Derrick Breidenthal Commission at MMG Worldwide

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A Long Day, Oil on Panel, Derrick Breidenthal 

In May I discussed the lobby of MMG Worldwide and their big blank wall.  The CEO had come into the gallery looking for abstraction.  I didn’t need to recommend anything, since he was drawn to Derrick Breidenthal.  This commission is the result.

How did we do it?  Derrick and I met with the executive, who told us what he wanted.  We recommended a size appropriate for the wall, Derrick executed three color studies in pencil, the exec chose the one that he was the most passionate about, Derrick painted it, the exec approved, and it was installed.

Sound simple?  It wasn’t.  The weight fell on Derrick’s shoulders, not mine.  But he has absolute confidence as a painter, and this client is a brick of a guy.  He understood that the best thing is to let an artist follow his/her passion, and to not dictate.  Frankly, most of my clients are like that–although with some it sometimes takes a little explaining.  But as long as everyone’s cool in the end, that’s all that matters.  

Steel, Rednecks and the Ozark Music Fest

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Hung structural steel last week with some local ironworkers. This is for the huge glass sculpture that I discussed Last Month. Can you guess where it is?

I hung the first beam with the ironworkers, since I wanted to make sure I was happy with the elevation/attitude. After all if the glass doesn’t hang right, it’s my fault. You won’t be able to see this structure from the floor; it’ll all be hidden by blown glass. Either way the steel guys cracked me up. Here’s a typical exchange.

“Where’s the chain-fall I left here yesterday?” I said, speaking to the supervisor.

“I don’t know. Some jackass took it.”

“Well, don’t you think you oughta find it?”

“Well I don’t know where the f—k it went.”

“Well that ain’t my g–amn problem. You guys are the ones running the show. Find the mofo. We can’t hang without it, and I damn sure didn’t rent it to give to someone else.”

“All right.” Supervisor looks over his shoulder to one of his grunts. “Go find the mofo.”

They found it. We hung the steel. All’s cool. Yeah, I know this is typical construction lingo, but somehow it works when we’re on site. We don’t talk that way off the job.

Bottom photo is of me with Art, their supervisor. Hell of a guy. Full of stories. Went to the Ozark Music Fest in Sedalia, July of ’74. In a Winnebago. I can just see that rolling party. 350,000 people. Music and mayhem. Eagles, Arrowsmith, Bruce Springsteen, etc. A lot of my friends went too, came back sunburned and strung out. Me? I went high diving with some buddies at a Missouri quarry called Blackwater. We were just 17, but had seen enough concerts and overdoses. It was better somehow to spend the weekend piercing clear blue water from the heights, and telling stories by campfire.

I think we’re going to call the sculpture Art for Art’s Sake.

Margie Kuhn at UKH

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American Sublime Dandelion, Watercolor, Margie Kuhn 

The pieces to the left and right are watercolors by Margie Kuhn.  We recently installed them at the new Cancer Center for the University of Kansas Hospital.  You know what’s crazy?  Everything on them is painted, including the masking tape.  Absolutely nothing is applied, or mixed media.  This is all watercolor.

I’d like to think of a way to describe that level of talent/discipline, but I’m not sure I can.

Bridges, Blades and Skipping Out

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On Friday I said to hell with it, canceled a few meetings, and took the kids to breakfast at the Bluebird Cafe over on the West Side. Great joint. French toast and omelettes. Then we went for a walk along Quality Hill, where I showed them the antebellum mansions, told them the early stories of Wild Bill, and the later stories of the Pendergasts, with their saloon in the West Bottoms. After that down to the rivers to climb our favorite railroad bridge. We’ve always liked the view from up top.

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Finally at 11:00 I decided it was time to work again, rushed through three meetings, a stack of correspondence, a couple of invoices, then split for the day at 4:00. Why? An old friend of mine, Tommy Geiger, wanted to go roller blading along the bike trails. So we put in 12 miles in 100-degree heat, and man it felt so much better than being in an air conditioned gallery.

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I like work, but I like skipping out too. There are times when I’ve had enough of this damned frenetic American pace, which I feel compelled to keep up with, but with which I grow more fed up each year–and that of course is my own fault. Either way, one day I’ll skip out on it altogether.

Friday Tips: Charity Art Auctions

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(Note: I wrote about this a year ago, but it’s worth repeating.)

All right, it’s late in the evening, you’re exhausted after working your day job, and now you’re working your real job–your art. No you’re not making much money from your art. In fact you’re likely broke, or close to it, with your credit cards maxed out and the debt rising.  But at least you have your passion, your vision, and the freedom to pursue it. So you’re pursuing it when the phone rings: some well-meaning dilettante (who has probably never experienced your level of risk and debt) wants you to donate a work of art to their School Auction, Public Television Auction, or some other kind of auction. They promise you great exposure, enhanced collectorship, and career advancement. Should you do it? No.

At least, don’t do it without setting the following rules:

1) You set the minimum bid, meaning that if the piece sells for $1000 on the retail market, it sells for no less at auction. If no one meets that price, it doesn’t sell.

2) You require that they pay you a percentage of the sale price to cover your expenses (unless you’re already well-off; in which case, donate away).

3) You make certain the event is established and well-attended before consenting, and that your contact information and website will be plastered all over the joint–in an understated way of course.

Look, these people mean well. What they don’t understand is how much damage they’re doing to the art world, artists’ careers, and the art market in general. How? Inevitably, in most of these auctions, they virtually give away the work, undermining the market, making you look like you don’t deserve real prices, and making artists in general look as though they don’t deserve any better. The exposure you typically get through this process is insignificant, counter-productive, and convinces everyone who attends that artists and their work are not to be valued.

Once you establish the ground rules, these folks will respond accordingly. They’ll also begin to better appreciate the realities of your life, the sacrifices you have to make, and the difficulties you juggle (not that ours are any worse than those of most people, but still they are quite real, and likely outside the scope of caller’s experience).

Artists are among the last people in the world to ask a charitable donation of in terms of money, although they’re often generous with their time. The dilettantes want a donation? Let them go to a local BMW dealership, law firm, medical practice, bank, or congressman. In your case, if they can’t abide by the above-listed principles, I advise you don’t participate–just be nice as you decline.

In my gallery, the word went out long ago that our rules are as I’ve listed, hence the only calls I get for auctions any longer are those that are worth our time, and which I help structure. I enjoy working on those events, because I know everyone will benefit. Otherwise I save my charitable donations, both in terms of time and money, for the seriously underprivileged. But this gig of well-intentioned socialites demeaning artists out of ignorance, indifference or pure naivete is something I ain’t got much use for. I advise you establish a similar policy of low tolerance.

Public Radio Interview Today, TV Broadcast Tonight

We’ll be interviewed this morning by Steve Kraske on KCUR’s Up To Date, we being artist Lonnie Powell, Block Project Manager Belinda Lower, and meself. Airs at 11:30, and will also be available as a Podcast. KCUR is of course the local NPR affiliate. You can listen in then later tell me if I screwed up.

Our film Art on the Block will be broadcast this evening on Channel 19, KCPT, at 8:30. It was praised reviewed yesterday by TV Critic Aaron Barnhardt. If all continues to go well, it should air nationally sometime later this year.

Now I gotta head downtown, climb a 40′ scaffold, and oversee the installation of some structural steel with a few ironworkers. This is in preparation for a huge glass sculpture we’re installing in Oct. Client doesn’t want me to discuss where it is yet, but all things in due time. Either way, beautiful morning to be rigging. I’ll wash up before interview.

Carol Granger and Her Latitude Series

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This sharp and understated piece was shot by Carol Granger in Florida a year or two back.  She took it after one of the innumerable hurricanes we’ve been cursed with since the Global Warming trend began–the one that “doesn’t exist” according to the current Administration.  I thought Carol’s take on the scene was hauntingly precise.  We’re fortunate that she’s joined the gallery.

Tom Bloyd and the New OP Community Center

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Here’s a shot of good old Tom Bloyd, in his 120-degree studio, after completing a few pieces for install next week at the Matt Ross Community Center.  I expect you want to know what he’s creating?  Well it’s birds of a sort, and yet not really.  And no, the interpretations are not sentimental.  This is one of those gigs where you have to appeal to adults, yet fascinate kids.  By the way that’s a nest lower right; a hawk by Tom’s left shoulder. 

I love summer heat: 90, 95, 100.  It’s great for Blading, jogging, swimming…  But man, to work in a glass studio all day at 120–you gotta be tough.  Tom is, though he doesn’t act it.  And that’s one definition of Cool. 

He’s assisted by his wife Julie, and Janine Daniels.  A very good crew.

A Boy in Uganda

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Last week Gloria Baker Feinstein clued me in to her Blog, and where’d she’d written about the boy above, Billy Bonny Tumusiime. He’s one of the kids we’re sponsoring at the St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in Uganda. Apparently the monies we raised from her show will pay for his schooling for one year, and that of a few other students.

Look at the dignity of this young man. The self-awareness. The obvious intelligence. Look also at how his journey has not at all been easy, and how quickly he has become nearly an adult. I’d like to believe we’ll able to sponsor him, and the others, clear to college.

Stories like his, from countries like Uganda, remind me that my years of sacrifice, struggle, and long hours–both as a writer and art dealer–have actually been a holiday in comparison.

Friday Tips: Letter From Academy Awards Foundation

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I got an interesting letter this week. The Nicholl Foundation, with The Academy Awards, informed me that my screenplay, Trading In Souls, has placed in the top 5% of 5000 scripts submitted. I didn’t know what that meant at first. Then one of my friends, a writer who encouraged that I enter, said, “Man, this is the most prestigious script competition in the world. You’re in.” Well, perhaps.

How does this relate to you, who create visually instead of with words? It has to do with the journey, and what you get out of it. Please let me explain.

I began writing short stories in 1980, in college. These were praised, but uniformly rejected by magazines. I wrote my first novel in 1983-84, and it was promptly rejected–with good reason. I went back to work, and over the next twenty-three years wrote six more novels, two works of nonfiction, and this script–adapted from one of my novels. Along the way I picked up a NY agent, then had to leave him when he grew inactive. I felt I could do better on my own, and managed to place Artist’s Life. This was a very good start.

How many times was I rejected over the years? 277. Did this depress me? Not as much as it pissed me off. I knew, at a certain stage, that my work had merit. My critics told me so. But because I had no connections, I got nowhere. Sound familiar? How many galleries have you been rejected from because you were an unknown? I can just guess.

But somewhere along the way I decided the journey was more important than the end result, so remained focused on the work, and living fully. It was my job to approach that blank page–or canvas–with the same passion each day, regardless of whether the work was ever recognized. After all it really isn’t about me; it’s about what I can give.

This achievement in LA humbles me, but whatever happens, the passion must remain the same. As artists, we aren’t born to this gig to work only for status and success, giving up if we don’t achieve it. Our nature usually won’t let us give up. We do our damnedest, with few of us “succeeding,” but giving our all is really what it’s about anyway.

I love that part of the journey. Living that way, I’ll always be able to look back and know I fulfilled my calling. Whether or not it’s recognized really isn’t my problem; my first job is to achieve mastery.

What’s the script about? A veteran of the current Iraq War who comes home wounded and suffering from severe PTSD, unable to pick up where he left off. Does he happen to be an artist? Damn straight.

So if you’re tired of being rejected, and don’t think you can take another bout of it, please let all that go. Just focus on the work, and see where that takes you. You may be surprised–provided you get it out there.