Somewhere between coal and diamond



This is an email I got this morning from Lauren Purje, my friend in Brooklyn. I wrote about her a few posts back. She works at Viridian Artists and will be showing her work there in the future, and she also has a solo show in Buffalo coming up soon. We’ve been talking about collaborating on something which intrigues me because we’re making art from completely different directions: I want my painting to get as far from words and concepts as possible, and her work is steeped in both, rooted in a quizzical stance that’s essentially philosophical. She’s always thinking in the most circumspect way about how to be an artist. From this email for example: “The meaning of art changes based on the venue you market it in and the value somebody puts on it.” That’s a pretty big caveat. Matt Klos pointed out to me a while ago that Stanley Lewis stuck with his artist-owned gallery even after his work started to sell for decent money. I would guess his thinking was the same as Lauren’s. Keep it real and address those who are looking at the work itself, not what it’s going to be worth in two or three or ten years. Her path in Brooklyn and Manhattan fascinates me, and I want to keep in touch with what she’s doing, how she passes hurdles or shies away from them, always thinking less about a “career” than what she wants her art to mean. I think she hits on quite a few essential things in this email, so she said I could pass it along:

Bob Cenedella, (professor at the Art Students’ League and my original connection to NY, I consider him a mentor) likes showing in bars and restaurants more than galleries, now that he’s done it all.  He’s coming from a long career where he’s dealt with the art world and many times has been censored by it.  His attraction to the bar scenes I think boils down to having his work seen by everyone–art in normal situations. His work is often political, or just plain satire.  He hit it big back in the day when he had shows alongside Andy Warhol, but he was selling Brillo boxes for 15 cents, 5 cents if you assemble it yourself, haha— just to say it was bullshit.

It’s sometimes confusing.  I don’t want to be bitter, but I know that the gallery system is pretty fucked up. I guess I’m just looking at it in terms of, who’s really looking at your work when you’re in Chelsea compared to maybe a bar on 2nd ave. There’s a lot of grey area, between Richard Serra and any Viridian artist–there’s not one ART WORLD, but lots of little ones.  The one everyone thinks of is Jenny Holzer’s and Matthew Barney’s . . .  Ford snuck in there. But exhibiting in places where people eat and drink is a way of reaching more people.

It is a big business world—people buying to hope it goes up in value to just sell it later.  As an artist it never starts at money though. It’s usually, hopefully, the opposite—no one says “I’m going to be an artist because I want to be rich.”  Well– except maybe Maurizio Cattelan. Okay, maybe a lot of people want to hit it big.  Andy Warhol and Keith Haring are heroes in this town.  I personally think they kind of suck.

I’m a hypocrite though.  I wish I was Walton Ford too.  I want to paint what I want and get paid for it.  But this big art world is getting really stupid really fast, Hirst, Murakami, and Koons man…. if they actually touch their own work it’s a big deal.  (For example Hirst had a show in London of HIS paintings… he’s a horrible painter, the fact that he was holding the paintbrush became part of the concept.  What? How backwards is that?)  So, in this regard– restaurants aren’t so bad.  Real people don’t buy into Hirst’s bullshit.  At least not to the point that they would pay millions for a deteriorating shark.  A deteriorating shark that conceptually isn’t supposed to deteriorate. Haha!

I guess I’m just always trying to convince myself that art is for real people. Do real people go to Chelsea? The chances I have to find an audience that likes my work there is pretty slim.  But there are a few galleries out there that could really dig it too.  It’s odd for me to show people my work and they are “refreshed” because it’s so straightforward.  Some people are turned off by the fact that you can read it like a kid’s book.  They’re convinced I am an illustrator.

I’m fine with that, but when did people start thinking art SHOULD be hard to understand.  I understand that what I do won’t be everybody’s taste, but a few people that have told me why they don’t dig my work have convinced me that they take this stuff way too seriously.

Walton Ford is enlightening because he’s doing stuff I love to see in art–good at the craft, he loves his subjects and the process of making it, and it’s got a humorous slant–so he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  There’s more people out there like him; the WHOLE art world isn’t doomed.  But maybe this is what I mean by a “diamond that wants to stay coal.”  Tom Waits is kind of like that, he’s my hero.

Morally, I don’t think art should be worth a million dollars.  It would be easier to die knowing that the people that bought my work have it on their wall and it means something to them.  Maybe there should be a sliding scale to sell artwork!  If you’re a bajillionaire you have to give up 5% of your income for my work.  If you’re an MTA worker.. meh… give me a couple hundred for it and buy me dinner.

It’s just not fair sometimes.  If I had a million dollars I would still prefer being a dirty grimy piece of coal.  I have this project called “Art For The People” where it started at $20 a painting, they just give me a “subject” and I do what I want with it and send it to them.  One time I got overwhelmed with how many I had to make, so I raised it to $50— still dirt cheap of course– but it gives me enough. Everyone that gets one feels like it’s just for them, it’s like a gift on both sides.  If I ever get represented by a gallery–they wouldn’t let me do that anymore.  See what I mean?  The meaning of art changes based on the venue you market it in and the value somebody puts on it.

And don’t get me wrong, as much as I don’t want to be material, I can’t fully get away from it.  But going back and forth from an art store where the street artists buy their supplies to my job in Chelsea has taught me a lot.

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