Episode 1: The Journey Begins
So I had this idea the other day.
To write an informal, lighthearted, free-wheeling journal on the fascinating journey into the art world that I've begun.
It's all about painting, exhibits, receptions, artist talks, meeting lots of cool people and making new friends. And being part of something fresh and exciting.
But let's back up a bit and start at the beginning.
When I was a kid, dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never imagined that someday the term "artist" might be used to describe who I am. A writer, yes. A film maker, maybe. A rock star - absolutely! Always wanted to be a rock star. I have the guitars - and calluses on my fingers - to prove it. lol.
But never an artist.
It never occurred to me that painting might be something I would really enjoy. Until about two years ago. And now I am definitely hooked. I've been working in my studio every day for the last year or so. And my work can now be seen in galleries and exhibits across Connecticut.
I like to tell people I'm "almost famous." It's a joke, of course. Bottom line - whether I ever become a successful artist or just a guy pushing paint around, I measure success these days by how much fun I'm having. Period. Recognition is nice. A couple of sales here and there would be validating. But it's the joy of creating that makes it all worthwhile.
So whether one day you see my paintings on the walls of MoMA or Big MoMa's Bar & Grill - it's all good.
And you are invited to come along - you don't have to do a thing. Every so often I'll send out a newsletter like this one to share my thoughts and experiences. I'll introduce you to my art and some of the wonderful friends I've met. I'll also post the exhibits and shows I'm in if you are interested.
Let's see where this journey leads. I promise that you'll get the inside scoop on everything. And a few surprises along the way. And who doesn't like surprises? The good kind. Not the "it's going to cost how much to fix the roof?!" kind.
But - if you are not into it, I totally get it. It's me not you.
Click the big, ugly red unsubscribe button down below. Just ignore the uncontrollable sobbing and wailing in the background if you do. It's me in the corner. Losing my religion. Wait, someone's used that line already [cue the mandolin].
Anyway, the sound will go away after about a week or so. I promise.
Episode 2: Fun to the Max
Recently I had the opportunity to see an entire collection of Peter Max paintings in one place.
All I can say is "wow."
The deep blue walls of Geary Gallery in Darien Connecticut were adorned with dozens and dozens of his most famous work - large and small.
The entire gallery was devoted to Peter Max for most of April. You might say Geary Gallery was ‘Maxed out.’ Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But they really did "take it to the Max!" Ugh, somebody stop me.
Needless to say it was an endless explosion of color. And imagination! It was magnificent.
Whether you are a fan of Peter Max or not, to see such a large collection assembled in one place was breathtaking. All the classic Max images were there: Umbrella Man, Liberty Head, Love, Better World, Cosmic Runner, Angel With Heart and so many more.
Particularly fun for me, was knowing that, after the Peter Max exhibit was packed up and off to the next city on the tour, another artist near and dear to my heart was going to follow Max as the “Featured Artist” at Geary Gallery.
With a bit of a catch.
As you can see by the thumbnails, my work is abstract; not a style that is usually in high demand with the Geary clientele. Except for Peter Max, who is, unlike me, actually famous!
Anne Geary, the gallery's owner and curator, has taken a chance on me. And, as you might image, it's a huge opportunity. I am thrilled to have my work in her gallery. Not the whole gallery, mind you, just one long, majestic, exclusive, 'almost famous' blue wall as you first enter (see the video below).
In addition to being an engaging and delightful person, Anne is a smart business woman. I know I am a 'test' of abstract expression for her gallery. I am a rookie in a august roster of well established, extremely talented artists.
Even if my work doesn't sell, I will be eternally grateful to her for making May 2019 one of my favorite months ever. It is the simple joy of being recognized; that someone who knows art is willing to take a chance on you.
So thank you Anne Geary! Because of you I am a few degrees of separation closer to Peter Max. And almost famous!
The journey continues...
Episode 3: Excel to excel
Did you hear that crazy splash?
That was me. Jumping into the pool (the 'maybe-you-should-exhibit-your-art' pool) like a canon ball.
Or a belly flop - only time will tell.
Painting, framing, galleries, exhibits, art guilds, associations - I went the whole nine yards (which I always thought was a football reference, but apparently it's not). Anyway, maybe it's a 'life is too short' mentality (let's see how many clichés I can use in one paragraph!), but these days I rarely seem to do anything except jump in with both feet (okay that's cliché #3 - enough is enough).
Back to the story.
I started seeking opportunities to exhibit my work in February of this year. By May the count is seventeen different shows in six different areas of Connecticut. I'm not bragging, by any means. I think 'going overboard' is the cliché that best applies. In fact, my artistic life was soon teetering on total chaos.
For each exhibit there are typically entry deadlines, notification (acceptance/rejection) dates, receiving dates, alternate receiving dates, opening receptions, closing dates, pickup dates and more. Plus, most associations and exhibits require that you keep track of which pieces you entered so that you don't enter them again at a later date. On top of that I built up an inventory of well over 225 images; I had to keep track of which were entered where, which needed to be framed, what price I had assigned to each, etc. etc. etc.
My solution turned out to be a very left brain application to a right brain world.
I built an Excel spreadsheet which, as of this writing, has no less than twenty individual worksheets: inventory, exhibit entry status, exhibit art submitted, schedule by show, schedule by date and on and on. It's actually a thing of beauty but it's so large it now takes forever to load, and even longer to update. I think that's a signal that it's time to simplify. Back to basics.
One person who seems to have it all under control is someone I met at one of the first shows I entered. Her name is Nancy Breakstone. More about Nancy next time...
Episode 4: The sands of tide
The morning I decided to exhibit my artwork, I sat at my computer and stared into space. I hummed the theme from Rocky. It didn't help.
I had no idea how to start.
In a way it was almost like learning a new language. Where to begin?
- With vocabulary: can you say giclee?
- Or conversational phrases: "I understand this juror prefers subtle textures in a context of abstraction"
- Or tenses: "I paint therefore I am; I have painted therefore I was; I will paint therefore I will need lots of paper towels...
- Or the alphabet: A is for automatism, B is for biomorphic, C is for 'can you believe that I actually created that!'
Mind you, I’m not afraid to take on a new challenge. And I'm always up for trying something I've never done before. But the task seemed daunting for sure. The art world was a place I had only enjoyed as a pedestrian or a bystander - never an inhabitant.
Luckily I stumbled into a couple of local art exhibits almost by accident. And at one of them I had the great fortune to meet a wonderful lady named Nancy Breakstone. Nancy is a photographer. A really excellent and successful one. She has an art resume as long as my arm. We’ll get to that in a minute. Her work, not my arm.
Nancy is a lovely, giving person. After the show, over coffee, we talked about art. She patiently answered about a thousand questions I had on how and where to exhibit my work; all the while sending me links from her laptop and offering sage recommendations between sips of coffee. Within moments I had a dozen places to go, lots of ideas and was completely energized to begin the process. I now had a direction - and an important contact in the biz, as they say. Whoever 'they' are.
As for Nancy's photography, she has a great eye and shoots many subjects. However her most notable work comes from her bi-annual visits to Costa Rica. In the scorching heat of the day, armed with only an iPhone, she seeks out and shoots the most amazing sand formations caused by the receding tide. The sand colors and shapes are simply spectacular. You absolutely have to see these photographs. You can find them at nancybreakstonephotography.
And the best part is that Nancy and I have become good friends. We share a passion for art and a wry sense of humor. She continues to help - offering solace when I fail to get accepted, cheers when I do and encouragement to keep painting. So, using the last remnants of a foreign language that I remember from my high school days, I say, "Merci Madame Breakstone!"
Episode 5: Found Objects - Unusual brushes of fate
I lost my phone the other day.
I like to think of it as being temporarily stored in a safe location. To maintain my grip on sanity.
You see I've been getting a lot of those annoying robo-calls on my cell. The worst are the ones that come from my own number. In my name. Yikes!
And the more calls I get from 'myself,' the more I'm beginning to believe that parallel universes are real after all. Or maybe Elon Musk has perfected cloning humans in his spare time. Or I have an evil twin. The mind boggles.
Anyway, I did find the phone after dashing around the house, half-crazed, for about an hour and a half.
Where's that clone when I need him?
The lost and found experience brought me to thinking about the subject of this episode.
My paintings are created in a similar fashion to locating my phone. The "found" part.
I search out and use 'found objects.' Of the several hundred images I've created in the last year or two, only two of them were painted with traditional brushes. There's a certain uncertainty and often serendipitous discovery in painting with CD jewel cases, credit cards and aspirin bottle caps. One of my favorites is a syringe.
Now before you call the vice squad, I am talking about the plastic kind used for cake decorating or gluing wood. I've used this technique on many of my more exotic paintings, like Lost Weekend, No Man's Land, or Introspective Nude. And some less provocative ones like Lupine Sublime and Curiously Sad. I call the whole collection of these the String Theory Series.
Using found objects is not my original idea by a long shot. Lot's of artists use this technique. The fun with found objects is that there are always more objects to find and use. And more fascinating shapes and scrapes to create. A friend introduced me to deli paper recently. Sponges make textures. Hmmm, I'm wondering what I can paint with toothpaste.
And duct tape seems to be calling me from the garage.
Speaking of calling, will someone please dial my cell. It's wandered off again.
Probably in the pocket of my other self.
The journey continues...
Episode 6: Front to Front - Stacking the deck
I probably should have known this. But, truth be told, I had no clue.
It's not exactly a secret handshake. Or classified information. Or even a cryptic song lyric dripping in double entente.
But it is kind of a rule - and something that everyone (and I mean everyone!) mentioned when I first started exhibiting my paintings.
So here it is - the saying goes like this:
'back to back' or 'front to front.'
Doesn't matter which. Either way is fine - but only as stated. Back to back or front to front.
Okay, before you get excited, I'm not talking about an exotic, tendon-bending Kama Sutra position. Or a blister-twisting yoga pose. Whoa, rhyming adjectives. And a double helping!
No extra charge.
The alliteration makes it easy to remember. So what does it mean? It's how you place framed paintings to minimize damage when they are transported. You place the frames either back-to-back or facing front-to-front.
Simple, yet remarkably effective.
You know, come to think of it, there might be another application to this concept. Kind of a guideline for use in daily life.
Here's my thought: When two people are presented with adversity, a difficult challenge or an uncharted new course, the best stance is 'back to back' - leaning on one another, especially when times are tough. Like Brad and Angelina at the end of the movie, Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Okay, probably not a great analogy, guns blazing and all, but you get the idea. Heaven knows no one can go it alone.
And the flip side would be to live life to the fullest, for sure, but more than that, live it 'front to front' - facing each other. Honest. Forthright. Authentic.
As Crush, the turtle, in Finding Nemo, would say,
The journey continues...
Episode 7: Change of Scenery - A grand opening in more ways than one!
As the end of summer approaches and fall is right around the corner, what better time for a change, right?
And in that spirit, I'd like to share some news.
Recently I decided it was time to expand my artistic horizons, in more ways than one.
I've been painting essentially the same size and style for a while, from an increasingly overcrowded corner of my home office:
Actually the 'office' was labeled a Living Room in the original floor plan of my home.
Anyway, I heard about a new art center with studio space from my friends at Still River Editions.
It's called RPAC Art Center and Academy. They are about to open a beautiful new gallery as well. More about that in a minute.
Long story short, the space is amazing and the artists and staff there are so friendly and inspiring that I signed up.
Sometimes you just know when something feels right. I'm now a Resident Artist and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.
So let me end this episode of 'Almost Famous' with an invitation. You are cordially invited to:
Gallery Grand Opening Reception
410 Main Street in Ridgefield, CT
September 19th - 6pm and 9pm.
I'll be there along with three of my paintings. And there will be wine. Enough said.
The journey continues...
Episode 8: It's Us, Not You - Rejection dejection!
I always flinch when someone says "this is going to hurt me a lot more than you."
Like when my overly eager endodontist wields a foot-long syringe and whispers confidently, "it'll be just a little pinch."
That's when I gurgle (as the saliva ejector thingy is sucking the taste buds off of my tongue), "deph f-f-f-fine pinch."
It's a similar experience when it comes to artist notifications. The moment when the email arrives that says whether or not you've been accepted into a juried exhibit, it sometimes begins with a friendly "Dear Jim." But more often it's just a flat, matter of fact "Dear Artist."
The body of the message typically goes something like this:
"We regret to inform you that your work was not selected for this exhibition. This decision in no way reflects on the quality of the work, but on the number of entries and the vision of the juror."
What I read into this is:
"The juror thinks you should keep your day job. The work you submitted looks like it was created by retired space monkey who's been guzzling rocket fuel on the weekends. Seriously, dude. This is the best you can offer? Take a couple of classes and check in with us in later this century when we are forced to dive deep into our slush pile of C and D rated artists."
Don't get me wrong. I've had a really nice run of getting my work into exhibits and shows and even won an award or two. And I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to negative feedback. But to be honest, no matter how successful you've been, rejection is always no fun at all. Even if it is only a little pinch.
So, when I get a rejection notice I try to remember the long list of famous people who never gave up, even after a massive onslaught of rejection notices, the most notable being:
J. K. Rowling: She sent Harry Potter to 12 different publishers only to be rejected by them all. Until...
Stephen King: His first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before being picked up by Doubleday.
Dr. Seuss: His first children's book, Green Eggs and Ham, was rejected by 27 publishers.
Walt Disney: Was fired by an editor because he lacked imagination!
Abraham Lincoln: A failure at business; he lost several elections before becoming President.
Marilyn Monroe: Several modeling agencies told her to quit and become a secretary.
Michael Jordon: Was cut from his high school basketball team. Seriously?
The list goes on and on and on. So, I shrug my shoulders and tell myself I'm in good company.
Time to move on to the next opportunity.
However, I will definitely have to have a heart-to-heart with the monkey. He really has to do a better job of cranking out paintings that jurors might like. Maybe if I let him have a half-hour banana break once in a while...
And I better hide the rocket fuel while I'm at it.
The journey continues...
Episode 9: Practice Makes Perfect - Wait, am I repeating myself?
Remember that old joke.
Q: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
A: Practice, practice, practice!
A tired joke, yes, but everyone knows that practice of any kind involves repetition. And lots of it. Multiple reps with variation to keep things interesting - that is the key to success.
That, and networking. LOL.
So what am I getting at? I met a young artist at one of the exhibits I was juried into recently who has taken the concept of repetition to the next level - and created some beautiful and fascinating artwork.
Her name is Alyssa Fishenden and she is an immensely talented emerging artist from Massachusetts. Alyssa creates complex designs and stunning images And many have a humble beginning in little yellow squares.
You guessed it. Post-it notes!
By the way, I'm a huge fan of Post-it notes. I buy them by the boatload at Costco. I once plotted an entire mystery novel using Post-it notes on a blank basement wall. But that's another story. And enough about me anyway.
Alyssa told me recently that many of her designs begin as doodles on post-it notes. For the moment let's not divulge where all this doodling happens.
Let's just say it's a place that occasionally has some downtime which allows her imagination to take over for a while. She brings the Post-its home, sits on the floor in her apartment and embellishes the doodles onto larger paper - and voila! Masterpieces of repetition that are truly amazing. Check it out.
This one is called Privacy. It was shown this year in the 30th Anniversary MassArt Auction of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.
Better yet, this tiny image doesn't do it justice. Instead, see for yourself. Click here and spend some time on her website. You won't be disappointed.
And find out where her work is being exhibited. In person, they are even more impressive than online.
The journey continues...
Episode 10: Double Your Pleasure Double your fun!
Back in the day, as they say, there was a commercial on TV featuring a pair of twins and an annoying jingle.
The company, of course, was Wrigley's and they were selling "double strength" chewing gum named Double Mint.
I was always a baseball card chewing gum kid myself. But the other day I heard someone mention the Double Mint twins and it got me thinking: I know a pair of twins.
The twins I know are lovely young ladies named Naomi and Saray Ruiz.
Now here is where the double your pleasure and fun comes in. The sisters own and operate Gaudi Tapas and Wine restaurant near where I live (hold on, what did you think I was talking about?).
Gaudi Tapas and Wine serves the best tapas you can find in the entire state. Maybe even the entire tri-state area. These ladies know their stuff!
A little background is in order. Quoting from an excellent article in Connecticut Magazine, the story goes like this:
"I'm going to open a restaurant there [at their current location] one day" Saray would tell her twin sister, Noemi, and anyone else who would listen to her dream.
“It’s not going to happen,” Noemi would say.
At the time, a few years back, the spot was home to a Mexican restaurant. Saray had a feeling that would change and thought the cozy spot could host a restaurant inspired by her childhood in Lleida, a small town in the Catalonia region of Spain, within driving distance of Barcelona. This past fall, when she and her once-skeptical twin opened Gaudí Tapas and Wine, her dream became a reality. And what a dream it is.
I noticed the new restaurant soon after they opened. And one night, during dinner, I mention to Ana, the waitress, that perhaps they might like some original artwork on the walls of their new restaurant. She introduced me to the twins.
Luckily for me, they liked the idea and loved my work. I now have five paintings on permanent display in the restaurant.
As an emerging artist (also with a dream) it was my first restaurant installation. I was thrilled.
So, if you are in the area, and love authentic tapas and great wine, please drop by and say hello to Saray and Naomi (and check out the artwork on the walls).
They may not have national fame, or an annoying jingle, but these twins are living their dream - and the rest of us are enjoying the fruit (and Sangria) of their culinary talents!
The journey continues...
Episode 12: Tough shredding
Pickups to pick-up sticks
It's a new year!
And I finally bought a new paper shredder. A really powerful one. This thing could chew up a Ford Super Duty pickup and spit out chrome-plated pick-up sticks.
Like many, every year around this time I become motivated to get organized and deal with the mountains of paper that accumulate like leaning towers of Pisa on my desk - listing stacks of everything from dog-earned Artarama catalogs to a full year of "Sorry you are not a winner" Powerball tickets. It's like a nerve-racking Jenga move just to find my latest copy of Almost Famous magazine
And speaking of the New Year, have you ever actually read the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne?
What in the world is going on there? Cups of kindness, I get that - but 'your pint-stowp,' 'tak a right gude-willy waught,'...
And what in the world does this mean:
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot,
sin auld lang syne.
I think these lyrics are all the clues you need to prove that Klingons did, in fact, visit earth a couple hundred years ago.
I suspect it went down like this:
A newly formed Klingon Military Glee Club beamed down into a pub in Edinburg and were delighted to find their first human audience in the form of a very inebriated Robert Burns, who hastily jotted down what he thought were the words to the song the weirdly dressed visitors were singing.
The rest, as they say, is either myth or history - depending on your devotion to Star Trek.
But back to shredding.
As I am slicing and dicing my way to a cleaner desk, I've been thinking about shredding some of my old habits too. I've become a bit too comfortable with my art. I'm not 'reaching' enough in my painting. Or challenging myself to try new subjects, mediums and styles. Maybe I've become afraid to fail. And that is never good.
So here's to a new year and a new, more courageous, 'almost famous' emerging artist!
The journey continues...