Seeking Clarity and Saying Thank You
The other day my dear friend and former co-worker, Bruce Noble, came to the studio to help me photograph some work that is too big for my scanner. I was prepared to shoot some old oil on canvas paintings that I had repaired but are not on stretcher frames. I thought it would be easier to ship them rolled if anyone wanted them. I could also offer an extra option to have stretchers built, but as I was looking at these and thinking about who could afford the paintings and the stretchers and the crate for shipping and the shipping and have walls large enough to hang them, I started thinking that population is pretty small. I have always preferred art that is more accessible and affordable. And the paintings themselves are over 30 years old and from a not very happy time in my life, so possibly not really of interest to anyone anyway.
I am going to keep three of them and have them re-stretched for hanging someday, and the rest will be painted over at some point. But this is not that point in time. Talking with Bruce about what was up in my studio gave me so much clarity, it’s hard not to feel like I should have already known some things. Like much of the work is old, from the past, and though I love some of it, it is holding me back. I keep getting these horoscopes about letting go of the past and I thought I had and was ready to move forward a while ago, but this was it – the thing that lingered. Trying to salvage my old work and make it sellable is what needs to be let go.
I think painting large in oil also needs to be let go, at least for now. I got this latest large studio thinking that was what I needed to feel good, to be happy, to be myself. I had been resenting it when people called me a watercolorist. In my mind I was still a bada$$ large scale oil painter, emphatically not a watercolorist. My ideas about being an artist were also still stuck in the past, from a time when you had to have gallery representation to be taken seriously. I blew that chance in 2001 when my MFA thesis show was visited by a well-known gallerist who purchased some record jacket paintings and wanted to set up a studio visit. I had already planned to move back to Omaha for reasons I will go into another time, so I actually said no, thanks anyway. They of course said good luck with that.
It was actually very confusing growing up in the 80’s punk scene of DIY and never selling out, but then wanting to become a famous painter in a named gallery in New York. I think my brain did not make all the connections to the fact that mostly only wealthy people could buy art then, so I was already contradicting myself. I resolved it somewhat in that thesis show where all the paintings were on blank record jackets and sold for the cost of an album - $15.
Which brings me to cost and money and making a living. Part of that not selling out edict had to do with only making art that was true to your soul and not making things that were easily consumed, sold or commodified. It has taken me so many years to get past that attitude. I have always resisted anything that made my art easier to sell, from matting and framing to trying too hard to get shows anywhere. But I loved to sell work for very low process and work on paper so it was affordable. But then I don’t think I have been taken seriously, so back to the contradictions and confusion.
Well as I face yet another bought of unemployment, I am really rethinking that DIY ethos. Yes, it’s great but I don’t think it has to be exclusive from art sales, in fact rather than make large oil paintings and hope they sell for hundreds or thousands, I would prefer to make small watercolors and let people print them on bags or paper or buy small originals they can actually find room for in their homes.
I realize as I write this that I don’t have all these thoughts worked out, not a clear thesis statement to be found yet, but I am on to something. And I am open to any possible way to make art and make money from it. I would love to find an interior designer who likes my work enough to include it in projects. I am very prolific, and it could be a great partnership. I am going to look into making wallpaper and fabric pattern designs. I am already offering my work on a site where you can customize and print it in many affordable ways.
Through all of this discussion and thought the other day with Bruce, and again in response to many recent horoscopes, I am narrowing my focus down to the work I love to make, that comes easily to me (oil does not right now), and that may fit into someone else’s life and home. In my panic about not finding a paid job or consulting clients or selling any work I have been asking, even begging the universe for help, clues, signs, support, next steps, etc. But then one more message came to my feed that said wait a minute, you need to remember to be grateful for what you have first. So I realized I need to focus on saying thank you for what I have rather than asking please for what I don’t.