We’ve an opening tomorrow night for Phil Epp. Postcard explains the theme, which is basically a celebration of the regional landscape. Yes, I know this is very Kansas, but man that’s where we’re from. Besides, dig the texture on that bull. Expect a packed house.
Installed this piece by good old Seth Smith at H&R Block. It’s on the executive level. He told me it was inspired by some sensual experience at Richard’s Lake (also known as Potter’s Pond), which is on the KU Campus, which I have some stories about meself, none of which I’ll go into. Titled “Richard’s Lake,” the piece is oil on panel, and measures 60″ x 30″. I love the passion and play of the painting. So does everyone else.
Our last day here. Head back to KC this afternoon, after brunch, driving out of the mountains and across the prairie in the sad sort of sojourn that return trips can sometimes be. But I’m going back to host of great projects, a great family, and a screenplay that I could not be more sure of. Mondays are nothing to dread; instead I look forward to them.
What do I love about Eureka? The latter-day hippies, the insanely steep and narrow streets, the Victorian architecture, the legions of artists, the shops and restaurants, and especially the Italian joint, Ermillio’s, which is up on the ridge in an old Gingerbread that’s never quite big enough for the crowd that fills it. Then when you get tired of the town, there’s always the mountains. But I never get tired of town.
It’ll be a nice drive home. We’ll stop by the George Washington Carver place and pick a few persimmons. Bittersweet too, if it’s out.
I don’t why I love Northwest Arkansas the way I do, but there’s something about the Mountains here that is slightly mysterious, somewhat inexplicable, and always comforting. Maybe it’s the caves, the springs, the rivers, the pines and oaks, and the way the wind sounds in the pines at night. It’s also the people. A laid-back place if ever there was.
We’re here for the weekend, where I was invited to jury a regional art exhibit in Eureka Springs. In return the sponsors put us up at the Crescent Hotel, one of my favorite hotels in all the region. The best part? When I was done with the jurying, I didn’t have to do a damn thing for two days straight. Given that I’m about to start the rewrite of a complex novel, that’s nice.
My fellow curator is also the future director of the Walton Museum, which will soon be built in Bentonville. That’s Walton, of Wal-Mart fame. Very curious to see how the museum turns out. He certainly seems the right man for the job.
Is this where I digress into a discussion of Wal-Mart, and all the Mom-and-Pop businesses that were sacrificed so the family could attain its wealth? Not just yet. I’d like to learn more first, and see what they actually do with the wealth. Hell, anyone can spend money: look at all the self-obsessed American boneheads with 15 houses, 20 boats, and 35 cars. It’s who and what you spend it on that counts.
This column is a continuation of my post fromï¿½June 9thï¿½regarding art fairs and exhibits, their occasional absurdity, their occasional usefulness.ï¿½ I hope you find it of use…How do You Learn About the Shows?
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ All states and major cities have arts commissions; many smaller cities have arts commissions.ï¿½ Most of these have listings of shows that are held in their region.ï¿½ Call or email the arts commission of the cities you’re interested in, and ask for a listing.ï¿½ Also ask to be put on their mailing list.ï¿½ Their mailings will keep you informed of upcoming shows, as well as of various commissions that may arise.ï¿½ Their websites often post similar information.ï¿½ You can also go to websites such as ArtShow.com, and see what tickles your fancyï¿½or not.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The College Art Association, which is represented on most campuses, can provide you with lists of sophisticated exhibits that occur nationwide.ï¿½ Many of these can be worth participating in, if only in the sense of adding to your resume and credibility.ï¿½ Investigate them, and decide which are appropriate for you.ï¿½ I’ve known of many artists who have launched viable careers by consistently having their works in juried exhibits, several times each year.ï¿½ Of course they researched the subject thoroughly, chose the venues carefully, and were persistent.ï¿½ This is sometimes difficult in the face of repeated rejections, but determination often carries the day.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ In the same vein, most cities have an artists’ coalition or association.ï¿½ These too will have listings of various shows, especially those held in nonprofit or cooperative galleries.ï¿½ These shows can be quite worthwhile in terms of meeting folks who can be of help to your career, such as established artists or gallery owners.ï¿½ Like anything else, these can also be a waste of time, depending on the show, its attendance, and how well you handle any opportunities that may arise.
Shows I’ve Doneï¿½
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ For the first two years that I was in the art businessï¿½in the early ’90sï¿½I worked at it part-time out of an office in my house.ï¿½ Because my artists were mostly unknown, and due to the limitations of my location, I made it a priority to place my artists in select out-of-state shows.ï¿½ I did this because I realized that local clients would take my artists more seriously if they knew those artists had shown in other regions.ï¿½ The adage that “the genius is always in the next town” bears true weight in the art business.ï¿½ Local collectors will almost never take you seriously unless you’ve had proven success elsewhere.ï¿½ And when the time comes to approach galleries, the same will hold true.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ So I sent out all those sheafs of slides (now discs) to various juries, and got my painters and sculptors accepted in shows in Chicago, Sedona, Denver, St. Louis, etc.ï¿½ As it turned out, getting them into the shows was the easy part.ï¿½ Making profitable use of the shows was another matter.
A Typical Show
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ One of the shows we did in Colorado was Sculpture in the Park, in Loveland.ï¿½ Loveland is just north of Denver, in a broad valley facing the Rockies, and has become a center for bronze sculpting and casting in the rebirth of the figurative movement.ï¿½ Believe me, you can find it all in that town, from the shallowest sort of kitsch to figurative pieces of true power and grace.ï¿½ And it’s all pretty much exhibited at Sculpture in the Park, from one end of the spectrum to the other.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ So I entered bronzes by Jim Brothers.ï¿½ His work was accepted, we loaded the van, and off we went across the plains, with visions of sales dancing like mirages before us.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The exhibit, as you can likely guess, is held in a park, with the sculptures displayed under a group of massive tents.ï¿½ We were shown where our corner was, set up, and I manned the booth while Jim did what he does best when not sculpting: he went off and drank beer with other sculptors.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The crowd began filing by.ï¿½ They filed by Friday night, all day Saturday, all day Sunday.ï¿½ I talked to several hundred people over the course of three days.ï¿½ Many of them took home photographs, resumes, business cards, etc.ï¿½ I later wrote each prospective lead, made the follow-up calls, and in general did everything I was supposed to do.ï¿½ Not a single piece sold.ï¿½
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ For the most part, the only artists who were selling were the established ones.ï¿½ While Jim’s work was every bit as good as theirs, and in some cases better, we were as yet unestablished, and because of this, his bronzes sat idle.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Ditto the shows in Sedona, Denver, and Chicago.ï¿½ Some of these shows were dismal affairs where almost no one sold anything, where the crowd filed by and the artists sat in their booths, staring out at the people while they stared back, a gulf of miscommunication separating us.ï¿½ After a day of that I would retire to my van, and try to sleep off the depression that these failures invariably brought on.ï¿½ Then in the morning I would adjust my attitude, say this is the day, and go back and do it again.ï¿½ And again.ï¿½ And again.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The fact is, I experienced no significant sales in any of these shows.ï¿½ Not until our last one, an impressive affair in Chicago, did we sell anythingï¿½a small bronze that barely covered our expenses.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ What did we get out of all that?ï¿½ Expanding resumes, for one thing.ï¿½ Experience, for another.ï¿½ And lots of fine nights with other artists, drinking beer and cursing our fate and having a great time doing it.ï¿½ All those shows, in light of this, were hardly a wasted effort.ï¿½ But by the time I did that last show, I realized I’d had it withï¿½ arranging exhibits in far-off venues, and dealing with prosperous “collectors” who underwent sticker shock at anything over $500.ï¿½ I decided that from then on I would run my own blasted shows, and that the only time I would move a bronze or hang a painting again would be in my own space.ï¿½ In 1994 I decided to open my own gallery.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ God help me.
In 1992, when Jim Brothers was an unknown sculptor, and I an unknown art consultant, we were approached by a businessman from Hannibal. He wanted to commission a monument of Mark Twain. I was fully aware of Jim’s ability–that of giving a figurative sculpture real soul. But this guy didn’t know monuments from funny books, and didn’t care. He just wanted a steal. We were broke, so when he made us a paltry offer, we said what the hell and took it.
This dude had a bad vibe from the start. I knew it. Jimmy knew it. We chose to ignore it. But when push comes to shove, those things always surface. They did with this guy too. Meaning, once the sculpting was done and we required a downpayment, he just wouldn’t write the check. Jimmy got pissed, I got pissed, and we both told him to go suck an egg. Well, we put it a little more coarsely than that. Look, a lot of great people come from Hannibal, and small towns in general; people with dignity, integrity, compassion. But this yahoo wasn’t one of em.
Jim went ahead and had the piece cast, being as big on Twain as I. Heck, we’re from his region. Then I doubled the price, and some fine people with the City of Hartford, CT bought it. Why Hartford? Twain built his mansion there, wrote many of his novels there, raised his family there, and eventually went broke there (an artist’s story if ever there was). It’s where the Mark Twain Museum is located.
Unlike the yahoo, the Hartford folks recognized the brilliance of the piece: its candor, its subtle bitterness and yet also humor, its coarse texture singing of the man’s character itself. They had one hell of a dedication, and we had one hell of a party. Oh the stories I could tell about that. Moral? When the rich folks don’t know how to behave, find others that do. Patience pays dividends.
Not long after we finished that piece, the big commissions began to roll in–spurred of course by several thousand hours of marketing. Well, that was my job. Easy compared to Jim’s.
Ok, so my 16-year-old and his band had their first rehearsal last night in their first concert hall. Their gig will be there in two weeks, and they’ve been practicing for months. I was the one who insisted they priactice in the actual joint, knowing it would sound and feel different from a basement.
You should’ve seen them drop the inhibitions, and really begin to rock. To make sure they did, I went around yelling, “Mak Show! Mak Show!” They said, “What?” So I told them the story of the Beatles in Hamburg, when George was just 17, and how they were playing 8 hours a night in this strip club/tavern, refining their act for pennies. I also told how the German manager ran around yelling this phrase at The Beatles, which basically meant that they were to show passion.
The boys are growing into the role. Should be a good show. Hope to see 200 teenagers there. Hey, if it wasn’t for Harrison’s mom managing in the beginning, I doubt if the Beatles ever would have found Epstein, or he them.
Good old Stephen Protheroe recently completed these 3 vases in blown glass for a private collector. This was for a condo in a development here–Kirkwood–that overlooks The Plaza. We collaborated with Renee Grissom Design on the gig. Everyone seems more than pleased.
As you can tell, it was a pretty tough install: walk up, put the pieces in the niches, walk away.
Stephen is a graduate of Patrick Martin’s exceptional glass program at Emporia State. More on that later.
Belowï¿½isï¿½the remainder of theï¿½excerpt from Chapter 1 of Living the Artistï¿½s Life that I initially posted Last Friday…
…When you get to the museums, study the masters–and I do mean the old ones.ï¿½ Study them well.ï¿½ Study the traditions and try to learn what they have to teach you.ï¿½ Never mock a traditionalist unless you can do better, and don’t mock them even then.ï¿½ If your leaning is avant-garde, or deconstructionist, or sheer abstraction, that’s fine, but it will behoove you to understand, and to even try to execute, what Sargent did, what Rembrandt knew, and what Michelangelo mastered.ï¿½ After you do understand it, then you can move on to Rothko, Warhol and de Kooning.ï¿½ Why?ï¿½ Because it is impossible to grasp where art is going if you do not understand, and respect, where it has been.
If your work is all social statement and no craft, that’s fine, but you may want to ask yourself, what exactly are you offering the world that no one but you can execute?ï¿½ As an artist, this is one of the most important questions you can ask.ï¿½ And yes, you eventually must answer it, since if your work isn’t unique, if it doesn’t reflect a vision and a discipline and a vigor that in turn reflects your individual talent, then what’s the point?ï¿½
I don’t care which museum I may visit–the Chicago Art Institute, the L.A. County, the Met, the Nelson–I personally never try to tour all of one museum in one day.ï¿½ That’s too exhausting.ï¿½ Instead I simply gravitate toward the work that I’m interested in at the moment, and when I find those rooms, I may well spend hours there.ï¿½ Maybe I’ll sit, maybe I’ll walk in those ridiculous circles that we all do in museums, maybe I’ll initiate a flirtation.ï¿½ Whatever the case, I never push myself to view more works than my senses can appreciably take in.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
And as I’m looking at those works, I try to never forget that the paintings on the walls, and the sculptures on the lawn, were each the same product of insecurity, ego, humility, joy and depression that most work is.ï¿½ The artist who created those pieces, whether Duchamp or Motherwell or Moore, had as many difficulties, and was as full of piss and vinegar, as the rest of us.ï¿½ Sometimes their difficulties were greater than anything we can imagine, such as Rodin during his starvation years; it’s just that fame, and the passing decades, have dulled the bitter realities of that sacrifice.ï¿½ But believe me, the hardships were just as real and harsh to the young Rodin and his family as your own are to you.
Remember this too: most museum works were created in sloppy studios under all kinds of duress, and often were the sole thing of beauty in those distant, ill kept rooms.ï¿½ Sometimes those works were the only thing of beauty in many of those distant, tragic lives.ï¿½ The formal surroundings that they now hang in don?t change the conditions of their creation, they just change the background, and the background is often deceiving.ï¿½
In the same vein, the museum intellectuals who analyze those works, and dissect and explain them, and in some cases worship them, don’t change their essence either.ï¿½ Those intellectuals, while essential to the museum business, are not made of the same cloth as the creatures who created the works; the two are different breeds.ï¿½ Normally the intellectuals know this, accept it, and often are glad of it.ï¿½ If they don’t, don’t disillusion them: everyone should be allowed their bit of fantasy.
More often than not the artist is not an intellectual, does not fully understand what she creates, and doesn’t even want to.ï¿½ The artist, in all probability, would never fit into a museum staff job; she can’t fill the intellectual’s shoes, just as the intellectual can’t fill hers.ï¿½ But they need one another.ï¿½ We need the intellectuals to preserve and explore the work, just as we desperately need all you haphazard artists to render it.ï¿½ The relationship is mutually beneficial.
Keep all this in mind in the museums as you tour them.ï¿½ Don’t ever let a museum, or its staff, intimidate you.ï¿½ If it weren’t for your kind, there would be no need for art museums, or their staffs.ï¿½ Just as importantly, never let a museum kill what the work is about, since some of them, with their excessive formality, do.ï¿½ See the work for what it is, and how it was created.ï¿½ And always remember this: you are of that family.ï¿½ But try to not take that for granted: chevrons are earned, not given.
So tour the museums, tour the towns and cities; take in all you can of the past and present, and the future too if it speaks to you.ï¿½ Let no experience pass that thrills you, or scares you, or challenges what you think you know.ï¿½ Live fully but not destructively, unless self-destruction is your credo.ï¿½ If it is, that’s your business, just don’t take others down with you.ï¿½ That isn’t your due.ï¿½ Creation is your due.ï¿½ Respect that.ï¿½ Let it anger you if it must, let it enrage you on occasion (apologizing later to those you offended), but keep your fire alive, so long as you don’t rely on dope, booze or abuse to do this.ï¿½
Many people think they keep the fire alive with the dope and the booze, only to find out years later that they were extinguishing it all along.ï¿½ Then they find out it’s no longer able to be rekindled.ï¿½ Then they die.ï¿½ You can do this too if you want, but what will you accomplish in the course of your deterioration?ï¿½ Very little, either for yourself, or for the society whose attention you’re trying to gain.ï¿½ And yes, we all do it partly for attention.ï¿½ Sure, we do it for the passion and the inspiration and the desire to give, but attention is one of our primary motives, so you may as well go ahead and admit it, if for no other reason than to get it out of the way.ï¿½ (Just don’t try to get me to admit it.ï¿½ I’ve never done anything for attention.ï¿½ Oh never.)ï¿½
All right, a select group of museums are behind you.ï¿½ Now you have to get back in the studio, and back to work.ï¿½ You have to engage your passions.ï¿½ Yes, painting and sculpting, like writing, are an engagement of sorts.ï¿½ They are an engagement between the ass and the chair (to paraphrase Hemingway), or the hand and the brush, or the lips and the blowpipe.ï¿½ Nothing takes the place of hard work.ï¿½ Nothing, you will find, has as much bite either.
My crew and I installed this stainless steel ped at Block last week. 300 lbs, 1/4″ skin except for the top plate, which is 1/2″. I had it fabricated to spec, then the top machined to accomodate Brent Collins’ magnificent piece, Pax Mundi. That sucker weighs 1200 lbs, and will arrive from the foundry at month’s end.
The stainless rests on travertine from Italy, which caps a concrete plinth. All of this had to be placed over a supporting beam, over the underground garage. Yeah, it’s a little complicated.
Now how are we going to hoist the blasted thing into place, in a plaza where heavy equipment can’t be used? Still working on that one. Let me know if you have any ideas.