Monday, September 5, 2016

Can You Talk?

Then there’s this. You get a phone call from a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. He wants to know how you are doing but before you can even answer begins a long winded monologue about his sciatica, his lousy job, his terrible next door neighbor and something about the government.

Eventually he stops to breathe and you have a chance to talk about your cats or your art work or your hernia, but before you can finish he interrupts, “I know exactly what you’re talking about. The very same thing happened to me,” and he’s off and running again.

You realize the only way to get a word in edgewise is to talk over the friend. But he just starts talking louder and you talk louder and pretty soon the two of you are having a shouting match.

Well, that’s not working so you try the opposite approach and say nothing, just throwing in an occasional “yes” or “I know” to let him know you’re still alive. After a while even that gets tiring and you go stone cold silent.

Finally the friend recognizes that you are not agreeing with him about the high cost of his hip replacement and the jerk who cut him off on the way to Publix. Taking a concerned tone for the first time in the conversation, he asks:

“You’re not saying much today. Are you feeling ok?”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Small Talk

What did you say? I can’t understand you. You’re mumbling again.
Oh, you want breakfast. Why didn’t you say so, instead of pacing back and forth like that.
OK, you don’t have to get all pouty about it. I wish someone would wait on me like I wait on you. I’m really getting tired of it.
Yeah, I know you can’t cook. Every day you remind me of it. And another thing, could you please stop making those noises when you eat. It’s irritating.
Yes, I know about your condition. Just eat already, while I finish the laundry.
OK, once again I can’t hear you. I’m in the laundry room. What? Yes, I fluff dried your precious pillow. You know, the next time you decide to get sick, just maybe be near the toilet like everyone else. This stain is just not coming out.
No, I’m certainly not making light of your condition. I’m just saying….
Now wait a minute, what’s my mother got to do with this? Well, how could she know you’re allergic to tuna?
Why are you looking at me like that? 
Oh, so now it’s the silent treatment. Look, I’ve just about had it with you. I’m getting out of here for a while.
All right, I thought that would get your attention. Where am I going? Where do I always go Tuesday afternoon? The grocery store of course.
Oh, don’t start on that again. I did not forget you last week or the week before. OK, smart aleck, here’s the grocery list. What’s the very first item? That’s right, Kibbles! I rest my case!"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Furry Bodhisattva

I keep having this recurring dream where I’m in a fascinating conversation with Andre, that great wisdom teacher from the movie My Dinner With Andre. In this episode we’re talking about cats and not those funny snuggly pets we see on Facebook. Andre takes a sip of champagne and leans forward.

“No, I’m talking about cats as these wise spiritual beings who have been sent back to this material dimension.”

“But why and by whom?” I interrupt.

“Well, this is what I think. There are these highly evolved Elders, who are special beings existing in the ethereal dimension and whose sole purpose is to teach us abiding and unconditional love. Their helpers on this mission are cats who are sent back here as messengers
Andre glances around and leans in closer. “But here’s the thing. I don’t think they’re as much messengers as they are mirrors.”

“Mirrors? I don’t get it."

“Don’t you see? Cats teach us by becoming mirrors for what we need to deal with in our lives. They throw-up on the kitchen floor and become a mirror for our anger. They can’t decide whether to come in or go out and become a mirror for our impatience.

Doris and I once had a beautiful rescue tabby we named Chloe. Well, Chloe had this habit of running off every time we let her outside. Hours would pass and we became very anxious. We drove all over the neighborhood, asking everyone if they had seen her. But when we returned home still anxious and now exhausted, there was Chloe waiting for us on the back steps.

It took a long time but we finally realized that Chloe’s roaming habit was a mirror for our anxiety about losing control. After that we let Chloe do what she wanted to and we learned a lesson in trust.”

“But what happened to Chloe?”

“Eventually she ran off and didn’t come back. We asked around and posted photos but somehow knew that she would not be returning. Doris said she thought Chloe’s job here was done and she had reported back to the Elders."

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Critic

For many years I participated in the Florida outdoor art show circuit. During those years I set up my tent in venues ranging from parking lots and piers to cow pastures and river banks. One of the prettiest shows took place in Tarpon Springs in a park by one of the many bayous that weave through the beautiful city.

And every year I was fortunate to land the same spot right next to the water and under a lovely water oak tree. One of its spreading branches dipped low over the sidewalk, even forcing tall visitors to duck their heads. After a while the tree became the main attraction and more than one person called to their friends that the stately oak should win Best of Show.

Two long time collectors often came to the show in a boat and if I was lucky, they returned home with a piece of my art leaning in the stern. The quirky nature of the Tarpon show always made it fun to do.

But after several years my sales dried up and I began wondering whether I should even participate anymore. For every positive reason there were one or two negative ones; too hard to get to, no parking, no artist dinner, no sales.

During one particularly dismal show I had decided that unless some miracle happened I would not do it again. Sunday afternoon rolled around with only a couple measly sales to show for it and no miracle on the horizon. Against all rules, I decided to start breaking down my art display early. The worst they could do would be to blackball me from the show. Thank you very much.

Around 4:30 I took several small pieces off the wall and leaned them against the display. Maybe I could get a jump on the other artists and say sayonara to Tarpon Springs. Just then, an old acquaintance stopped by to say hello and listen to my moaning about the show.

While we were standing there chatting, he looked past me to my display and broke into a broad grin. I turned just in time to see a dog of indefinite lineage lift its scrawny leg on one of the drawings.

Thus relieved, the cur sauntered off, leaving me, for once, at a loss for words. My acquaintance, when he was able to stop laughing, pointed at the disappearing dog.

“Looks like everybody's a critic!”



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Call For Art

Above is an image I recently created and one that I’ve titled Disdain. Its completion brought some satisfaction but left me with a nagging question. Is it art? Right now I’m not sure it even fits that category. But first allow a brief backstory.

Years ago I pulled a photo from a nature magazine of a smug African Baboon taking the sun. A compelling image, I tucked it away like many other photos for future reference. Some years later I scanned the photo and saved it in a large ‘miscellaneous photos’ folder. There it languished until the other night when I came upon an unusual image posted on Facebook. An artist had edited a photo of a woman in Photoshop by applying a special effect filter. The result resembled an abstract painting and the post comments congratulated the artist on a unique and beautiful work of art.

But was it art or even intended to be art? While pondering that, I remembered the odd baboon photo and decided to try my hand in Photoshop. I am by no means a Photoshop Master, but within a short time had created the above image.

At this early stage, could I dare call it art? Perhaps I could if following Marcel Duchamp’s dictum, “Art is whatever I say is art.” Going further, I might copy the image to a CD, take it to a fine art printer and have a 5’ image printed on canvas. Placed on a museum-wrap stretcher, the work would get a few strokes of oil pigment and voila, it would be done. The mixed-media painting is finally hung in an art gallery with a hefty price tag. On opening night a wealthy wine merchant from Argentina purchases Disdain for $14,500. Here at last, with conviction, could I dare call it art? Or, at that point, perhaps I should not say a word.

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)

Friday, January 1, 2016

My Father The Map Maker

While renovating the old homestead a few years ago, I found this magnetic sign behind the living room wall. My father most likely placed it there during an earlier renovation when he and my mom moved here in 1971. He did things like that.

When I was a kid I tried to impress friends by telling them my dad was a cartographer. But, truth be known, Richard Gaston was much more than that and, as far as I know, the only one - a traveling salesman and promoter who could also draw.

In Virginia and later Florida he created dozens of hand-drawn points of interest maps of off the beaten path towns. In a time before shopping malls and urban sprawl rendered town centers obsolete, dad's maps were a celebration of small owner-operated businesses.

On his maps you could usually find ads for barber shops, beauty salons, filling stations, diners and motor courts, all endangered species today. For only $39.50 those businesses got a one by two inch full color ad plus 50 maps to hand out to customers.

When dad came in off the road, he would toss a bunch of those checks on the bed for my sister and me to count. Sometimes there was as much as $474. We thought we must surely be rich, and now these many years later I realize that we were.