When Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, died in 1946, she packed up her home in New York for the last time and moved permanently to Ghost Ranch. She was 59 years old. Having first visited Taos in 1929 with her friend and fellow artist Rebecca Strand, Georgia had already fallen in love with the Southwest and poured herself into painting it. “Well! Well! Well!” she said on first glance. “This is wonderful. No one told me it was like this!” From that year on, she had made Abiquiú her second home, even customizing her Ford Model-A with an easel so she could drive out into the desert alone and paint in the back seat.
A few years ago a thief looked in a gallery window and saw what he thought was a painting by a relatively expensive, dead artist. Using an accomplice to distract the dealer, he grabbed it and fled. It turned out to be one of mine. I know the disappointment he must have felt because the painting soon appeared in a nearby dumpster. This is an example of someone trying to steal something that might have been successfully fenced in an auction or another gallery. I fooled ’em.
An artist wrote to ask if he needed a contract. “Just trying to get my act together and be professional as I try to work with more galleries,” he said. While an agreement sounds obvious, it’s not always the case for a gallery to push a piece of paper across the desk when offering to take you on. Like us, dealers are often dreamers, constructing a mystery and magic in a business sometimes still joyfully held up by a parcel of paintings, enthusiasm and a handshake.
A subscriber wrote, “I was wondering what you would have to say about saving a painting by reworking it. I do watercolours and when things go wrong, they usually head south fast. But I sometimes go in and try to save things. Does trying to save a painting ever really work? Have you ever gotten a great painting out of one that was on its way to the dumpster?”
Twenty-four-year-old British artist Henry Yang is offering his paintings for sale in what he calls, “fractional ownership.” Through a digital marketplace dealing in blockchain cryptocurrency, Henry invites multiple shareholders, including himself, to get in on collecting. He recently sold his painting, Arabidopsis Thaliana (Thale Cress), for £3,000 and kept 10% of the ownership. He says it helps waylay the loss he feels when letting them go. Now, Henry can co-loan Arabidopsis Thaliana out for a charge and disperse the dividends to his co-shareholders.
Horace Walpole once remarked of Sir Joshua Reynolds, “All his own geese are swans, as the swans of others are geese.”
I’ve heard variations of this idea from some of my artist friends. There have even been times, perish the thought, when I’ve caught myself being like that. In most cases it’s got something to do with the ongoing problem that we ourselves just never seem to have enough swans. Sometimes there’s nothing but ducks.
A letter came about a small painting done by my dad when he was 27:
“My mum bought it from the Art Emporium in Vancouver in 1964. It fascinated me when I was a kid. There is a red object/figure on a rocky island. Is it a person or a building? …And at the right there is an aircraft flying away. It might be a Canso but I’m not sure. I haven’t seen it for many years and just came across it helping my mum (age 93) clean up her basement. She gave the painting to me because she is blind and said, ‘Well I can’t see it anyway, you may as well have it,’ (Bless her heart.) I still really like it and am still puzzling over it’s story, if there is one.”
Robert Lenkiewicz is one of my favourite painters. He died in 2002, age 60, of complications arising from heart problems. I was reminded again of Robert by a letter from his friend Henryk Ptasiewicz. I commend this letter to you. Henryk’s letter is in the responses to the past letter, Just for today.
Born in north London, the son of refugees who ran a Jewish hotel, Lenkiewicz went to St Martin’s College of Art and Design at the age of 16 and later the Royal Academy. However, he was largely self-taught.
After a couple of decades wielding a brush, I’m wondering if you’ve also experienced this: I paint all day and while resting I think about paintings. Then I go to sleep and dream about paintings I’ve not yet painted.
A few mornings ago, I rose from bed and, like a premium droid, set to work without question on the thing I had dreamt. After reasonable success, I wondered if this process might simplify the whole operation and alleviate mental exertion.
Seasoned painters may think I’m reinventing the wheel here, but this idea is one that many — even many abstractionists — need to know about: The normal and obvious process is to mix a colour to match the local colour of the subject matter and then apply it in its proper place in the painting. For a change, try this: Mix a colour — any colour — then look around and try to find a place to put it. For many artists this is awkward, reverse thinking. I’m here to tell you — it’s dynamite.