“People think I’m dead,” Larry Poons says, without irony. At age 80, he’s explaining his obscurity to filmmaker Nathanial Kahn while daubing colour onto a mammoth work-in-progress — un-stretched canvas draped ceiling-to-floor in a circle around him. Larry’s wizened face, hobo duds and ramshackle studio in rural, upstate New York describe an archetype of monetary irreverence. He and Kahn are in the midst of shooting The Price of Everything, Kahn’s documentary about the skyrocketing contemporary art market. Poons has been cast as The Purist.
Yearly Archives: 2018
Those of us who sometimes mentor and instruct students are familiar with trying to get people to really look at things. Recently, after a few days walking around in a subject-rich environment, I was agog with new possibilities. Burdened with reference, I returned to the studio and proceeded to paint the worst thing I’ve done in some time. It was one of those paintings that can have you considering a career in accountancy. During the fiasco I began to better understand a syndrome I’ve had all my life. It’s what I call “the tyranny of reality.”
Recently, a letter arrived describing a young girl standing at the barre in her ballet class, while an artist guest of the instructor sketched and gathered painting material.
“I remember thinking how I would have loved to be painting and learning alongside him, rather than be self-consciously fumbling through ballet exercises at the barre,” the letter read. “Later, he held a show and sale of paintings and drawings inspired by his time there. My parents and an older sister bought pencil drawings featuring my little sister…
Floating through the Chelsea galleries, up and down the democratic elevators, through the mysterious doors where minimalist girls, like wax figures, sit at laptops in sparse foyers and do not acknowledge your presence. Where liveried guards suspect your bag and camera, here and there there’s a Burton Silverman.
Coming from a background of illustration, Silverman, an artist’s artist, has found a unique place in the realist revival. To read his partly biographical The Art of Burton Silverman, you might think he’s still fighting the art-wars of the sixties.
In the comments section of last Friday’s letter, Sharon Lalonde asked, “What is the responsibility of an artist to be a good host at her opening, and what would that look like? I have been to openings where one has to guess who the artist is, or the artist is comfortably in a corner with a few friends and does not engage. I think some education in this area would be valuable.”
The other day I happened to be paying a visit to one of my galleries. I noticed a guy moving slowly along a wall — his nose almost dragging on the paintings. “He’s an art student — comes in here all the time,” said the dealer. “He’s studying all the artists and trying to figure out their secrets.” The guy was making notes, lost in his own world.
Like the novel or memoir many of us feel we have lurking inside but will probably never put to paper, there is undoubtedly a painting or two that simmers in the arm and hand of all creative beings. More primal than writing, mark-making begins in early childhood, to be perverted later into a messy and inconvenient activity where the exception to do it in adulthood is made only when it serves an industry. A lawyer friend once invited me to his basement to show me an appealing, sort-of pointillist portrait in cheery colours. “Can you help me get a show?” he asked.
Yesterday, after some friends had left my studio, I realized that I’d been bumbling around and lacing the atmosphere with some odd words and phrases. While gathering up the empty glasses, I also reminded myself that, as individualists, we all have the right to “name and claim” our own terms. Here, in an attempt at clarity — for you five treasured friends — are some definitions:
A young Canadian artist wrote, “I had meant to ask your dad about those mahogany wood panels. I have been looking for a wood panel that is cheap in cost so that I can paint more and is time tested and archival, and something I can trust. I tried to look into it myself, but can’t seem to find them. I would also use the wood panels to glue canvas onto for oils and acrylics. Are these mahogany wood panels still a professional choice to sell the work compared to a stretched canvas, or are they only good for studies? Does it matter?”
I’m laptopping you from under a red sugar maple beside an old habitant cottage in Charlevoix County, Quebec. Artists of all stripes have come here for generations to paint and fall in love with the beauty and charm. The legacy continues today. The town where I’m staying, Baie-Saint-Paul, population 7000, has more than 30 art galleries and at least 100 professional painters. On some nearby roads you cannot go a kilometer without seeing a palette sign hung on a veranda and an invitation to a studio within. As many tourists and collectors are drawn to the area, some painters do very well.