KC Star Praises Documentary About the Block Art Program

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Photo of glass artist Dierk Van Keppel, courtesy Kansas City Star

Robert Butler, film critic for the Kansas City Star, has praised the film Art on the Block, which premieres next Monday at the Copaken Stage.   Because Butler doesn’t dish out praise readily, this is not insignificant.

I encouraged Block to make the film a year ago, since I felt that the art program we devised for them was unique, tied into urban redevelopment as much as it encouraged world-class art-creation in our region.  They agreed, and gave me the go-ahead. 

I contacted Daven Gee of the UMKC Film Dept, and he, along with 6 brilliant students (their names are listed in the article), made this great little flick.  They slaved over the thing for nearly a year, bringing about a moment of great triumph for the legions of artists who can’t afford to live in NY or LA, and will never be represented there.  This does indeed show what the regional art movement–in all regions of the country–is about.  Film may eventually air on PBS.

Am I proud?  Damn straight. 

Jennifer Boe Joins Gallery

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Well, Jennifer Boe has joined the family.  She does this extremely difficult embroidered work that often involves interpretations of junk food: Hostess Cupcakes, Snoballs, etc.  If you think about the juxtapostion of that, it’s pretty amusing.  She grew up in a small town in the Bible Belt, which of course informs some of her work.

The piece above was from a show called The Art of Menstruation.  It’s not typical of what she does now–which I’ll show later–but it’s indicative of her skill.  I’ve collected her work for Block, University of Kansas Hospital, and now the Nerman Museum has acquired one of her works as well.  A very good beginning.

Friday Tips: Choosing the Right Gallery

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Alfred Stieglitz and his Gallery, An American Place, 1934

(Note: This was Stieglitz’ last gallery.  His first and most famous one, 291, opened in NY in 1905, and closed in 1917.  It broke new wood in the art world–Cezanne, Rodin, Matisse–yet never turned a profit.  It’s also where he met his 2nd wife, Georgia O’Keefe, when she was a mere 17.) 

As you approach galleries in the beginning, I advise that you start with those that are located in a major city or resort near you.  Visit them and browse.  Don’t mention you’re an artist, don’t mention anything.  Just walk around and get a feel for the place.  Will your work fit in with the collection?  Is the gallery well laid out and well lighted, or is it dim, dusty and reeking of disorganization?  Does the place exude contentment and confidence, or despair and ineptitude?  Most importantly, are the director and staff snobs, or are they considerate and helpful?  If the former, I advise you stay away.    

Snobbishness, like so many negative traits, is rooted in insecurity.  If the director is this way with you, chances are he’s this way with clients, which will only lead to lost sales and commissions.  I have to admit though, some snobs do make excellent art dealers, they’re just a pain-in-the-ass to work with.  In the end it’s a personal call.  If you feel you can work well with one of these folks, go ahead—just watch your step as you proceed: snobbishness is often an indicator of a lack of integrity, not to mention a lack of enlightenment. 

After you’ve sampled enough galleries to know which you want to approach, drop by and make an appointment to see the director—portfolio in hand.  Why do you do this in person?  Because requesting an appointment in person normally works better than making a call, since it’s harder for someone to refuse you if you’re standing in front of them. 

If the staff member tells you the director is not looking for new artists, talk the staff member into looking at your work anyway.  No, don’t hand him a satchel of paintings, hand him the portfolio—with one of your originals nearby in case it’s needed.  If you’re already talking to the director, so much the better.  If not, and if the staff member is impressed, try to make the appointment.  If one can’t be made at that moment, take a business card and call later, persisting until the director either agrees to see you, or gives you an unequivocal “no.”

If the only way the gallery will view your work is by your mailing them visuals, fine.  Type a brief cover letter on quality stationery, enclose the disc, your resume, at least one postcard, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  Also include any press clippings that you may have managed to garner, putting the entire thing into a presentation folder.  Give the recipient seven days, then call and ask if they’ve had time to look everything over.  If they have, try to get an appointment to go in and show your work.  

The first gallery won’t see you?  Try a second, then a third and fourth if necessary.  No matter how many rejections you get, you must persist.  As I’ve already pointed out,  if you’ve got the talent, and have paid the dues, you will find the right gallery—but only if you’re persistent enough.

When you do get your appointment, arrive on time, be brief, be confident, and reflect certainty in your work.  Take at least three of your best originals with you.  Dress any way you want, just don’t go in looking like you’re desperate.  You want to go in looking like a success, even if that success is only expressed in the mastery of your medium.  Make sure your presentation is neat, organized and professional—with quality frames on your paintings if frames are needed, or stone or wooden bases on your sculpture if needed.  Treat the dealer respectfully, but in an understated way. 

Equally important is the manner in which the dealer treats you.  Does he return the respect?  Is he considerate?  He may be busy.  He may be in debt up to his hindquarters.  He may be having one awful day.  Even so, you deserve respect for the years of sacrifice you’ve paid out in mastering whatever it is you do.  At the same time, the gallery, if they take you on, has to convince the public that you’re worth investing in—no mean feat, especially if the gallery is turning a dismal profit, as most do.  That’s why when you meet the director, it’s important that you’re aware of the reality he grapples with every day.

What I mean is, when that first meeting occurs, it is critical that you show some form of respect, and that it be returned.  Later a deeper sort of respect will have to be earned, and it will have to be mutual.  You both will need to achieve this if you’re to have a good working relationship; if you don’t, you won’t.  This two-way street will be one of the most important you’ll travel in your career.  It involves all the give-and-take of any successful relationship.

There.  Now if you feel you’re ready–and you’re sure that your work is ready–go ahead and approach a few galleries, using this is a guide if you like.  You can tell me later how things went.  Just remember, in the beginning you’ll hear “no” much more than “yes.”  Well, everyone does.

Punks from Highland Park

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These are the same punks who I invited to Governor Sebilius’ inaugural ball last Jan (she’s the Gov who gave Bush a hard time recently for having National Guard equipment in Iraq, rather than here for tornado-related emergencies, such as in Greensburg).  They’re all artists from Highland Park High School in Topeka, and had to create something stunning for the art exhibit, or no ball.  They rose to the occasion. 

I wanted to get together with them once more before they graduated, so their teacher, Tiffany Pryor, brought them on a field trip to the gallery and Block.  We had a great time–although I’m somewhat doubtful over the book they’re all holding.

My overall objective?  Help build esteem, many times over.  It isn’t up to me to declare whether or not we did, but if you’re good at reading photos, you can assess for yourself.

Kim Casebeer: One-Woman Show, Advancing Career

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Kim Casebeer, Sunset, Prairie, Oil on Linen 

Our annual show for Kim Casebeer opens on Friday, 5/18.  She interprets the Flint Hills a great deal, prairie country to the west of Kansas City, as well as NM and CO.  With minimal assistance from me, she got into a gallery in Santa Fe a few years back, which led to a gallery in Scottsdale, which led to one in Jackson Hole.  Kim first came to me five years ago, a regional painter highly respected but with little recognition outside our area, despite awards she’d taken in NY.  Her level of recognition is rapidly changing now.  Has she worked hard for that?  Like you wouldn’t believe.

The above piece is set in one of my favorite regions, on the Konza Prairie, near Manhattan.  My sons and I still go camping there each year.  We always invite my wife to go too, but I think she prefers hotels.

Boot Camp for Artists at Fontbonne

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Shot of my seminar at Fontbonne University two weeks ago, St. Louis.  35 artists signed up.  We started in an auditorium, which I found stifling, so after a Frisbee break outside, I suggested we just stay outside.  Everyone loved that.  I offered to face the sun so they wouldn’t have to.  Upshot?  Sunburned by day’s end. 

But the class went well.  Over the course of 7 hours, I walked everyone through the essentials of building a career as an artist.  Most universities don’t teach this, because unless you’ve run a gallery, and helped artists succeed, you wouldn’t have the experience.  That’s why I do teach this, and will for a long time.

Met some great people, had dinner at some Indian joint with good old Leslie Reuther–where the waiter mistakenly served me scotch instead of bourbon–then it was back to KC.  Now booking seminars on the two coasts.

Friday Tips: Neurosis, The Artist’s Badge

(Excerpted from Living the Artist’s Life)

This ties into my discussion of Depression, but must be addressed separately. I’ll be brief, since it’s more important to focus on your art, the creation of it, and the eventual succeeding of it. The difficulty is, I can’t fully do that without first covering these rather emotional subjects, and doing so candidly.

In my opinion, the larger portion of our planet’s population is, in some form, neurotic—whether mildly or severely. This naturally includes artists. It may very well include you. I’ll tell you right now that it definitely has included me over the years. Sure, as a gallery owner, writer and lecturer, many people consider me well-grounded. Perhaps I am. But man, I’ve got my tics just like everyone else; I’ve simply learned how to rein them in, and keep them reined in. In what way? Easy: by remembering how unimportant I am in the overall scheme of things. Sure, I might consider my work of some importance, but not myself as an individual. Far more important is what I can give.

Is an artist’s form of neurosis any worse than that of the average human? Not in my opinion. Is it better? No. Is it more interesting? If it produces good work, yes, and sometimes even if it produces bad. Does that excuse artists from confronting, and dealing with, their neuroses? Well, that’s a complicated call. Some artists, over time, become expert at self-examination, evolving far away from the jittery creature they were as teenagers. Others are so charming in their semi-madness, you wouldn’t want them to change. And yet others are so destructive, especially to themselves, that you hope desperately they will change, though that capacity simply may not be in them.

All of this is common, way one or another. What I don’t like is watching people, whether artists or otherwise, struggle with these issues in maddening silence, certain they are alone, are freaks, and in essence losers. We are all to some degree losers, and winners. The more you choose to learn from the former condition, the more you will experience the latter. That’s hard work at first, and sometimes humiliating, but I know no other way of growing well, or of reining in one’s issues.

So look, being a little bit neurotic doesn’t make you different from everyone else, it only makes you part of the human family. And like the majority of us, you’ll have to learn to cope with this too. However well or poorly you cope, don’t ever fall under the delusion that your quirks isolate you, or in any way make you inferior; to the contrary, they make you like the rest of us. Observe them, know them, work on them, but whatever you do, please learn to deal with them if you can. Otherwise, as we grow older, they have a tendency to deal with us.

Carol Fleming at Block

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Carol Fleming, Totems, Ceramic

Carol Fleming lives in St. Louis, is deaf, and quite passionate about ceramic sculpture.  That passion, obviously, comes out through her work.  We installed these three totems at H&R Block yesterday.  Man have they been a hit.  Man were they heavy to install.

I presented these to Block last year, they asked for them on Monday, I arranged the deal on Tuesday, sent Matt Kirby to get them on Wednesday, he brought them back late afternoon, we lugged the things into place and set them up and epoxied them together, then today everyone began digging on them.

Note their organic contrast to the smoothly finished interior of the West Lobby, and how they seem to have grown up through the floor.  Yeah, that’s a lot of artistic mumbo jumbo, but I dig spewing that crap every now and then, especially if it fits.  Either way, they’re beautiful works.

Brookside Art Fair Fast Approaches

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The Brookside Art Fair is this weekend.  As many of you know, I was asked to help Jury Submissions in Jan–a grinding, 12-hour process.  Now I’ve been asked to help determine awards.  Great.  After that’s done, I’ll be hail-fellow-well-met to 5 artists, and a scoundrel to the remaining 170.

Well, everyone’s welcome to drop by the gallery either way.  We’re half a block from the tents.  No telling how long the wine will last.

Gloria Baker Feinstein’s Opening

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Well, I’d say we went through about 160 people on this one, and a pretty good cache of wine.  I was very pleased overall.  On top that, Gloria managed to get her exhibit covered in the Kansas City Star on Saturday and Sunday.  Man, I’ve never even done that.  Top shot shows the early crowd, bottom shot some African dancers who attended.

As I reminded everyone that night, repeatedly, a significant portion of each sale goes directly to the orphanage in Uganda.  I guess I’m reminding everyone again now.