Last week I met with a gallery owner in Oxford. We sat down and had an informal chat while he reviewed my work in consideration for exhibition at the gallery. This was a really big step for me and quite unexpected. Some weeks prior to this I’d visited their sister gallery in Witney. Being a rather small town I thought, naively perhaps, that if I inquired to make an appointment to show my work I’d be considered for what I prematurely viewed as the more parochial of the two. So it came as a surprise when I started this process that I was asked to
visit the gallery in Oxford. And to meet with the owner, no less! This was a big step for me and as I sat in this tiny space that served as gallery/office – with my work overlapping on top of a cluttered desk – amongst an impressive collection of original works by Picasso and Henry Moore I realized that I may have made a mistake. Work that I had moments before felt confident in showing suddenly felt
meaningless and poorly crafted. I felt like I was a challenged outsider artist sitting in the company of world-renowned artists. Basically like an idiot. But there was no going back and I kept reminding myself that I wouldn’t be there if the owner hadn’t thought there was something special in my work. After all, I’d sent him images of my work earlier via email and he wouldn’t waste his precious time to sit with me if he thought my work was completely rudimentary. So there I nervously sat, sweating buckets from my armpits and blushing profusely. I could feel the heat on my face and it made me wonder just how dark of a shade of pink I was. It also made me wonder if this had any affect on this man in front of me – if he was somehow taking pity on me for what must have appeared as overwhelming embarrassment.
Luckily, the man was very nice. A good, honest man. He had the kind of quality about him that you could tell immediately he’s a good guy. He was straight talking but kind. Diplomatic I guess you could say. He asked me loads of questions, some of which I answered better than others. And by the end of our meeting he said the reason he brought me in was because there was something special about my work – it was different than anything else he was seeing. He thought I demonstrated great potential and asked if I was willing to “enter into a bit of a journey”with them, which basically translated into me taking a risk to create four new pieces of work – at my own expense and with no guarantee – to bring to the gallery for a test. Every artist they take on has to jump through the same series of hoops, even if they’re the likes of Damien Hirst. This guy is running a business and has to make money. I understand that and respect his mission. To pass this test, the artwork is put on temporary display for as long as it takes to get feedback from their collectors and patrons. If the feedback is positive I’m offered a show. If not, I pack up my work and head back to my studio, a bit bruised but with new work in hand. IF it goes well and I get a show and THAT goes well, I’ll be asked to come back to put on another show the following year at which point the gallery makes a decent financial investment in me and they print a gallery book of my exhibition and I’m basically then represented by the gallery. So when I say this is a big deal, it’s a bit of an understatement. More like it’s a huge fucking deal! I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say my future hinges on me passing this test – but it kind of does. And the pressure feels huge! And that’s why I’ve decided I need to keep a journal about my progress. If nothing else, it’ll help me to look back on later. Like a time capsule.
And this brings me to Day 1. Well, Day 2, really, since I spent all of yesterday finding imagery and doing some basic research. Oh yea, and also cutting out my surfaces. Which reminds me of what is also making me feel the crush. When I met with Aiden, he gave me a tip. He said that when he started his gallery he worked much differently than he does now. And there was this woman who would come into the gallery who owned something like 60-odd Picassos. One day he decided to transform the gallery into a place that catered specifically to her. Because a collector of her caliber could support his business. And he said an amazing thing happened: the artists he dealt with all upped their game and he overall had a more high-quality gallery. So he said to me to think of a wealthy person in my life (because I likely knew one according to him) and approach the work as if I were making it for them. Like a commission. God. The trouble with that is that I’ve always been poor and so I guess in a way I don’t have too high of
expectations. I’ve read stories about people who grew up in poverty but always had aspirations for wealth and just presented themselves as if they were very rich. But I’ve never been that way and I’m afraid that will show through. That’s the chink in my armor I guess. Still, it’s a challenge and one that I will face. I keep reminding myself that his could be my big break and I’ve faced more daunting tasks before so this should be nothing.
Anyway, back to Day 1…
So far I’ve cut out my surfaces. I’ve decided to use some plywood that I
had on hand. It’s about a quarter of an inch thick and has a smooth surface. I’ve sanded it down to clean it up and slightly rounded the corners. I’ve gone through the imagery I collected yesterday and have decided what to print first– I’ve decided to start with these Raleighcigarette coupons because my Gramma used
to collect them by the ship load. I should back up here and tell you what I’m basing the work on. Because Aiden told me I needed to find something that collectors could identify with (because people will pay anything to buy something if it strikes the right chord with them) and because I’d done a new piece just prior to our meeting that used an old picture of Gramma with
Grandpa Robert holding Uncle Rodney when he was just a baby, I realized that
THAT should be my focus. Family. Namely a dysfunctional one. Everyone has
family of one type or another and therefore they should be able to identify with
various aspects of it. And since I work with vintage imagery anyway, it’s a natural fit. And because I’ve had thoughts of writing a memoir but don’t really fancy
myself much of a writer, thought why not tell our story through pictures instead
of words? I think I’ll focus on certain aspects of our family history which are touch subjects like alcoholism and abuse. But some will just be about nostalgia in general – collections of memory. Incidentally, I had an interesting thought as I was processing all of this information: I want to capture moments that are like memories on a scratchy record. After all, it’s my history that belongs to me – one I’m forced to carry – despite not having lived through some of it. It’s a history I’ve inherited and one that must be kept alive to share with my family down the road.
I’m not sure what the other three pieces will be yet, but so far piece No. 1 will have to do with Gramma’s vices: smoking and drinking. I only have vague pictures in my head so far and nothing that creates a full picture. And it’s quite possible that this first piece will be more of a sketch to get my ready for a final piece but it’s a journey that I must embark on in order to get started on a greater one. I better get started!