Along with the wide range of available manias like pyromania (setting fire to property), trichotillomania (twisting your hair until it falls out), dromomania (the intermittent compulsion to travel and get away), and erotomania (looking for love in all the wrong places), I’ll add easelmania (compulsive art making). Hardly an undesirable habit, easelmania nevertheless has downsides, one of which can be moving the afflicted into a higher tax bracket. Dromomanically, I’m in Chelsea (it’s stimulating — I’d love to stay if it wasn’t for the taxes) down on these sunny lanes looking for a good easel. And right now in a London Starbucks the coffee is good and there’s wireless access for this laptop.
That takes us to the 10th annual Chelsea Art Fair. Held in the Old Town Hall it’s an overview of what’s popular in Britain. If you’re looking for current quality, this is the event. Forty or so galleries have displays of their top artists. It’s loaded with stars — lots of them are women. There’s modern and contemporary realism as well as a few of the dead guys. The first thing you notice is that there’s not a lot of large stuff. The British know that good things come in small packages. Not a lot of landscapes either. “People have tired of them,” a dealer tells me. Lots of figurative — some of the goofy kind, others refined — abstracted dancers, intelligent nudes, thoughtful children. There’s also fine-tuned classical realism, impressionistic brilliance, and clever bronzes of dogs and horses–no foxes this time.
The place is humming. Gucci-clad women and gents in Harris Tweeds look over their glasses at the fancy prices. They’re either home-decorators or compulsive collectors — or both–the bug’s going around. British framing is currently understated and tasteful — less gold — more gray and black. Amazing how things come around. The dealers are low-key and helpful. There are lots of brochures and printouts. You pick up the enthusiasm. My collectomania is aroused when I spot a bronze Airedale.
Traditionally, the British have preferred their paintings to be like violins — old and brown. Almost half of the art purchased in Britain still comes from the antique shops. Today there’s a mania in Chelsea, and it feels good.
PS: “We have brilliant artists here. Our standards are high because our buyers demand it.” (Penelope Perkins-Pryce, art dealer)
Esoterica: Last night on the BBC news, experts predicted that by 2009 there will be more female than male millionaires in Britain. This will be due to increased income, education, professionalism, working life, saving and investing habits, equal-handed inheritance and the proceeds of divorces. Nice to know. Some of these ladies will I’m sure be collectomaniacs. And easelmania will be alive and well in Britain.
by Mary Madsen, Henderson, NV, USA
There’s one mania you forgot to mention, which I know I have and can definitely see the signs of in you. It’s hypergraphia, and those of us with it write incessantly… as in hunting out computer connections wherever their dromomania takes them. I’m going to Peru next year, and I’m very concerned about having to do all this writing by hand.
Art world in London
by Bernard Victor, London, UK
There is so much going on in London at the moment in the art world. Other than the big shows, like Monet, Whistler, Turner at Tate Britain, Matisse and his fabrics at the Royal Academy and Caravaggio, the final years at the National Gallery, there are lots of other shows, both modern and historical. It is always worth going down Bond Street looking in to Richard Green, currently exhibiting, Edward Seago, and the Fine Art Society. The Fleming Collection in Berkeley Street, has a fine show of Scottish art called ‘The Scottishness of Scottish Art.’ Also some very good shows in Cork Street, including Euan Uglow, Myles Murphy and Patrick Symons at Browse & Darby. It’s a good idea to get a copy of the current issue of Galleries, which lists most galleries in London and the U.K.
Easelmania creates marketing need
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I believe I have the easelmania, creating more paintings this year then ever before. Now all I need is a collectormania for what I’ve created. So I’ve been working on a marketingmania frenzy to bring awareness towards this body of work. Of course it is always the case of what is the rave or flavor of the day. Plein air landscapes, architectural and marine scenes aren’t in season, so I guess I’ll have a stockpile for when they come back around. I’m not much for painting towards the market, but towards what inspires me. Which happens to be where ever I’m at.
by Sandra Chantry, Loughborough, UK
I trust if you are in London, that you took a trip into the National Gallery. There is one of the most exciting exhibitions I have seen in a long while. It’s an exhibition of John Virtue who produced his work in a two-year association with the National Gallery. His pictures are large, very large landscapes, all executed in black ink and shellac with white acrylic paint applied with a huge brush and a J-Cloth. They are all landscapes of London as he sees it today and all inspired by the works in the Gallery. He calls himself, as he does Turner, an abstract landscapist. When I visited last week I was wowed by their boldness and sensitivity. You can also see his drawings and sketchbooks at the Courtauld Institute.
by Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA
Speaking of manias I have two series of art collected by Museums and related to mania: Decalcomania, a term coined by Oscar Dominguez and used in parts of the last experimental works of Max Ernst. As far as I know I am the only artist who creates such unique pure Decalcomania (in the Victoria and Albert Museum and Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum)
Loopomania, a term I coined to describe the way I work with string and paint (in the NYC 5th Ave. Library Print Collection, Victoria and Albert, MSK)
Both procedures were motivated by the question I always ask myself about art: What will happen if I do such and such? This has been my experimental approach in devising images for many exciting years in art.
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA
Nothing like a slice of the past to activate my London mania. Some years ago, I was passing through London to get to somewhere else. Hated it, vowed never to return and of course, returned within four months. I ended up staying ten years, went to Central School of Art and the Royal College of Art. I don’t regret it, at a time of change in the art departments in the United States toward post-modern conceptualism, the art schools in London instilled both the classic and the avant-garde, sometimes both at the same time. But all of art history was free for the taking in the great museums of London, and you could still hitchhike through France and Italy and wander through their museums in the summer (it was the seventies, youth is fearless). And of course, I lived in Chelsea, down by the river (London calling… The Clash runs through my head). Now I hear that London is prohibitively expensive for those of us coming from the states, but still… My 10-year-old son insists that this summer we go to England, and so it is that we have rented a mews house in London and a fisherman’s cottage in Newlyn, Cornwall. Any advice as to interesting new places to go for an old art student? And yes, I am bringing my easel and paints so I can get another shot at painting Battersea Power Station.
Painting speaks more than photos
by Tim Collis-Bird, Australia
I have wandered along the Bayswater pavement in London, England. I might walk two or three times before buying, knowing how disappointed I would be if I let an opportunity pass by when an image lodges firmly in my mind. I brought home a small watercolour painted in the twilight, The Thames and London, using muted colours mindful of the atmosphere and providing me with lasting memories of my travels. Somehow it speaks more than the many photos I have. Surely many artists must have pondered long and hard seeking a style of image that was essentially saleable. Or can they afford to paint with disregard to the profitability, just painting what they like? Are artists forever searching for their own voice in the fierce competitive world so that they will be noticed above others?
by Hans Werner, Australia
Could you please give your opinion on the disturbing developing trends in Intellectual Art, versus art produced by machines — how is that viewed there? I find that here no distinction is made by galleries and I see my work hanging next to something digitally produced on canvas, and priced roughly the same. In my view this should be clearly marked, and be in the poster and print category or displayed together with drapes and carpets — what do others think?
Serendipitous quote find
by Jodi Mullen, New Hope, PA, USA
I am a blockprinter (at the moment) living in New Hope, PA. I can relate to the general mania that I feel as an artist who spends 24/7 creating artwork — it drives me. I use a lot of quotes within my art as well as writing them all over the walls of my house. I figure that’s what they are there for — the walls that is. Well, I “googled” Art Quotes. I randomly chose a site that was there. The first word that my eye went to on the quotation category index was serendipity. Then as I went to the page of quotes, I realized that it was your site that I had randomly chosen to pull a quote from. How’s that for serendipity?
How to make travel pay off?
by Barbara MacDougall, Paris, ON, Canada
Given that for the purposes of this letter you are in England, having come from Costa Rica (don’t know if there was a pit stop in Victoria first), have you in the past or will you in a future letter look at ways to make travel pay off and/or be a writeoff particularly for people who are just starting out? What are the mechanics of this in general and specifically for Canadians?
I remember something about Toni Onley threatening Revenue Canada he would have a public burning of his artworks on the beach in Vancouver many years ago if they taxed his unsold works. I read something some 15 years ago about not signing works painted/drawn overseas until they were safely back in Canada in order to not get nailed by Customs.
How about some trip funding tips? I read once about selling future paintings, such that people were approached to pre-buy a painting in a particular price range, and this gave them first, second, third dibs on their choice of the paintings that eventually would be painted while on or out of that trip that the artist was raising money for. This worked if one’s work was a known quantity.
(AN note) Thanks Barbara and everyone else who wrote to ask a similar question. The following clickback references should provide some answers: How to do it, Success in art, Travel tips, The Travelkeeper. Doing a search on our site would yield even more results.
Recapturing the innocence
by Christina Hans, Lansing, MI, USA
I just wanted to say I have recently noticed something about my work. When I was younger and less experienced I was more daring. Though my anatomy was off, my technique was sloppy and my dimensions appeared flat, I was trying more difficult things than I do now.
Looking back at my older work I notice that I attempted more complex backgrounds, deeper expressiveness, and more active scenes. I was more willing to invest all my effort into a piece using new materials unconcerned that in the end it would be a failure. I don’t know now if it is because I have become more critical as I have become more knowledgeable. Or if because I have a higher standard that I am afraid of making mistakes and disappointing myself. But the truth is… I wish I had that bravery back.
As I look back through my sketchbooks that are over 10 years old I notice the mistakes… the errors and where I have grown. But I also notice what I have lost. An expressiveness, an innocence, a daring. I am trying now to recapture that.
Artists sharing ideas
by Ruth Beeve, Concord, CA, USA
I just received my first letter. I love it. I feel like I am now part of an enormous group of artists, sharing ideas. It’s terrific. I just finished a water media workshop with Stephen Quiller sponsored by the California Watercolor Association. He is good at sharing ideas too. He told us about your letter, so I signed up. I heartily recommend Stephen’s workshops. He is very well organized and presents lots of information about handling the different water media. His on-location workshop at Creede, CO, last August was great as well.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Nick Swanson, Manchester, UK who wrote, “If you pass through Manchester Piccadilly train station, pop in and say hello at the station’s Starbucks.” (AN note) Thanks to everyone who wrote to invite Robert to their homes, places of work, museums, galleries and even a “quiet walk in the park.”