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I have been trying to pinpoint why art fairs here in northern Holland generally depress me.  I went to see some artists friends exhibiting at one yesterday.

In the states I remember the fairs I did mostly as prestigious, juried events. That meant that you were exhibiting in good company and generally your audience came with a clear goal to buy or at least contact quality artists.  

The fancy-fair atmosphere of most of these events I’ve seen here precludes not only attracting people who value art and are willing to pay for it, but also the time and peace for in-depth discussions with serious prospective buyers. 

I guess selling work at art fairs is at the extreme end of commercializing your work. You need to package, price and display it and often must compete with a score of other wares being sold.

But if you must do all these things, then at least you should be rewarded by showing in a venue that respects art and artists and creates the best possible conditions in which to sell it. 

I also dislike the imbalance, and passivity of the whole strange set-up. Art is often added to an event as an embellishment to attract more people. I find it denigrating to see artists sitting behind a display of their work while people walk by eating, ignoring the work, photographing it, or ask about working methods so they can try it at home cheaper. 

I know how much love and energy time and money goes into preparing a public display of your work. I also know how it feels to pack up everything again at the end of the day with nothing more than a couple of potential contacts in your pocket.

There has to be a better way.

 

Art for 10 dollars

April 25, 2008

Through another Sarah who left a comment a few posts back. I heard about Steve Keene . Wow, that was an eye opener. What this guy is doing really got me thinking. Steve has been ‘mass producing’ individual paintings for 15 years. Go to his blog to read more about it, but what struck me, besides the sheer physicalness of painting all those pieces at once, was that he sells them for a few dollars, 3-15 to be precise. 

What he does has also broken through the gallery/artworld hype. Though through his audacity and uniqueness, it does seem he is in danger of becoming yet another hype on the fringe. Still, what marks his work is authenticity. He has no pretences to being a great artist, he is genuinely exploring, and these make him an artist of stature I feel.

I spend hours on some pieces, adding, taking away. And I have bought in to some extent that this time should be rewarded with higher prices, though I tend to be fairly modest in the pricing arena, I feel.

An artist produces many pieces for every piece that soars. There is something very liberating in the idea of stepping outside the artgame and letting that lesser but still good work go for super low prices. 

Here in Holland, you do run into a few problems with that, though. Other artists get angry with anyone underselling them. And the loyal customers who have bought work at full price wouldn’t be happy either.

It is harder to step outside the game when you’ve been inside it, than starting with a fresh take on it like Steve did.

I like what he is doing. It is in its own way ground-breaking and makes me think all over again about how art and money are/and aren’t related.

thanks, Steve.

 

A beautiful gift

April 24, 2008

A beautiful gift from my sister-in-law

Around this time last year, my sister-in-law made me this wonderful object. I’ve been wanting to share it here, and finally got around to taking the photos.

It is one of the most wonderful gifts I’ve received. Not just because of the obvioius love and care that went into making it,  but also because it appeals so much to my own aesthetic sensibilities.  And it goes deeper, not only do I find it beautiful, but all the components mean something. The teeth are the baby teeth of a wonderful little Jack Russel they had who got run over when he was only a year old.  The seeds and bones, shells and feathers are from her garden.  The layers of paper holding the stones are typical of her way of handling materials. And it is called ‘Sarah’s Blog’ in honor of inspiration.

It hangs in a prominent place in my studio, above a piece of my own which you can see at the bottom of the frame. It also uses wood and rice paper. I recognise a lot of my own sensitivity to certain materials and their arrangement in her work and am sure she has influenced me over the years.

I remember once when giving a calligraphy workshop, I had an extraordinarily strong connection with another artist there. At the end of the week she said to me, ‘Looking at your work, I feel as if it came from my own soul’. 

This is how I feel about Wilhelmien’s gift.

She is in the hospital now, fortunately she is going to be fine, but it was a shock for us all.

Feel better zus, liefs, S

 

 

Our front garden last summer

In January a car crashed into the guard rail you see at the right side of the picture. Luckily no one was hurt, but the concrete poles and the iron rails were destroyed, not to mention the front part of the garden.

The rail was replaced, but of course big boots stamping on the wet clay damaged the garden further.

Today was the first opportunity I had to actually work in that part of the garden. 
I am thankful that it is small enough that I can run every handful of earth and every weed through my fingers. That is how I reclaim the garden again after the long winter sleep. We get reacquainted, and once again my heart reconnects with the earth and its healing. The whole spring, summer and early autumn, the garden is my paradise and refuge.

But starting to clear it this morning, I found it wounded. There were blocks of rubble left over from the accident, pieces of car, shards of glass, and garbage from the workers who put in the new rail. And the clay was packed hard over and around the plants. Parts look barren and neglected.

So it felt wonderful to return to my garden some of the love and healing it has always so unstintingly given to me. 

 

 

Shining through form

April 15, 2008

Continuing on from  the previous post- ‘Old Calligraphy, old territory’, I want to explain what it is I look for in a work of art.

I want to be moved, taken out of the ordinary, jolted into a new perception, given the key to a new world. I want to meet someone at heart level, at soul level through their work. I want to be returned to myself to know who I really am at my best and deepest. I want to be given an experience of wholeness and solace. I want to be opened, pried or blasted, it doesn’t matter. I want to be left with the feeling of, ‘It is a beautiful world after all, despite everything’.

Pretty high demands, one might say, but it has happened to me repeatedly, with music, theatre, painting drawing, poetry, etc. 

But here is a paradox: The artists that create work capable of giving this experience aren’t necessarily making ‘beautiful’ things in the conventional sense of the word. I find that what moves me, whether it is a drawing by a child or a painting by a master is something ‘true’ shining out of the work.

Eckhart Tolle, author of ‘The Power of Now’  and  ‘A new Earth’,  puts it this way:

Pseudo art is clever minds trying to be more clever, manipulating old forms. Nothing new has come in.

Nothing in that kind of art can lead you back into the formless which is the original reason for art—to be a portal, an access point for the sacred so that when you see/experience it you experience yourself.  In it you see the formless reflected, shining through form.     -From a talk given at Findhorn in 2004

He goes on to say that true art always contains another dimension than just what you see or hear. It is always more. And the ‘more’ is the energy that emanates from the work. He says too that this kind of power comes from a place of stillness.

And that leads me to a whole new thread, to be continued.

Recently I saw a catalogue from an international calligraphy exhibition. Most of the works were conventional in the sense that the aim was to make beautiful letters and arrange them well. There were hardly any pieces that went beyond this given. The work was adequate but it didn’t move or inspire me.

The last half century, the craft of calligraphy has been aspiring to be recognized as an art form, but there are only a few practitioners who embody this. Mostly it has stayed stuck in the basic levels of mastery of technique and material with little to say beyond the text contained in the quote.

I think part of the reason for this is that what it would take for calligraphic art to soar would require letting go of the very thing one aspires to as a practitioner of the craft- beautiful letters. Also, I think that to make art one needs to be an artist first and calligrapher second. Usually though, people start the other way around.

To move out of the closed circle of more and more perfection in the letters(and less life in the work),  you have to take some hefty risks. You have to be willing to let go of being a ‘good calligrapher’ and navigate a period of chaos.  You need to allow yourself to make ugly letters or no letters at all, and produce failed pieces.  Maybe for years,  until something true surfaces, something truly your own.

Looking at the pieces in that catalogue I could see exactly who had folowed what workshop with which famous calligrapher. Out of all the entries there was only one obscure piece that had broken away and explored new territory. The territory of their own heart. 

 

 

a favorite corner of my studio with 8 color bags, a buddha, hyacinths in walnut ink, a canvas stitched little totem bag, a Tai Chi lesson schedule, an announcement for the Jeroen Krabbé exhibition, and a 3 panel piece, ‘Wage Peace’

I’ve been working with the poem, ‘Wage Peace’ by Judyth Hill.  Since the moment I saw it several years ago I wanted to give it form using ‘my’ media- letters, color, collage, etc.  But the classical approach: lettering it in ‘nice’ looking calligraphic letters, set in a good composition held no artistic challenge for me. 

It has been that way for years.

Abandoning that old safe approach, I finally got around to doing some experimental pieces using walnut ink and mixed media on watercolour paper.  It brought up some classic problems of working with calligraphy. Legibility vs expression. I opted for expression this time. I used the words simply as a starting point for form, movement and line.  It still isn’t ‘there’ but it was wonderful to do.

After a spending most of my adult life striving to make ‘perfect’ letters and fully worked out compositions, this spontaneous way of working is confronting, but liberating. 

It is the lesson that keeps appearing at this stage of my path; let go, trust, enjoy. The rest takes care of itself.