Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Workman's Compensation

In twenty-four years of making art, I’ve worked out of five studios in this little gulf side town, Dunedin. In two of my favorites, bull-dozers moved in after I moved out, while a third studio burned to the ground one December night. Developer’s progress doomed the first two and the third never had a chance against a determined arsonist.

What became most important in all cases was finding a way to continue working. This sweet agony of creation is a condition well understood by painters, musicians and writers. I’ll stop short of calling it an obsession, but many artists I know become seriously unpleasant after a few days away from the easel.

The affliction is poorly understood by producers of products or services in high demand. They wonder how so much labor can lead to so little. Where is the reward? And how many parents have argued late at night after learning their son wants to be a potter.

Making a living as an artist may not be the best career choice, but most legitimate artists work hard to make a life. New York is full of cab drivers who are actors and Nashville has its share of bartending musicians - their unspoken mantra, “Whatever it takes!”

Today, settling in at my kitchen-table studio, I’m thankful for the opportunity to create a series of small paintings.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The World's Most Famous Unknown Artist

Richard Gaston was many things in many places and some of them were not so good. Maybe a lesser man would have chucked it all and simply stayed out there on the road. My dad didn’t and made a career selling points-of-interest maps and guides up and down Florida, always returning to share the meager profits with his family.

To a growing son, his obstinate ways and brooding physical presence became a source of anxiety and longing for some part of him left out on the highway.

It was through his art that I came to know the man. He loved Kandinsky and the German abstract painters and created an oeuvre that harkened back to those early 20th Century masters. Artists often attempt to create a vision opposite the experiences of their own lives. Kandinsky, the son of Russian aristocracy, labored for years as a respectable attorney. The art he later pioneered became the antithesis of that kind of life.

My father’s abstract paintings, drawings, and throw-away sketches were the vivid chronicle of an artist immersed in life’s ambiguities. In their thick layers of color and simple isolated forms, one sensed a search for something perhaps long lost. I only later realized he was painting his own diary.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In Praise Of The Peel-Mobile

There is a certain pleasure that comes from living a predictable life - to know your slippers will always be near the bed or the morning paper will arrive at just the right time. This contentment of continuity is a buffer from other less predictable events we have little control over. I’ve often noticed this quality in older people, which may come from a lifetime of simply staying the course.

A simple pleasure for me is the knowledge that every morning I can get in my car and it will start. I then proceed to the next part of the day and after that I get in the car and it starts again, and every time thereafter.

One such car was a 1979 Dodge Aspen, hands down the best car I ever owned. Not top of the line or new, the utilitarian Dodge served me well for a dozen years before seizing up. Its knack for going and going for well over 200,000 miles earned it the name Energizer Aspen.

The answer, according to auto mechanics, lay under the hood- a slant-6 cylinder engine, stout and enduring enough to become one of the best out of Detroit. In an industry known for planned obsolescence, the slant-6 was so successful it eventually had to be terminated.

My rusty beast earned its reputation hauling art work and the removable back seat gave more room for oversize pieces. For years, the largest size art I could do measured 36” by 60”, just the right size to slide in the back.

Toward the end, the transmission started making strange sounds and age related problems finally rendered the Dodge undrivable. By then, my large paintings would only fit in a cargo van. The time had come for the Aspen to go on over.

My present car, a Ford van, gets the job done and carries much more, but does not bring a smile when I crank it up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Folding My Tent

One of my first sidewalk art shows took place on the same weekend a Florida winter storm blew through. All bluster and no bite, the storm came off the Gulf of Mexico with enough wind to topple my primitive art display.

As I cursed and scrambled to secure what I could, my artist neighbor sat stretched out in a lawn chair, reading a book. Finally, she looked up, and, with the hint of a smile, spoke for the first time.

"I always go to an art show expecting the best but prepared for the worst."

This past weekend I endured another disasterous show complete with the usual suspects - beer drinking good old boys, babies in strollers, goth students with no money in their pockets, corporate hot-shots with nothing except money in their pockets, and every kind of dog imaginable. And everyone of them competing to not buy the most art. It was the worst and I was not prepared for it.

In times like this, I tend to become philosophical and go on and on about "the wonderful learning experience even if I didn't make any money." The truth is, I should have learned my lesson with this kind of show years ago. Small art shows just starting out, with little advertising, and a bad location, should be avoided like a Thomas Kincade print.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sidewalk Art Shows Much Older Than Thought

In a remote mountain valley in Western China, scientists recently unearthed evidence that outdoor art shows are at least 2500 years older than previously thought. Working in an area of the rugged Tien Shan Mountain range in Xinjiang province, archaeologists from Chengdu Paranormal Institute stumbled upon remains of an advanced culture highly skilled in art making.

Team leader, Dr. Toe Chin Fat, explained that many fine examples were just lying around the site, which he named Glorious People's Art Valley.

"We find many beautiful art piece there, such as brightly embroider pot holder, drippy candles, and a line of shaman’s walking sticks."

On one clearly visible roadway, workers discovered remnants of felt tents, suggesting ancient artists may have come to town to sell their creations. Dr. Toe reported one richly carved mammoth tusk even had pieces of blue ribbon still attached to it.

"This piece probably win Best of Show," he chuckled.

If carbon dating is verified, the Glorious People's Art Festival would be almost 2000 years older than the next oldest festival, Winter Park, FL.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Art Takes A Hit At USF St. Petersburg

Below is a copy of an e-mail received from Joani Spadaro, USF St. Petersburg Professor of Graphic Design, regarding the imminent demise of that program. Just now emerging as a major cultural destination, St. Petersburg cannot afford to be without this vital art education.

"I wanted you all to know that USF St. Petersburg has plans to eliminate the Program in Graphic Design. My students were told of this just last week. At this point, it is not known if the juniors in the program will matriculate; they may have to transfer to other programs. The seniors will graduate with adjunct professors.

I have resigned my position from USF St. Pete due to a variety of reasons, all related to a lack of support for this vibrant, important and interesting program. The program is currently the only public BFA granting graphic design program on the west coast of Florida. It is popular, successful and at this point, I fear, doomed.

After being told that a national search was to be conducted for my successor, the students were then told that, due to budget cuts, the program would be eliminated. This makes little sense. The program is one of the most cost effective to run (according to the administration) and it is the only art program that is currently being offered on the St. Pete campus. This is a terrible situation for my students and for the arts community in general. The university seems to think of art in general and the Program in Graphic Design specifically as a dispensable. I hope that you share my outrage and concern.

There is a meeting of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Council at 2:00 on Friday, November 14 to discuss this situation. The meeting is open to the public and is currently scheduled to be held in the Dean's Conference Room, Davis Hall 100. I will update you on any change of venue.

Thank you for your support!"

Warm Regards,

Joani Spadaro
Associate Professor of Graphic Design
Director, Program in Graphic Design
USF St. Petersburg

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Wish The Sun Would Come Out

Several days ago I received an e-mail asking my help to promote an awards ceremony for people who have contributed to the area art scene. The non-profit organization hosting the ceremony listed all the winners on its web site.

Glancing over the list, I was struck by the fact that most of the winners headed up businesses other than art. The few artists I recognized were honored, not for their art making abilities, but their marketing skills and business acumen.

Every month state and county art council newsletters show up in my e-mail box. Under opportunities in the arts, there are pages of jobs available at art museums, art centers, art galleries, schools, and government art programs. Opportunities to actually sell art take up only a few paragraphs.

The whole support structure of American art has slipped off center. In the rush of organizations to secure funding, maintain programs, meet payroll, and please the board and fickle public, the artist is becoming marginalized. Over the years, artists have been asked to donate art in support of political campaigns, AIDS benefits, social service organizations and even high school football programs. On occasion, they have requested a quid pro quo arrangement, only to be labeled whining malcontents.

The Arts can be likened to a unique solar system with myriad planets circling around a central shining star. Museums, galleries and arts organizations are the planets spinning around an artist sun. They thrive in the creative glow and reflect back much needed warmth and support. The order of this solar system has changed and the artist is getting knocked out of orbit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

New Pictures At An Exhibition

The 45th Dunedin Art Harvest took place this past weekend and judging from the sparse crowds and low sales, the rotten economy is indeed affecting art lovers (buyers).

I will not complain. Beautiful weather, plentiful friends and free spanakopita made up for everything. An Award of Excellence didn't hurt either. Thanks for the photos Matt and Ligia.