpts are on the sidebar.

Lives Forming

My older brother was moved to the Wornall Home for Boys that same fall. For fighting. For emotional instability. For the decision on the part of the school counselor that he needed a more controlled environment than they could offer. My parents, at their wits� end, concurred, this having been the third school to reject him.
Jackie had broken some other kid�s nose after being called loony by a ring of tormentors. He had also broken one of his own fingers in the process. The cast he wore, when we went to visit him at the home that Sunday, held the index finger in an upraised position, and laughing he later told me he wished it had been the middle one.
He showed us around the home, the room he shared with several other boys, the mess hall, the basketball court, his counselor. The counselor was a kind man, gentle and young, and he seemed to hold great hope that Jackie was like any of the rest of us, and that he only needed warmth and understanding. This wasn�t so much spoken as implied, but even at that young age I could sense it, and sense also the way my parents took it.
That counselor didn�t know Jackie yet, but he would.
As my parents talked to the man, and as Stephanie and Jean and Allen went over to the stables to look at the horses, Jackie took me for a walk. We went down to the banks along the Blue River, and in the red October grass sat and watched the brownish water curl past. He sat with his arms enfolding his knees, staring at the water, his muscles taut and drawn beneath the t-shirt. I watched him. We sat that way a long time.
�I never wanted to be crazy,� he finally said. “Never.”
His confessions often started with me that way. I don�t know why. He had been closest to Cary because they both had it, but Cary was locked up in St. Joe now. Jackie couldn�t confess to him anymore. Maybe he confessed to me because he thought I was the next best thing to Cary. Or maybe just because he thought I had it too, or one day would. I was too young to understand any of it though, except for the simple fact that he only needed someone to listen.
�You�re not crazy,� I said.
�I am. My mind�s all fucked up and I know it. You know it. So do they.� He jerked his head back, toward the home, the city, society, and everything that had scorned him. �I�m so tired of it. I wish it would just stop.�
But it wouldn�t stop. It would only grow and intensify and finally consume him, and I think he knew even then that that was the truth, and nothing would change it.
�Maybe someday it�ll stop,� I said, since at that age I still believed that anything was possible–as in some ways I still do.
�No.� Violently he shook his head and then looked up at the sky, blinking back his tears. �No, it never will. It never fucking will.� He looked at me with those eyes that never really seemed to see, never comprehend, never love, but that always wanted to. �Come on,� he said. �We might as well go back.�
We walked back up the bank and across the field to where my parents were cautiously listening to the counselor at a picnic table under the trees.
Later we said good-bye to Jackie, each of us hugging him, my mother hugging him especially long, then we drove away in the wagon, he waving to us from the drive.
All the way home Mom and Dad held hands, Mom looking out the window, sniffling, staring at the passing houses, saying not a word.
I heard her crying in their bedroom later. Stephanie and Jean heard her with me, and we listened as Dad talked to her in soothing undertones; tones that already I knew couldn�t change the thing that had happened, or prevent the things that were to come.
As they talked, the girls and I went outside to see the horses, and without speaking we bridled them and mounted and rode out down the drive�Jean and Stephanie on Shasta, I on Nancy. We headed for Indian Valley, and the creek, then the hills. Riding there wouldn�t replace our brother, riding there wouldn�t fix anything, but somehow it always felt as though it would.

�Not on our team,� Hastings said.
�But I don�t have any other team to join.�
�I don�t care. Not on ours.�
�It�s not your call, Hastings,� Seth said. Seth and I were always on the same team, as Hastings knew.
�It is so. I�m captain.�
Seth called then to Mr. Helms. So did Hastings. Helms looked over at us. He was a beer-gutted man, balding, once a football star at some junior college, now the enlightened guide of our school�s gym class�today, flag football. �What?” he said.
�Durrand can�t join our team,� Hastings said. �We�ve already got eleven.�
�We can have one player sit out each set of downs,� Seth said.
Helms looked at us, almost spitting tobacco out of habit, then remembering he couldn�t have any during class. �Durrand,� he said, �get over there with the greens.�
Seth started to go with me.
�Stay where you are, Drummond.�
Seth stayed, I went, going to a different team that already had eleven also but that was primarily made up of klutzes like me; the group of boys who hadn�t quickly enough joined other teams, or who had tried and been rejected. The slow, the weak, the uncertain. We would be slaughtered by Hastings� team, but those boys were being groomed for the school team, and Helms was coach of that too.
On the grassy field, bordered by poplars and overlit by blue sky, we played. The score at hour�s end was what you would expect it to be, and we were laughed and jeered and herded toward the locker room in our bond of inferiority, a bond we each needed as much as we resented.
There was nothing Seth could do to break that bond. He and I knew where he was ranked, and where I was too. It was established early on, and once established you were never allowed to forget it. That was your place, and if you let them they would keep you there always. Those were still the years when I thought they would keep me there always, when I felt I would be branded Loser for life. But life is long, adolescent rank fleeting, and justice if not always swift at least exacting. I would learn this later.
Even so, even now, still there is shock when, in some far away town or perhaps a town near yours or perhaps even your own, one of the weak or rejected is found hanging from a tree, or maybe just fished from some muddy stream. Or worse, when one of the weak and unstable, after a lifetime of being bullied, snaps and takes an automatic and clears out a hallway. Each time there is shock. In a culture that glorifies bullying, slaughter and firepower there is shock.
There was never any shock in that to us. You�d feel sorry for the dead ones, you�d feel sorry for their parents, but you understood the way those kids who�d snapped must have felt. I guess I always will understand it, though you’re not supposed to admit that. Sure I could identify with them; millions of kids can. But I wasn’t one for harming others, or putting a noose around my neck. If I did I�d just have to go through this whole life, and all of its lesson, again. I knew this even then, as I also knew that years of glorious joy awaited me somewhere in the future, if I could just get to them whole, and not let people like Hastings and Helms deter my progress.
Later, in the locker room, amid the clanging of doors and the exchanging of oaths, Helms passed me as I was changing, then he doubled back. I could feel him looking down at me.
�I heard,� he said, �about your brother. I heard he went to The Home.”
The boys around me fell silent, since any mention of Jackie always brought two reactions: first quiet, then fear.
I said nothing.
�It�s too bad. I used to have him, you know. He was good at ball.� Football? Baseball? Basketball? It didn�t matter. For Helms, life always revolved around some kind of ball. To be worthy to him, you had to be good at one of these. There was nothing else. Already he was mourning my brother�s loss, and trying to comprehend the scrawny kid who had taken his place.
I looked up at his blunt, unknowing face, but still said nothing. There was nothing I would ever say to him on the subject of my brother, or to any of them. It was none of their goddamn business.
�Tell him hello for me,� he said. �Tell him he better watch his ass or they�ll have him over there, and that ain�t no game those boys are playing.�
He waddled away on down the line, with urgings of, �All right, boys, all right. Put a move on it. Put a move on it now.�
Seth and I watched him disappear, then finished dressing.

Absolute Arts Column / Open Studios, Hobbs Building / Hopping Freights

The West Bottoms

Absolute Arts, a comprehensive website/blogsite/information-site for artists, ran another Column by me yesterday. I really admire their sophistication, and am honored that they asked me to bore their readers with the occasional post. This one seems to be getting pretty good response. I always dig the give-and-take of that.

Open Studios last night at the Hobbs Building down in the West Bottoms. Among the many fine works I saw were paintings in wax, by Keith Kavanaugh, and mixed media paintings on panel, by Dana Swedo Bernal. Attended with Richard Raney, whose studio is in an old loft across the tracks from Hobbs. He and I strolled through the Bottoms, crossed the tracks, toured the studios, I made some selections for clients, pilfered a beer, then we strolled back.

One of those mile-long freight trains had stopped, blocking our path, and the railroad cop who was patrolling told us he’d arrest us if we climbed over the train. We said OK, walked down the tracks 100 yards, and climbed over. My idea. Richard, as we were running, said, “Man, you’re posting bail if we get nabbed.” I said, “Sure.” Cop never came around. We walked back to Richard’s studio among skate boarders and revelers. A beautiful night.

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