Saturday, 7 April 2012

Grist to the Mill...

I love painting and drawing. I love art. I love the experience of visiting exhibitions and galleries and how over the years I have encountered exhibitions or artworks that have changed my life. I love the places in my mind I find myself in everyday from being involved in my own creative endeavours, despite all the inherent difficulties with this. But as an artist the experience of trying to negotiate opportunities to exhibit your work, gain some sort of exposure, generate contacts, raise funds, apply for commissions and grants, all the stuff to do with the business of being an artist, I can find tedious beyond belief.

It’s no use complaining really as these things go hand in hand if you care about what you are doing and want other people to care about it too, but sometimes you wonder why you are doing it when so much of this stuff seems like so much anathema to what you really want to do, which is just make stuff. I’ve had a couple of weeks like this where you find yourself going back to the studio thinking ‘I JUST DON’T NEED THIS CRAP!’

Since my grant award, I’ve been working with Angela, an arts consultant who is acting as a mentor to help me negotiate some of this stuff more easily. When we met recently, I questioned how I might get my work seen by curators and a local young curator’s name came up that Angela knew and said she would try and invite to the studio. The answer that came back was that said curator wasn’t interested in doing a show with me (I’m not sure where this came from? I wasn’t interested either!), but would be willing for a nice fee to offer me a consultation on the Birmingham Arts Scene! I may not that be active on the network of said scene, but as an artist based in the city for many years now, I know pretty much all I need to know about it. It might be worth stating here that one of my reasons for applying for a grant was to seek opportunities outside of the region, frustrated at not finding a suitable ‘place’ for my work, after much effort trying and researching into EVERY gallery in the area. I dreaded the thought of being horribly patronized by this curator, but I also thought ‘bloody cheek…’

On the other end of the scale, this weekend I decided to enter a couple of paintings in an Open Exhibition advertised by a previously unheard of gallery in Hockley which sounded like a good chance to get some work out there with little hassle. Who knew? Maybe I may even get a bit of feedback, he thought optimistically.

When I turned up with my two little still life ‘crapola’ paintings, the owner just said, ‘but they’re not framed’, to which I replied ‘well, your advert said canvasses did not need to be framed, and besides I don’t like to frame my paintings’, ‘Well, we won’t show unframed work’. I looked around at the pastel seascapes and Mohammed Ali and Evel Knievel prints on the wall, ready to leave again. ‘You’re a commercial gallery, eh?’ I remarked. ‘Oh no, my friend we’re not’ this is all about the art, we’re not interested in selling’. I didn’t understand. ‘Don’t worry’, he said taking my paintings, ‘if you get selected we’ll frame them’, and he pulled out a ridiculous baroque frame and placed it around my rather sad painting of crap, empty drink cartons. I was getting restless at this point. ‘Well that’s no good, is it’, I remarked. ‘Well, what sort of frame do you usually have?, ‘I told you…’ but it was too late. He had a more discreet white frame on my painting. ‘It’s all about presentation’, he said. ‘You can have those for twenty quid’. I felt trapped as he then proceeded to show me around the gallery. The best paintings were definitely the ones by his mother-in-law. ‘Look, if they get selected let me know before you do anything about framing’, I said as I headed for the door. ‘Don’t worry, they’ll get in’, he smiled as he closed the door behind me. My head was spinning as I drove home feeling like I had been horribly conned, and was soon to be several quid lighter.

Today I went back and reclaimed my paintings with my three year old to protect me. ‘I want my paintings back’, I said. ‘You don’t want to sell them?’ ‘No’. I took them home and hung them back on the studio walls.


(The Philip Guston paintings on display here seemed to fit the mood of this particular post)

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