Endless labor, sometimes a sale

John Lloyd putting up his new show

The better I get to know John Lloyd, the more I admire him. (True of his wife, Jane Talcott, as well, but John’s the one who keeps putting his work up in small solo shows non-stop, anywhere he can find space.) Last weekend, when I drove into the city, he’d recently taken down his work at Salon d’Art and was putting it up at a workspace in Tarrytown called W@tercooler. So on my drive into Manhattan last week, I detoured up across the Tappen Zee and into Tarrytown, which turned out to be a beautiful little village tucked into the hills just east of the Hudson River. I felt as if I were in Vermont, with school children wandering along the main drag and cars stopping for any pedestrian who wandered across Broadway, which was more or less the northern extension of the same thoroughfare that runs through Times Square.

John showed up a little early with some last paintings to hang and a few bottles of Two Buck Chuck for the opening reception. He’d sold one small painting for around $350, even before the opening, so already he was a more successful artist than I’ve been the past year, and rather than put up a red dot beside the painting, he took it down and replaced it with one of the new ones he’d lugged in with a shopping bag. He had what appeared to be a couple dozen paintings on view, hung on walls above the heads of people working at their desks—freelancers and self-employed and job seekers who pay to work in the homey communal space, complete with wireless, broadband, a kitchen and an area more like a parlor than an office, with ornate antique couches. In the men’s room were a tidy row of child’s well-executed drawings, mounted behind glass. John’s colorful, intuitive images of scenes from around the city, which he completes in three to four days, mostly en plein air, fit perfectly into the feel of the workspace.

 I helped him unpack a little and talked with the owner about the shows she has scheduled—they’ve booked artwork into February. Then we went down to the place next door, Mr. Nick’s, for a beer and sandwich. John pulled out a textbook on Celtic art and showed me some of the work he’s been teaching students in a class he offers at The Open Center. The website describes Celtic work, done with compasses as “endless knots, rhythms of nature, flowing water spirals, and tangled tree roots. In Celtic art there is visual poetry, an interweaving of plant, animal, and human worlds, displaying the interconnectedness of life amidst earth, sea and sky. We will explore these motifs, many drawn from sacred manuscripts, by simple drawing exercises borrowed from the Celtic tradition.”

It’s a fascinating form of art, as meditative as a Persian carpet, full of patterns with pagan spiritual roots. John told me, “I think most of these images are some kind of blessing.” His work doesn’t seem to draw inspiration from these sources at all, though. His paintings draw more from a joyful and hedonistic—read, French—sense of spontaneous, vibrant color. He captures impromptu responses to urban landscapes, a mix of architecture, vehicles, parks, streets and walkways, which he often paints from life, in acrylic, so that it will dry before he has to carry the day’s work, along with his supplies and equipment, back to his home in Brooklyn via the subway. It wouldn’t be unusual for him to take the train in to Chelsea, paint a scene of the Hi Line and then ride back, with his dry painting in a backpack.

What’s so impressive about John is how indefatigable he is at all levels. Depsite being between jobs, he’s constantly producing new work and looking for ways to get it seen. In the past year alone, he has shown is work at a series of alternative spaces: Salon d’Art, W@tercooler, TAI, a coffee shop, and two framing shops. He’s also been promoting his work in any way possible on the web: Facebook, Pinterest, and Etsy. He has at least that one sale to show for his efforts, but beyond that he has all the people who have enjoyed having his work around while they get their work done, take a coffee break, or convene for a business conference.

I agreed with him when he said one thing in particular, as the traffic moved slowly past on that surburban leg of Broadway: “It’s absolutely irrational to think you can make a living by making art.”

And yet we keep trying.

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