Friday, April 8, 2016

The Question

Recently I gave a talk about my art in connection with an exhibition at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa. Afterwards visitors asked general questions about my process, about materials and inspiration. Near the end of the evening, an art student approached me with what turned out to be the most important question. Important because it gave me pause and continues to perplex.

How, she asked, would I respond to certain people who might charge that I am appropriating important and even sacred cultural symbols and beliefs. The question caught me off guard and I’m afraid my answer might not have been satisfactory.

I told her that artists down the ages have sampled ideas and images from other cultures. Their appropriations were deemed valid because under the artists’ creative influences the images became part of unique new art works. Picasso, van Gogh, and Gauguin, in particular, were adept at re-interpreting ‘foreign’ artistic styles.

The student’s question may have been in reference to a piece in the exhibition titled “Singing The World.” The title is based on an Australian native people’s story of how the world and everything in it were created. The painting features an image of a kangaroo and a style that harkens back to Aboriginal art.

My intent is not to disrespect Aboriginal culture but to celebrate it and to do so in a way that is unique and true to my particular vision. And I believe the piece fits in seamlessly with the other works in the exhibition.

I’m thankful the young woman asked me that question because it continues to bring up other questions. How would native Australians respond to “Singing The World”? Perhaps they would have no objections to it and could even come to celebrate the painting. Could it be that in modern society's rush to be politically correct, we simply reject that which we don't understand? I wonder.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Call To Collect

Years ago I attended a dinner party given by a couple who were well respected in the art community. Their contributions and endorsements over the years had made a considerable difference to both artists and institutions.

Walking into their waterside home, I was stunned to see many of my art works hanging on their walls. It turned out they had been collecting my work for years and I was not even aware of it. While it was true several pieces had been purchased from me, most were picked up at fund raisers and charity events. That experience convinced me of the many different ways to collect art.

One of the largest private art collections I’ve seen belongs to a local dentist. He once asked me if I would come and authenticate two pieces of art with the name Gaston on them. His high ceiling Victorian home was filled salon style with the most intriguing art work, many of which had been purchased at yard sales. On the walls, almost up to the crown molding, hung fine examples of outsider art, African art, abstract landscapes and even paint by number pieces.

The two works in question hung side by side and occupied a central position in the hallway. One was an early piece painted by my father and the other a small drawing of mine purchased at an outdoor art show. My father and I did not see eye to eye on some of the vagaries of life but we were both passionate about art making. Standing there I had the sense that somehow a circle had been completed.

In order to support my art making habit, I have, over the last thirty years, worked at various part-time jobs. Twelve of those years were spent at a natural food store, where on free time, lunch breaks or on the telephone, I doodled. One day another employee came to me with a worn scrapbook she wanted to share. The book was filled with dozens of my little doodle drawings she had collected over the years. Some had even been pulled out of the garbage can and proudly added to her collection.

These examples of art collections won’t make it onto my resume, but in their own way they have become as important to me as my works in museum and corporate collections.

But if you're looking for advice on collecting from a business perspective, you should check out Invaluable's blog In Good Taste which features the latest trends in art and antiques.

(art works courtesy of Aydelette Kelsey and Denis Gaston)