Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Tale Circa 1982

I just want to talk about only two of the reasons we go to look at work in a gallery or museum. One is to see what the artist has achieved; the other is to see what has been going on with the artist. While I am always interested to see the first, the second is why I'm writing.

I was remembering an incident that happened almost thirty years ago. I had a show with the Andrew Crispo Gallery in the Fuller Building on 57th Street and Madison. It was a modest show. The paintings were all done on canvas board, none bigger than 18 x 24. I had carried all 35 pieces across the park in two paper shopping bags. They were called Flowerheads. I really liked them. They were all done after I had found out that my girlfriend was pregnant and we were going to have the baby. The paintings were a celebration.

As a result of that news I left New York to take a job as an art teacher at the Putney School in Vermont, and had to come down for the opening of the show. None of my family came, but Leon Polk Smith was there with his partner, Bob, and Sally Michel Avery also happened to be there, which was a thrill for me having always felt a connection to her husband. A bunch of friends were there too, but it was not a wild affair. April Gornik made it, and was visibly disappointed, and so did Douglas Abdell, who was probably responsible for me getting the show in the first place; Crispo didn't show young artists.

I say all this because when I think back on it, this was really a show of what I was up to, what was going on with me, what was happening to me, what I was thinking and feeling at that time, consciously and unconsciously. If you knew me at all you might have definitely been interested.

And while the show was up my mother happened to be in New York. I was back in Vermont teaching so I didn't see her. When I spoke to her on the phone I asked her what she thought of the show. She told me she hadn't seen it. I asked her why and she told me that my brother Peter, also a painter, had told her that there was nothing worth seeing.

Now at one time my mother had been an artist, and my inspiration and mentor as a child, so naturally I was shocked by her response. This is the story behind this story. In my heart of hearts the show was at the very least a record of what was going on with me. At the very least but most importantly. In the most profound sense. The show may not have been an achievement and "important" in that way, but if you are interested in art as life, then it becomes very important.

When I think back on it anyone who had that slightest interest would have found plenty of stuff to see at that show. Beyond the color and mark-making there were a thousand stories in every picture. Humor and play, invention and a truck load of references to personal and public affairs of the day. In short these were nothing less than 35 little cave paintings that told the story of my life and the life in New York City in the year of our Lord 1982!

Furthermore this is what has always drawn me to art and still does, as a record of where life has been. Sure I go to see what the artists makes happen; as an artist that is what I am trying to do. But I really go to see what's happened on that other level, where they've been, what they've been up to, what's been going on. On some level, once you get past all the fashion of the art world, we know that this is the real value of art, not as achievement but as a testament of what life is and was! The record of where life has been! This is the real value of art beyond fashion and trend, which are of course telling in their own right in the telling of that story. And what a tale art has to tell! And to paraphrase the great artist Leon Polk Smith, all we have to do is listen!

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