Episode 61: Today I talk with Christina Kwan of The Bill Lowe Gallery in Atlanta Georgia. I learn who Herb Creecy is & we talk about their exhibition Herb Creecy: A Legend Rediscovered which goes until May 19, 2008.
Episode 61: Today I talk with Christina Kwan of The Bill Lowe Gallery in Atlanta Georgia. I learn who Herb Creecy is & we talk about their exhibition Herb Creecy: A Legend Rediscovered which goes until May 19, 2008.
Episode 56: Today I spoke to Mykell Gates, Christopher Lawing of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and Dr. Keith Cradle, Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office about Bechtler’s Jail Arts Initiative program.
All images used with permission.
Episode 55: Today I talk with Sonya Pfeiffer, the new owner of the Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art about her fabulous Art of Struggle exhibition, which features the art of MyLoan Dinh, Charles Farrar and Susan Brenner.
I was able to actually go to the gallery to see the exhibition for myself. This emotionally charged show literally brought tears to my eyes as it shows a unique take on the nature of struggle and the beauty that can result.
All images used with permission c. Madison Sumner, Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art
c. 2018 LTAWB
Episode 54: Today I chat with painter Tom McNickle, from Pennsylvania. We talk about his inspiration, his process from idea to finished work. He has this great sketchbook system that is really inspiring.
All images used with permission c. Jerald Melberg
Coffee & Conversation chat from Image & Memory at jeraldmelberg
Episode 53: Today I chat with Larry Elder. I find out what he’s been up to since we last spoke. He’s since sold his gallery to focus on the business of consulting. Apologies for the noise. We were competing with sound on both ends. I’ve included a transcript of the first part to hopefully make up for it.
Clockwise from Left: Plansky Dancer; Plansky Figure Gender & Sexuality; Planksy Ortrud; Plansky Show 1; Plansky Studio Ver 1,; Plansky Petunia
B:So what are you doing these days? This is great!
L: When I sold the gallery, I bought this collection…did I mention that to you before?
B: Umm. I was looking…I was trying to remember. I don’t think so. I was going to ask you…What is your connection to…
L: This collection: all this work is done by an artist who died in 2009. His name was Carl Plansky. And…sit tight…I’ll show you. I represented him for a number of years, but then he had a heart attack and died.
He lived in New York City, and had another studio in upstate New York. He painted with the big guys and was the young kid on the block. He moved to New York when he was nineteen. He studied at the New York Studio School where he met some famous artists including Joan Mitchell, the famous abstract expressionist. He knew the De Koonings, Grace Hartigan…and he became friends with, especially Joan. He would travel to France where she had her studio and would paint with her. A lot of these paintings I have were painted with her in her studio.
So after he died I bought all his estate which was over a thousand pieces. Those drawers there are filled with pieces like this one on the floor behind me, works on paper, and those back on the wall over there, the one on the floor. All the paintings you see back in through there: all those big ones, all those tall ones, those are paintings that he did.
He was pretty well known because he manufactured oil paint for artists…Williamsburg oil paint was his company. Through this business he was able to sustain himself in a very nice fashion. Great paint. All the big names used his oil paints and so he was high quality, but he really loved painting. He commented often that he was very fortunate that he could have access to all the paint that he needed. The paintings you see here show the large amounts of oil paint that he used in his work. He would trade paint for canvases, brushes and other art supplies.
My job now is is to locate appropriate resellers for the collection like Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art; they’re going to be a reseller for the collection and I have a reseller in Charleston. I’m working with an art consultant in New York who is introducing me to some gallery owners and art consultants in that area which is really where I think his work will be well-received.
I’ve developed a website, CarlPlansky.com, and have just published a new catalogue. I’m doing research for a coffee table book of his work that I hope to have published. I’ve just gotten from his sister a whole stack of photographs of him when he was traveling to France with Joan Mitchell and letters from Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan and other artist friends. This is great for me and the collection. I’ve got a lot of work to do but it’s great fun.
You said you were representing him before at the Elder Gallery. How did you get connected to him?
After I opened the gallery in 2001, my wife and I would to travel to New York and other places to see what other established galleries were showing. On one of our trips we walked into the Fuller Building in NYC which was loaded with art galleries. You could enter the elevator, push any floor and you would just walk out to a floor with a number of art galleries. One such gallery was the Fishbach Gallery where we happened to see a one man show for Plansky. We were looking around and thinking, Wow! This is cool stuff. Hadn’t seen anything like that. They had a postcard on the front desk which I took to add to a file of New York art galleries or art in New York. About two years later, I was thinking, ok, I need to get my plan for next year so I started flipping through the file and I found this postcard and I thought, oh I remember that. I wonder if I could get him to show here…Fat chance. But I tracked him down. Found where he lived. Left him a voicemail and he returned my phone call.
I explained what I was doing and he said, “hmmm. I never really shown in the southeast.”
I said, “Well would you like to?”
He said, “Yeah, I could think about that.”
I said, “Well, I’d love to give it a try here.”
He said, “Well, what do you want to do?”
I said, “I’d like to have some of your work, on consignment to do a market test.
And that started the whole process. He got in a truck and drove down with a truckload…when I say truckload…20 paintings for me to chose from. Of course I took most of them and that was the beginning. I introduced him to the market here and developed a really nice following
And that was 2001?
That was probably 2004. I have been successful in placing one of his large painting in the Mint Museum’s permanent collection. A number of the museums have some of his work which is really important as you’re developing a brand name for this artist.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing.
That’s awesome! That’s really cool!
It’s a lot of fun. Plus I love the work, personally and it resonates with me. I just love watching people come in and see this big painting here. You just kind of get lost in it.
It’s great! Yeah, I love texture.
Well he wasn’t afraid of that. That’s for sure.
I just hung a show at the Carillon building downtown?
I’ve heard of it Not sure if I’ve been in it.
It’s on West Trade street, so where Trade and Tryon meet at the main intersection. If you turn left onto West Trade. It’s one block down on the left. Charlotte First Pres church is on the right, across from this building…Morton’s steakhouse is in the lobby. The lobby of the building was designed to be an art gallery and I have an agreement with the owners to curate exhibitions for that space. It’s really a beautiful building. You should go there sometime. It’s open daily and you can visit up until 10 o’clock at night. The Arts and Science Council is a tenant in the building. John Tinguely kinetic sculpture is located in the lobby.
So I installed a show of his work this past Saturday and it will be up for about four months.
Well, yeah, I’ll have to stop by, for sure.
So, it’s not really a whole lot different than….you’re still kind of running a gallery with Plansky’s stuff [and you run the Carillon gallery]. I saw that you do consulting and you do all these other kinds of services. But did you do these services at your other gallery?
Yes, but it was more in a retail environment. Here, I guess you could say I’m more like a wholesaler, if you will. It’s probably a pretty bad analogy, but I was tied to being in a gallery when the doors were open since I was the operator of that business. Now I’m focused in on this one collection which doesn’t require retail hours. That’s why I set up other sellers because that’s what they do. My goal is to train them, make them knowledgeable on the collection and help create excitement for it. Through the collection they can add to their revenue from these sales.
I would be like an artist to them for their stable of artists. I just provide them with art.
Talk a little about the services you provide. When you’re consulting, do you try to steer people to buy these [Plansky paintings] or what kind of consulting do you do?
Well, I’ve always been one who likes to listen to what people say and try to figure out what it is that they know, and what is it that they want to know, and what they want to accomplish. If I have a dialogue with someone who has expressed an interest in art, they may say I don’t know anything about art, I’m intimidated. My job is to try to make them feel comfortable with looking at art by recommending galleries and museums for them to visit. I try to make them aware of what constitutes good art and often suggest videos to introduce them to different types of art, art history, and things like that. My goal is to help them develop a better appreciation of art in both two-dimensional and three- dimensional formats. Afterwards I talk to them about what gets them excited and determine the style of art that they are most attracted to.
Generally to start out with, it’s rare that you’ll find someone like that who’ll say, oh, I like total abstraction. They’re usually more into realism or impressionism. I try to encourage them to think about what speaks to them and to ask themself if they feel that this is something they would like to live with for many years. I don’t encourage people to buy for the sake of investment. unless you’re buying work by very well-known artists. The odds of you making a lot of money are pretty slim.
I want people to look at it as What makes me happy? What gives me satisfaction when I’m looking at it. And if they choose to start a collection I can make suggestions of things for them to consider.
In addition, I work with businesses which is really the bulk of the consultancy that I do. I’m generally brought in when a company moves into a new building or plans to make significant changes to their interiors. I can arrange to make recommendations for art, acquire the art, and install it. All this work will result in having an environment that they’re proud of and that their employees would be comfortable working in.
It’s pretty straightforward. I feel that I have pretty good eye when it comes to art and interior design. I have a broad esthetic and I like a wide variety of work. I don’t pigeonhole myself nor do I want my clients to be pigeonholed into buying something only the work of one artist. To me that’s pretty boring.
Yeah, same here.
There are people who want to do that. So if that’s really where they want to go, then I’ll work with them in that regard. But I don’t encourage that.
I have worked with clients who have work that they’d like to sell; maybe they’ve inherited artwork, or have something that doesn’t appeal to them any longer. I’ll place it on the secondary market and find a buyer for it. I have an affiliation with Campania Fine Moulding in Charlotte who do a superb job in framing different types of art.
So it’s just all those things that, whatever it is that someone’s trying to get — be it an individual, or a corporation, I can work with them.
All kinds of stuff. That’s really neat. I also saw that you do art rentals, I thought that was kind of cool.
Actually, I was just speaking with someone about this program. I’m working with a company over at Southpark that rents art from me on a six-month basis. They purchased some a number of pieces but wanted some more significant pieces for their public spaces. They weren’t willing to spend the type of money required to have some really high-end pieces. We agreed on a six-month rental wherein they want to keep it for additional term or they can exchange those pieces for others to give the space a “new look.”
So businesses do that mostly? Do people do it for their houses?
I really don’t look for that. I think that could be an interesting thing to do, but it involves too much, for too little, when it comes to homeowners. Corporations see the value in that and I just never really explored it on a residential basis. Most residential customers prefer to purchase. I’ve worked with realtors before, where they were staging a property and need art on the walls. They realize that art can transform an interior and can heighten the possibility of selling the property.
When corporations have you pick out art for them, is it basically just to convey their brand or the knowledge of art they want people to think that they have?
It depends. I’ve found that law firms are notorious for having exquisite furnishings. In the past law firms would have mahogany furniture, leather chairs, law books, and things like that. Their art work was mostly traditional in style as well. But a lot of them have decided, That’s pretty stuffy. We want to come into the new century. So many have added modern furnishings, modern art, things of that nature, to convey a feeling of wealth and of being current in their practice.
Another good example would be wealth management companies who want to impress current clients as well as prospective clients. A great way to do this is to have exceptional artwork on display throughout their offices.
They’re no strangers to wealth.
That’s right, yeah, no strangers to wealth, that’s a good way to put it. So yeah, it does convey a certain feel that they have. Some people want it to be warm and some people want it to be sleek. So there’s a lot of different things people want to convey. I also encourage companies to consider their employees when designing their interiors. They’re there every day. So give them something to look at, to get lost in sometimes, and to be proud of when they bring their family or their friends in. Or just to appreciate something that maybe they wouldn’t be able to see at home. They spend the bulk of their lives in an office or in a facility, so why not make it so it sets the tone for the company, for the management? Say, we’re investing in you. Silly as it may sound, having a beautiful environment for employees to work in says a lot about a company. So I try to encourage people to look at it that way.
I was at this gallery talk at Anne Neilson’s this weekend, I guess, and I forget the artist’s name, but she was talking something about how sometimes when people buy a piece of art, when they bring it home, it just doesn’t work. They don’t care for it in their home. She even talked about something called synesthesia, where they get an alternate response. Like, they may “hear” a really vibrant painting, like that one
Oh, I don’t know…
I don’t know, she used this word and I never heard it before, but I thought it was cool
Synesthesia. I think that was the word that she used. I looked it up afterwards, but I forgot it.
But it’s almost like you get a vibe from…
It’s like if you look at that and you get like an auditory ringing in your ears. Auditory effect from visual stimulus.
But not in a pleasant way.
Not in a pleasant way. And I just wondered how common that was….Not that they would say that word or even know what it was. Just kind of like, Ok, I’ve had this in my house, it’s just kind of creepy, it’s following me around.
That is creepy. I’ve never heard of it.
Never heard of it?
Never have. Doesn’t mean anything, but I’ve never known anyone to experience that.
Well, I mean, not even that per se, but just kind of like say they came here and they liked that painting here, but then they brought it home and they were like, I’m not sure if I like it in my house….
Oh yeah, that happens. A lot of times when I was in the retail business, I would encourage people, if they liked it, but weren’t sure it was going to work. I’d encourage them to take it home, keep it for a couple of days and live with it, see how you feel. If it feels as good there as it did here, then that’s a good sign.
[End of transcript. Listen to audio for our full conversation]
All images c. Larry Elder
BM: So I have seen your oil paintings. But when I was looking at your website at your collages & I was kind of intrigued. How do you do those?
MO: So, I realized when I was creating imagery for my other art, I realized that I had been laying it out in cut-outs and flyers. Just any paper cut-out that I find when I laid them all out there was some significant imagery that could be created with that. And so I started focusing on that primarily for a couple of months to see what kind of message I could send through those.
So I really just look at the shapes for any interaction of color and shape. They’re sort of moving. I particularly remembering the one with the girl kind of kicking something, thinking, wow, this needs to have a very imparting message.
-So it just kind of started out as a kind of model for your other work?
It really did. It did not start as, “I’m going to collage.” It started as I need to find some images to look at when I’m painting and Oh these all look really cool together, maybe I’ll do something with them.
-Yeah, they look super-cool!
-Do you sell them?
I’m working on selling them. Actually, I have folders and folders and folders of images. I have a folder of white balls. And I have a folder of neon colors. I have another folder of red fruit; I have berries. I have another folder of legs. I have another folder of arms. I mean, it’s very specific. I have a folder of fingers. I look through all of them and say these kind of interact well. Sometimes I kind of just lay them all out. I have to be careful that there’s not a gust of wind.
-Right, right, right
I find it very relaxing to work this way. It’s very easy to change my idea without having to start over again.
-Right, Right. I just love seeing cut outs and stuff like that. Like when I was younger, I used to do these things, I called it a modeling book. It was cut out pictures of people I liked…
I did that when I was little.
-And we went to this exhibition at the Mint. It was a fashion designer, which I wasn’t really interested in at first. I’d rather see an artist. But it was really really inspiring.
Was it recent or in the past couple of years?
-It was recent, like this past weekend. William Ivey Long, was his name. I had never heard of him. And I wasn’t very interested, but they showed these costumes he made. Oh, and he was from North Carolina, which was very cool. But they showed these boards he used; these vision boards, I guess they’re called. And I was like, that is so cool! I want to do that!
It’s really fun. And that’s honestly how I work when I’m painting. I have a drawing board. It’s just a big flat piece of board I can clip things to and
Right now it has artists I like, postcards my parents sent me from Italy or wherever and then words or swatches of color. I just feel like I work that way very well, so I kind of flip it and make that my art rather than the inspiration.
I totally understand the having a vision or an inspiration. I have multiple of those. I’ll switch it out when I’m changing out my work.
-Yeah, totally. I love that! So how did you get into art? How did you start?
Well, I would say I started very young. You know, my parents were the type of parents that were like, “here’s some play dough. You’re not going to watch TV.” You know, “here’s a box of crayons, go have fun” or “go play outside.” It was very much, we want you to entertain yourself…create…because that’s just a very enjoyable process. And I enjoyed creating art for a very long time until I got into high school. And I realized, wow, I could probably do something with this.
So I started pursuing it more. I mean, I went to three high schools: New Jersey, North Carolina, and California. So I kind of dabbled a little in each place and then when I got here for my Junior and Senior year, I did the IB Arts Program, and that really forced me to think about my process. My art teacher really started my whole process of creating a sketchbook page and here’s the imagery I’m going to use; here’s the processes I’m going to implement; here’s the artists I find inspiration from. Here’s why. You know, here’s a new technique I’m going to try. And that really caused me to…you know I have to write all this stuff down, I have to visualize it before I create. So it’s kind of a process. That’s how I find that my work is really a process. Inspiration; image to image board, product to final product.
-So how did you get into the paints?
Well I realized I liked tactile…I don’t really like drawing as much, because when you’re done and you rub your fingers over it, it smears. But with paint, you know, if it’s dry, I like the texture of it. With collage, I really like the texture of the papers. There’s glossy, there’s matte, there’s card stock there’s construction paper; there’s all different types of paper. You know I probably have four different types of white printer paper. I’m just like, this feels so nice.
I feel like art, for me, has to be tactile, so I really work on creating texture in my work. As for painting, I used to do a lot of acrylic and watercolor and I found that the color and intensity of the pigment wasn’t good enough, so I switched to oil, which is extremely intense pigment. I love oil painting.
-Yeah, I’ve never done oil, but I’m intrigued by it because I’ve looked at other people’s, like yours, and just been very impressed with the texture; I like texture too. I didn’t know you could get that! I use tempera paint and I like the texture I can get with that. I’m talking like I paint a lot…
No, it’s fine. Any one who paints is an artist, in my opinion.
-Yeah, I haven’t done it in a long time and I certainly don’t call myself an artist, but I definitely enjoyed it. That’s why I’m so impressed with the oils, because you can get all kinds of crazy stuff with that.
Definitely. My freshman year of college; the class I was in – I was the only freshman – it was all seniors. I was somehow blessed to be put into a really upper, advanced class. My professor saw talent in me, I think, which I’m really grateful for because the students I was surrounded by had been painting for eight semesters, at that point, and they knew everything; how to do it and how to achieve what they wanted. I was able to watch them. And I feel like…there’s this one artist, Laura Snell, I’m good friends with still, and one of the techniques she had was this very brushy, smoke-like texture she’ll create with a dark background in red or blue or a color that contrasts really well. I find myself returning to that a lot, because it’s a pleasant way to paint.
-How do you decide what subjects to paint?
Well, I have a religious studies minor. I’m not religious at all. I don’t consider myself to be very spiritual, either, but I find myself drawn to that type of art.
-Yeah, it’s beautiful art…and fascinating subjects…
Absolutely! One of the reasons I feel like that art is so prevalent is…I’m also an art history major…so I feel like that art is so prevalent because the church funded a lot of it.
-Right, that’s basically what all the subjects were.
Definitely! And they had all these fine materials, you know, jewels, guilding, nice wood. You know, highly exotic pigments that were preserved over a long period of time. So I feel that…I keep returning to that for imagery; especially from the 12th to 16th centuries; Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art; just cause it has a nice richness of color, a familiar story there. I obviously don’t paint realistically here, but I find the imagery to be very inspirational.
-Yeah, cause most people couldn’t read back then, so they needed things to remind them of the stories…
Exactly. So, I’ll kind of do the opposite thing. I’ll paint an abstracted version of what they’ll do and I’ll title it something similar. Like I just finished a painting based on a passage in Revelation. And obviously, looking at it, no one can say, “oh that’s Revelation.” And I’m like, this is the fire and brimstone hailing down. This is the end of the world. I felt very inspired by the passage, so I kept looking at it. I looked at other representations of Revelation. I was like, there’s a lot of red, there’s a lot of orange, there’s a lot of pink and I don’t usually use those colors. Let’s try that.
-Yeah, Revelation is a very very….
There’s a lot there.
-Yeah, there’s a lot there. I can see it would be very inspiring to paint. So you got into it just from the art history?
Definitely. And it’s, you know, my professors in school will say they like students who do both because they’re more informed about this dialogue they’re adding to. You know, I was originally an art major and I was like, I may as well do art history as well and I find that that was one of the best decisions and one of the best forms of inspiration for my work. ‘Cause I’m constantly looking at this imagery, You know, even if it wasn’t from the period I preferred, I’m looking at all this imagery, the entire dialogue from art history and I’m like there’s a lot of stuff that’s already been done, how can I do something different?
-It’s always inspiring to see what other people have done.
Exactly. I probably follow more artists on Instagram that I don’t know than people I do know because it’s a lot of nice symmetry.
-I took the art history classes, and they were more like Bible classes. I went to a Christian high school where we took Bible classes and these were WAY more interesting.
A lot of people are like why would you want to study something that people have already written about, already said things about, I’m like, well, art history isn’t just, here’s a pretty picture, here’s what it means. It’s here’s what society at the time wanted to express about themselves; here’s what was important to them. Here’s what they wanted you to think was important to them; it wasn’t, actually. It’s kind of like an anthropological study, but with images; and I find myself very image oriented.
-Oh, me too. I’m the same way. I like pictures.
Definitely! I have a friend who studied anthropology and she said, “I really wish I had studied art history.” I said “why is that?” She said, because there are pretty pictures in the books. I just look at pictures of, you know, here’s a person from a hundred years ago. Here’s how they look now. It’s so boring to me. But being able to see them in their setting, how they wanted to be expressed. Maybe even how they didn’t want to be expressed. I just think that’s interesting.
-That is interesting. So where did you go to school?
I’m currently at Randolph College in Lynchburg Virginia. I’m going to graduate in May.
-Oh cool. Very cool. Are you looking at grad schools?
I am. I’m in the process of completing applications. I’ve completed one for my MFA in studio art or in printmaking and painting. I’ve already sent it to UNC. Fingers crossed…
…And then I’m finishing my applications for Virginia Commonwealth, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
I’m just excited.
-That is exciting! You talk about the religious studies and things like that, so what do you ultimately want to do? Besides sell your art?
Well, that’s the dream to be a professional artist, but I find myself more drawn to teaching. I feel very thankful for my professors, but something I’ve noticed throughout my entire art career is that there’s a lack of fine arts in the studio program. You know, dance, theater, music, creative writing, composition, stuff like that, that I feel really is important to that practice. And there’s a lack of focus on art history, I’ve noticed over time, which is nothing against my professors. It’s just hard to focus on that when you’re teaching people how to paint, I feel it would be really easy to integrate both and that’s what I’m interested in doing when I teach is having a holistic art experience…
Something I had at some points and have had glimpses of, but for an entire curriculum or section of class.
-You should talk to Mary Kilburn at CPCC.
I think I might have been in contact with her. I need to talk to her again.
-She was my art history teacher and she was like an art history machine. She’s taught it for years and she can go….the class was like three hours, a once a week thing. She had no notes, she spouted off all this stuff off the top of her head.
When I started art history, you know it was a requirement for my art major it was an interesting class, so I thought I might as well major in it. I took classes it was a process of memorization, but now when I’m talking with freshmen or my brother, who’s a sophomore and he’s studying art. I’ll be like oh, this reminds me of this Delacroix painting or of this or that. He’s like, yeah, I don’t know what that is. I”m like you need to know what that is. You’re contributing to this art dialogue and you don’t even know what’s been done already.
It’s nothing against him. That’s just a trend I see. I find that, you know, how can you contribute to something without knowing what’s already been there?
-That’s a good point. That’s a really good point.
That’s kind of the argument I make to my other friends who are studying art. I’m like, you need to take art history, and it’s not because I want you to sit in a classroom for a boring lecture for an hour. Which, quite frankly, I don’t think any of them are boring. But you know, it’s really important to have that discussion. You know, why is this significant. You know the color white means purity. I use a lot of white and I don’t use it in that sense. How can I change that? How can I…Maybe I should use yellow; maybe I should use pink. You know, different considerations, rather than just, I want to create a pretty picture.
So it’s considering other parts of the aesthetic, I guess.
–That’s really interesting…
I mean, I had to write a little bit about that, so I kind of have my ideas down. But that’s really how I feel.
–I agree with you. Everyone thought art history was so boring, but I was like, This is fascinating! I wasn’t one for the tests. I hated memorizing dates and things like that, but it was just good to hear about.
And I feel like just if you get a good idea of the chronology, you’re fine. And, again, I really like my professors. They’re not like you have to know the month, year, and date this was made. No, you have to get the date, like within five years. Well, it doesn’t really matter as much anymore, It was sixteen hundred years ago.
But that’s definitely something I’m interested in.
–It’s just interesting to see that the inspirations and the problems they were going through, they’re not that much different than what we’re going through now.
Exactly. And that’s what I love. I’m definitely focused on, you know, I’m a feminist. I feel like you should be, at this point. Not you… universal…because, equality, I mean, duh.
I feel myself focusing on a lot on why are these female artists less represented than male artists, when they were creating just as good works. I’m like, oh, circumstances really haven’t changed that much in 200…400…600 years.
So I find myself…I don’t want to start screaming, look at this art! But I feel myself saying, you know if I could be doing that, I want to find myself educated on it.
–Right. And there were so many great female artists and they were largely unknown…
Exactly. My senior thesis in art history is on the first female artist. She is called that. She existed four hundred years ago. Like how is that person, even in writing about her at the time, they talk about other women artists who are her senior; and they’re not considered first. So I’m like, why is that?
First of all why is it significant that she is being called the first? Why weren’t the other ones first? That’s kind of the focus on my study.
-Yeah. That’s really interesting.
I love talking about this stuff! Lavinia Fontana, in case you were wondering.
-I have never heard of her.
No one has. She was just an Italian painter who was very successful, as a middle class person.
–So what kind of stuff did she paint?
She painted a lot of portraits of upper class women. And so what was unique about her was other women before her were only successful if they were from upper-class families, if they were in a convent, or if they were court painters. She was none of those. She was from a middle class family, her father was not a totally successful artist. When she got married, she was the breadwinner of her family. When she got married, in her contract, it said, you’re going to be the house husband and you’re going to follow me wherever I go. He was an artist, but he became her assistant because she was the breadwinner for their entire marriage.
–Interesting….Well, why did it change with her?
That’s what I’m studying about. So that is kind of what my research is involving.
–That’s really interesting. That’s really cool!
Tell your friends about her.
-Yeah…yeah, definitely. I want to read more about her.
She’s just really cool.
Another female artist, about 75 years later, Artemisia Gentileschi; she was considered to be more successful…or she was considered to be a better painter than Carravaggio. You know who Caravaggio is…
-Yeah, you know who Caravaggio is…
But you don’t know her name.
It’s something I love to tell people. Just a tangent; my mom was on a flight somewhere and the woman next to her worked at one of the Smithsonian museums, and you know, they were talking because it was a long delay and she was like, “well…I bet I know something you don’t know….Have you heard of Artemisia Gentileschi?” My mom’s like “Yes I have, actually. My daughter has written a lot about her.”
The person next to her was like, “I’ve never heard of that, so they were like….”
–Tell me about her….
Yeah, exactly. I’m like, that’s really cool.
-I’m honestly just curious. How much of that was that they just weren’t as public with their art or were really being repressed?
Well, I don’t know. Lavinia Fontana’s art was public. She had public commissions for altarpieces. And the pope had a portrait painted for him as did the pope after him. So she was known internationally during her time. Another female artist, whose name I can’t remember, she was a painter in Spain for like 13 years. You know, these are artists you don’t ever hear about. I feel like a lot of it comes from the fact that the majority of our history was written by men for a very long period of time.
And Lavinia Fontana was resurrected kind of in the 60s and 70s, you know, when the feminist movement began. And that’s when people started going, hmmm why don’t we know anything about her? That’s bad. We should know stuff about her. So I feel it has a lot to do with the dialogue of our history was written by men, about mostly men, and for men. Art wasn’t really created for women to look at…
…For a very long time. So I feel like that’s just like, you know, a patriarchal society. That’s kind of the circumstances. And it’s terrible, but it’s something we want people to change. I mean, the foremost scholar of Lavinia Fontana is a woman named Caroline Murphy and she only writes about women artists. Elisabetta Sirani was another Italian artist had commented on it too. “It’s like there’s nothing written about her. And she was fabulous.”
It has a lot to do with the fact that historians at the time weren’t writing about it and even historians, when they were alive weren’t writing about it because it didn’t matter
–You should write about it!
[Laughs] That’s what I’m trying to do. I have another friend who’s an art history major who’s like there’s nothing published about this one painting. I’m like, then you need to be the first one to publish something on it. Because then the whole world will say Melissa Hussey was the first one to write about this.
I got a book, you know, The 15 Women Who Made Art. Fontana’s not even in that book. Most of the artists in the book are from the past 150 years.
– Frida Khalo, Georia O’Keefe…
Yeah, artists like that. It’s like Ok, they’re were definitely artists who inspired and created work that’s just been destroyed, hasn’t been preserved well. It wasn’t important enough.
I know that has nothing to do with my practice, but it’s in the back of my head.
–No, tangents are awesome and it has to do with your inspiration.
Definitely, so I try not to look at other artists for inspiration when I’m writing about my inspiration, I don’t want to say, you know Michelangelo, Caravaggio, all these other household names, I want to pull out names people don’t know, so they’ll go look them up, you know, discover this.
–But I think people need to know about the Caravaggios and the Michelangelos to be able to compare.
Exactly, This was going on at the same time, but this was going on too, just so you know. Definitely. I totally agree.
-This is great! So what is next for you after graduation, after grad school?
Well, I’m actually focusing a lot on printmaking right now. It’s kind of a lost art, I feel. So for printmaking, there’s kind of two kinds, is what I’d say. There’s a type where you manipulate the plate, you know and you etch it and carve things out of it, use chemicals and what have you
And there’s another type where you manipulate the ink on a sheet of plastic and then you print. So I’m trying to find a place to fuse the two types of arts. They’re very few women printmakers. So I’m having a hard time looking at artists to find for inspiration…at least from the period of time I find inspiration from. That’s what’s next for me .
I’ve got a show I’m preparing for at the end of April…
At the Maier Museum in Lynchburg. It’s my senior show. So prepare for that; there’s another space in Mooresville; it’s a community art space I’m working on getting the pieces framed to hang there; I’ve got to rotate some art out at the Menchi’s community art display. So that’s what I’m working on now. A couple of art journals are about to publish my work, so I’m excited!
Yeah, that’s kind of been, I guess, a couple of months of work. I’m looking for others to reach out to. It’s a lot to balance: studying and being a double major and trying to create art and then trying to get it out in the world, all while maintaining my website.
–Yeah, I don’t know how you do it.
I don’t know either. Not a lot of caffeine, clearly. That’s kind of my focus right now. And interviews with people I know….I’m looking at fellowships, jobs in the art world. Teaching is obviously what I want to do, but I’m really interested in design. Not design like sitting in front of a computer all day, but like a food stylist.
I don’t know what the job title is, but it’s like a total dream. I want to be the person who messes up a room for a crime scene for TV shows. I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know who to talk to, but that would be cool. And it has nothing to do with what I’m doing now. I’m looking for anything that will come my way that will allow me to keep practicing my art.
–If there’s not a job like that, you should invent one.
That’s kind of what I’m like, because I want to be the one who says, there’s going to be six chandelier crystals missing and one’s going to be tucked under this couch, or whatever. You know? That would be so cool. They would be like, how do we justify this? And I’d be like, well, trust me on this, I’m an art historian, I know how this should look. So I guess that’s what I’m working on.
There’s a couple of art spaces at my school that I help run. I created two spaces, actually, and I’m trying to pass them on to someone else. So next year they don’t die, But my focus, other than getting myself out there is really helping these other artists in school who are like oh, I don’t need to sell my work. No, you really could be selling your work now. I’ve sold quite a bit of artwork, since I started doing it this year. I’m like, this is really easy to do. You know, you have to find a way to get it out there and then continue to update people on it. I guess I’m trying to translate my experience into something that will help others.
–That’s very noble.
Well, I feel like a lot of people in the art world are very isolated, And that’s not a generalization. I just kind of noticed that. It’s very hard to create good work when you’re isolated. It’s very hard to get yourself out there when you are isolated. So I’m trying to create these communities or pockets of communities so that people know they pay. Here’s how you do it.
–That seems rare. I don’t know many artists who are keen on sharing the secrets of their successes.
I don’t know, It’s really hard to crack the code. I don’t think I’ve cracked it yet. But at least i have a wedge in the door. I want to help other people open it.
-Now when you say “create art spaces,” what does that mean?
Well, for example, I work at the studio all day and I’ll say to Pete, my brother, “Come here, what should I do with this next? Should I do this or should I do that?” And I realized that when you don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of, you’re really creating this isolated pocket and you’re not able to gather influences easily. Obviously, the internet makes it a lot easier. If you’re creating work for yourself, that’s fine. But if you’re creating work to be seen by others, you really need to hear what others say or think. Even if you don’t agree with them. It’s still helpful.
For example, I showed my brother a painting I was working on. I said, this is what I’m going for. He said, “Well, I know you don’t like the color purple, but it would be really good for these reasons in this painting.” And I listened to him, and he gave me really good explanations.
And I said “Ok, I will include some purple because that is a great reason; it’s complementary, it fits what I”m going with, it’s divine, you know, blah, blah, blah. I was thinking, maybe I should paint over this whole thing.
He said, “No, purple would salvage this thing.” And I added a little purple, and Bam! It’s a whole new meaning now.
And I feel like that’s really valuable. At schools, a lot of the time you have open studio space for upperclassmen to sit and work in, it’s really really isolating to work in there by yourself. Especially, you know, a lot of artists will go in there for four or five hours to work. They’ll sit there and paint or printmake or whatever. And I’m like, “hey, I’m going to be in the studio for this time, if anyone else wants to come by and see me, talk to me, ask what I’m doing…
…sit and work with me, I’ll give you paint…and that has been rewarding. I have this art history professor who came down one day and said, “I’m going to paint with you.” I said “Great! Here’s a canvas, here’s an easel; here’s my paints, have fun. And she created this tiny little thing and when she was done with it, you can do what you want to with it.
It’s this really cool, detailed hand. And I was like, I don’t ever do hands, but I’m going to turn that into something cool.
I feel like you really need those communities. Even if it’s not just artists; people supporting your art. It’s just so valuable.
I love that! Because when you think of like, Michelangelo or Rembrandt…and I don’t know if they did this…but you think of them all alone, working…
And those two were artists who were notorious for working by themselves. You don’t think they had a shop full of assistants and stuff…and they did, They were not bouncing ideas off each other as much . There are correspondence between Michelangelo and other artists at the time, where he would say, “This looks terrible, this, this , this, and this looks bad,” and they would say, “thank you for giving me input because that’s great!” It would really improve their craft. But I feel that there is this stereotype of an artist as this crazy, alone individual, and I’m not really sure I’d reject it…but that’s not who you should be.
You should not strive to be like Van Gogh. He was bipolar, he had issues. He cut off his ear for a prostitute or his mistress, or someone else’s wife, You should not strive to be like that. You can strive to be great like he was. I mean, he only sold one painting in his lifetime. You should strive to be in a community, because that helps everyone else out too.
-That’s really inspiring! I mean, there are all these people who don’t believe they have an artistic bone in their body, because they’ve been told that. People like my mother, who will say they aren’t an artist, but she does this beautiful Spencerian Script, ornamental penmanship. I feel like you are opening the door for all of the people who have been told…or don’t feel that they could never be artists
Absolutely. And I feel like there is this stereotype of the poor starving artist. You don’t have to be poor or starving to be an artist. I joke all the time, I haven’t eaten all day, I’m a poor and starving artist, You know?
I feel like a lot of people have choices they can make in the world. And people say, “I don’t have time to do that.” You need to make time to do that. You need to make that a priority. You know, if you don’t make it a priority, it’s not going to happen.
You know this isn’t just creating a product. It’s stress relief, it’s fun. It’s pulling out a coloring book and coloring for five minutes a day. Just for yourself. It doesn’t have to be for anyone else.
And of course, then I’m like, “hey, that’s good, you should share it with everyone.” But step one, get them to do it….I hope that everyone I meet will feel inspired to do more.
All images c. Morgan Osburn
Check out more from Morgan at her website .
Keli Reule Brown is so cool! She describes herself as a natural rolling stone. She went to school in London, played in a rock and roll band in San Francisco. She didn’t let a boring thing like a career stop her. Her career is anything but boring. She created her job as a destination wedding photographer to suit her lifestyle. She’s living the dream! She lives in Savannah, Georgia, but frequently. gets to jet off to exotic places like Cuba and Cambodia.
I sat down with Keli between trips [over the phone] for a great chat.
So you own your own business, Ave Nocturna.
KB: Ave Nocturna It means ‘night owl” in spanish.
Oh, I love it! How did you come up with that?
KB: I have a reputation for keeping late hours and friend of mine in London who helped me kind of craft my original site came up with it and we both just thought it was funny. So I just kept it and it’s what I’ve done ever since.
So tell me the story, how did it all begin?
KB: Well, basically, I went to art school…and I’ve been an artist my whole life, for better or worse…[laugher]
It’s for better, for sure…
KB: …and basically known that instinctively, even when I was really little. So that’s always kind of been my life. But I went to art school…it was a sort of proper art school, whatever that means. And I painted and did photography when I was an undergraduate. Painting was my major, photo was my minor. Throughout that, painting was my life focus. I was also in a rock and roll band in San Francisco for about ten years…
Cool! What did you play? Do you sing?
KB: I sang and played guitar. I mean, I’ve been in a lot of bands. But I was in this one in particular for a long time. So during that season of my life, i was basically playing music and painting and having art shows. Doing all the things that come with bands…and photography was just a low boiling thing. Something that informed the paintings. I worked for my own photographs. Or I would occasionally do shoot stuff. But it was not anything that I was in pursuit of, really. Certainly not in a commercial way, like I do now. Not even close to being similar to that. It was just something that the photography was something that I had the skills to do, and it served the work as a base for the painting, in terms of content. I never painted on photographs or anything like that.
KB: it just served as a concept. And as I was developing as a painter and an artist … That’s kind of where it came out of. So I painted for all those years. I played music. My band broke up and I moved to London to do my MFA. I did my BFA in San Francisco, and lived there for a long time…ten years…and then moved to London to do my MFA there. And when I finished my MFA, I was still living in London and I needed a hustle, to be totally frank with you…
-Believe me, I understand.
KB: So in San Francisco, I was a bartender for many years and if I needed support, that’s what I did. But it doesn’t function the same in the UK. Basically I started doing the type of commercial work that I do…kind of in secret, under a different name. Not that I was even discussing or letting people know I was doing it. I was just doing it to help support myself…and support the other work. You know, basically it was my grind….
-I love it!
KB: …and then it turned into this whole other thing. So basically it started taking off in ways I didn’t totally anticipate and then just became this totally different thing. I returned to the states, and because I wasn’t living in a big town, I needed to kind of grow it. So the photography, really is much more of a commercial pursuit. And still, my paintings are still very much informed by the photographs I take…there is a difference, in terms of the practice. I mean I would basically say that photography is more of an intersection of intellectual practice… The painting and music are more visceral than intellectual and there’s a performative aspect. They do sort of function somewhat separately in some ways. But, I mean, logistically in terms of who I am…I make stuff…and there’s an ebb and flow between one to the other.
You’ve led the coolest life! That sounds awesome!
KB- Laughs. You’re very nice, Brooke. It hasn’t always felt like that. …It’s not an easy road. But there’s beauty to it, for sure. And I don’t know how to be any other way.
Right…Right. Well, what are some of the “not easy” parts?
KB: Well being an artist and living this way, is an interesting life. I’ll say it like this, I’m surrounded by kind of a floatable crew. They’re my people. Painters, musicians, photographers, poets, designers. Just edge-walkers generally. You know, all, like myself living lives where being committed to making your work braves an inordinate amount of unusual and simultaneously ordinary challenges.
You know, just, how are you going to keep yourself alive? You know? And navigate all the realities of logistical life? And your relationships. Being true and committed to what you’re making. I think a lot of that is mysterious. I don’t think there’s hard lines. I don’t think there’s clear answers. I think if there were clear answers, we’d know them by now. But I don’t think there are. I think it takes a lot of willingness to sort of step into the fray a little bit. You’re living in a circumstance where you’re not fully in one role and not fully in another, if that makes sense.
Does that answer your question?
Yeah, yeah. And I don’t know you, honestly, so I don’t know that you are this way, but the typical artist, when I think of an artist is just kind of like, I do it for the art’s sake and that sort of thing. But how does that translate to running a business and dealing with the meetings and dealing with the phone calls and having the set schedule and not just the free time to paint. You know what I mean? Am I asking it right?
KB: Yeah, totally. I understand that. So yeah, I’ll tell you; doing business is a very specific thing and loving the business and doing the commercial side on the photography work is definitely a very different skill. But I still work for myself. So some of the advantages are that you are in control of your own schedule in some capacity.
KB: The downside is it’s very high risk. I mean, if I’m a hunter, I eat what I kill. If I don’t, I don’t eat. That’s how it works. Right?
KB: So there’s no punching a clock and getting paid every other Thursday. And there’s nobody here to tell you to make the work. Even running my business on the photography side. That is still me generating the work from within. There’s no external force that forces the work to happen. Its coming from an internal place. But that is a very specific skill and I think it’s like you get a…it’s like jazz, man…do you listen to jazz? Do you like music at all. It’s like jazz. Jazz doesn’t have a net. And so some of the beauty of living life this way, like music, the sonic quality of it: is amazing. But then, its like: well there’s no net.
KB: There’s no net. So you have to kind of be okay with that. A lot of people get in the circumstances where it’s harder than they thought.
KB: But I’m really inspired by…my primary source of inspiration is my friends. You know? And people who are are living that life; trying to do what they want; and are trying to navigate some of the more mysterious elements of what that looks like. But I’m starting to think that that’s changing pretty dramatically in terms of in terms of what’s “allowed.” It’s an older system…the machine… that surrounds art. I think a lot of that old way of being an artist is dying off. I think there’s been a seismic shift in the way that that machine works. And I think there’s a lot of people who share that in some capacity. If you learned a system and you know a system and you believe in a system and that very thing is revealed as false, or it is simply just no longer working that’s kind of terrifying.
KB: But I actually think it can be a really exciting time if you can get to a place where you are ostensibly trying to do what you want and walk a road where you are dealing with how are you going to pay for your beer or whatever. You know, or pay your bills…You know, in thinking of those things, the reality is I don’t know if there’s one specific way and I think in some ways that needs to be kind of done away with. This idea that there’s a certain way; there’s a right way to go about doing this. I think that that’s dying. And to be perfectly frank with you, Brooke, doing the type of work that I do: when I first started doing the photography work and I was willing to do commercial work. It was not something I was willing to talk to people about in my other world because those two industries, they do not overlap. But on the other hand, I am surrounded by a lot of amazing, brilliant people who are kind of pushing the boundaries on some of that stuff. So I’m kind of just trusting my instincts and moving forward in the way that’s best for myself and supports my work, you know?
Yeah. So you have a supportive community of colleagues and all of you are on the same wavelength with the business of your respective art?
KB: Yeah. I would say that’s like, that’s a huge scale, in terms of what people are doing. There’s a lot of people I know that are doing commercial work or are doing design work or stuff that would be more in that arena. And then I have some friends who are totally still like grinding it out in a big town, making like really obscure, abstract, obtuse inaccessible, brilliant, conceptual work. So there’s varying degrees of that.
KB: I have some friends who are killing it and making beaucoup bucks doing their own stuff. Then I have many friends who are doing varying degrees of side hustles. And I think, that’s a wide breadth of people and experiences, for sure. They’re all over the map.
Yeah, I would imagine that’s true of anyone. I noticed and was curious, you said you started this as a side hustle, just kind of out of necessity but I noticed that you do weddings and also babies. How did you decide those subjects? Because you could choose any subject for your photography.
KB: Well initially it came from those are the general public.
Those are the big sellers.
KB: Those are your clients. Those are the general public. It’s a side hustle. If you were to shoot advertising stuff, that’s more of a long game. From the time I started doing this, It really came from a place that i really needed to generate cash and I had the skill. I had the ability to do it. So it really initially started from that place…I’m just being honest with you.
But I think I started doing it right at the right time where, for the non-traditional approach to that stuff people are wanting not so cheesy versions of those things. Those are sort of the pallid institutions of cheesiness…
So I think when I started doing it…now it’s very different…there’s lots of people with very similar, aesthetic ethos mindset working in the wedding and lifestyle world who are definitely pushing some boundaries. But when I first started doing it, the reason things kind of took off as quickly as they did is because there was a little bit of a hole in the market, at the time. It was several years ago, now, but there was a hole in the market for less formulaic, kind of saccharine sweet kind of style. People really wanted, were really looking for something that was a little more editorial; you know, more reflective of who they were as people and not being pushed into some kind of box that really wasn’t who they were. You know, people going through normal life things, you know, getting married or…
Yeah, I noticed one of the pictures, the girl is sitting there and she has this great expression on her face…and it’s such a great expression…and everyone has made that expression. I was just wondering how planned or how staged are your pictures?
Well, it depends on what it’s for. The thing about a portrait, if it’s for a specific client and it’s like a brand or a fashion line or something of that nature, those shoots are much more created and much more planned out. But then once I’m there with whoever is sitting in front of me, I have a pretty intuitive way of working. Particularly for some of the lifestyle shots. For someone on their wedding day, a lot of that’s just caught in the moment.
When setting up, I think ideally what you want to do is…you want to create an environment which the expressions make themselves known. If that makes sense.
So I’m not forcing them into the expression, but I certainly am setting myself up for the ability for that expression to be made and for me to capture it. I’m not here to tell people what expression to make and particularly in the context of real life. Real life events like a wedding. I want to be with them in that moment, in whatever’s happening.
But you’re also managing the technical side of it. Basically all you’re doing all the time as a photographer is looking for the light.
…You know, navigating where the light is and its relationship with the subject and creating a scenario where an expression like that can be made and you can capture it. That’s the alchemy of it.
Right. Have you ever had…and this is kind of a silly question…have you ever had a couple that is not happy and just doesn’t have any kind of good expression? That you just can’t really work with?
Like i can’t photograph them or they’re a terrible, difficult person?
Well, I guess both might play into that, but say a couple that just doesn’t have any photographic chemistry; they seem awkward and stiff. I don’t know…
Well, I’ll tell you, Brooke, do you know who Chuck Close is? Ok, well look up Chuck Close, but there’s a famous Chuck Close quote and this is very true is that “inspiration is for amateurs.” I would say the same applies here as well. So sure, I have all different types of people in front of the camera. I mean I shot a wedding a couple of months ago where the bride was a former model…that’ definitely a different particularly type of experience than shooting people who are not models.
And I certainly have couples who have different degrees of…I like to say…it’s not so much about having a chemistry with the camera, or even with each other in a particular way. I’m just looking for whatever the dynamic is. I’m just sort of trying to find that…I’m just exploring where I can find that angle and once I can find that angle then once I find that entry point, that’s what I want to reveal, its who they are and what that dynamic is.
I’ve never had a situation where I’m like, this is lost. Because, honestly, that’s my job and I’m there to find a way.
I think that would make it more interesting, more rewarding once you got it done. I’m not necessarily talking about unattractive people. I’m just talking about people who are really awkward in front of the camera, to have these great photographs of them looking so happy on their wedding day, and just looking at them and being able to say, yeah, I did that.
Yeah. It’s a specific moment that is only going to happen with these two humans in this in this particular context just this one time whether they stay married or not. But it’s like this thing is never going to happen again.
I mean, I kind of shoot things like I’m making art projects about their wedding more than I approach it traditionally, if that makes sense.
Yeah, totally. And I was going to ask you, since you are so classically trained, academically trained, I guess, how much of that do you use…i understand that you need the skills…how much so you use in your everyday work?
Yes, it’s hard to totally pinpoint. You have to think of it, it’s almost like a woven piece, right?
It’s like woven into me. So I”m not sure, it’s not like I have a degree in accounting. I mean I sell you art and I am an artist, so in that context I guess I use it all the time. But in some ways I’m not sure if I can totally pinpoint precisely where I do and where I don’t. Because that is woven into sort of who I am and how I function as an artist. So in a lot of ways it’s probably like, not conscious how I’m doing it. But I think it’s massively informative to the way I make work. So like i said, it’s very unusual the background that I come from to do this type of commercial photography….
Because I travel so much, I primarily shoot destination weddings…that really affords a particularly interesting life perspective on what I’m doing, cause I’m working at very different locations. I’m also inspired by my environment a lot.
Yeah, I saw you were in Cuba…so you get to go to all kinds of great places.
Yes and I’m a little bit spoiled.
I can imagine.
Yeah, so I travel a lot. I think I did 250 thousand miles in the air in the last year. So I travel to all of those places, but it’s kind of necessary for me cause I’m kind of a road dog at heart and I kind of have to keep it moving all the time, you know?
Right, and I guess that was what I was talking about with the school. You strike me as sort of a rebel-not one to follow the rules per se…
[laughs] My dad will love this…
So how do you know when to actually follow the rules, you know, versus break the rules?
Brooke, that’s quite a question, my friend. I don’t know if we’ve got enough time. I think…you know, I beat to my own drum. And I always have and I’d like to protect my ability to do so.
And it’s like I have a particular vibration and I try to stay in that, in whatever is true to me in that moment. I do. And I don’t always think too much about it. In fact, I don’t really think about it at all. I just go forward. I just try to move myself forward. I’ll offer you this, I definitely function in that. I need to be making stuff in order to figure out what I’m making. I’m not somebody who wants to map everything very clearly before I do it. I need to get a little sense of where I’m going to take this thing, but it’s like ultimately, I need to step into it and as it’s unfolding, I can make adjustments or change course or whatever I need to do. But ultimately that’s how I function in my work and my life.
Right. I think that’s a great way to function. I think that’s awesome.
So what’s next for you?
Well, taking a little break, hopefully for a couple of weeks. Heading to Cuba again and then back on the hustle. I’m still sorting out all of what next year will look like logistically in terms of the work. Yeah, man, just more of the same. More photos, more painting, more traveling and right now that’s where things are.
Thank you so much, Keli, for talking to me.
Yeah, it was really great, man.
c. LTAWB 2017
All images used with permission. c. Keli Ruele Brown
You can check out more from Keli Reule Brown at her website.
Today I sat down with artist, Christopher Clamp, on site at the Jerald Melburg Gallery, in Charlotte, NC. It was fascinating learning about his process. He’s quite a thinker and adds many layers of meaning to every piece he does.
I was looking at your pictures & I was fascinated. I felt a little foolish that I didn’t ask you when i was here last [interviewing Jerald Melberg] if you did anything artistic. That would seem an obvious question. So when did you start painting?
CC: When I was in high school, I always drew pictures and did comic strips and things like that. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I picked up acrylic paint and I just fell in love with the texture of it, and the smell and everything.
Initially I wanted to be an art teacher, so I was going to go to college to kind of pursue that route. But when I went to college I was able to pick up painting classes and that was when I threw myself into that.
Right. But this exhibit is with oil…
CC: Yeah….So when I was in college, it was primarily acrylic paint that were taught at Winthrop. But it was one summer…I was really interested in oil paint because many of the artists I was inspired by, they were working in that medium and I wanted to know more about it. But there really wasn’t anyone around me that was using it. So I had done this little project over the summer at one point and it gave me some extra money, so I went ahead and invested in some oils and just tried to figure out how to do it and picked up a great book by Ralph Mayer, called The Artist’s Handbook, and that really taught a lot about the chemistry of oil painting.
Awesome…Awesome. And I don’t know a lot about oil paint, I’ve never used it. How does it compare to tempera or any other sort of paint?
CC: So oil paint, to me, one thing I love about it is how flexible it is…and flexible in many ways. Physically, it’s very flexible, if you paint properly with it. But also the dry time. Because acrylic painting always seemed to me like it would dry before I even made a brushstroke.
CC: And I like to kind of work into the painting a little bit…to model the image or the object a bit more. But with the oil paint also, there’s something hard to describe, but with acrylic paint, it’s very flat, in terms of how it feels but also the depth of oil. I mean you can make a dark color in oil paint or a rich color in oil paint and it immediately just feels like it goes into the picture plan. That was something i just noticed initially. It had a whole other layer of depth to it. I was very seduced by it. And obviously the smell of it is really great.
So I was really fascinated with this exhibition, Stories in Stillness. And they’re objects and antiques from your Grandfather?
Tell us about that.
CC: Ok. Well, I grew up in a small town in South Carolina called Leesville. Now it’s called Batesburg Leesville. My grandfather was a millworker, but he was also a farmer and he collected a lot of things from wherever he would see them, on the side of the road or wherever, so the barn was just full of this stuff.
He really helped raise me and my brother because my parents worked really long, strange shifts in mills just to help pay the bills. So I would spend a lot of time with him, just rummaging through the barn and just playing with all of these objects. They seemed to take on this whole other being to me, as a child. But also, now, as an adult, when I go and visit my parents, I’ll find some of these objects and they even have a whole other meaning to me now, looking back on things. I find it’s an interesting tool to use to kind of convey a story or something maybe related to a person I’ve known or a current event or something like that.
You mentioned in the brochure that they take on a whole new meaning if you take pictures, frame them and it truly does transform them to art and it is kind of like a different thing. It makes me think of Magritte’s pipe: Ceci n’est pas une pipe. And it’s not a pipe. He’s changed the physical object to a piece of art. And that’s what you’ve done with your grandfather’s antiques.
CC: Well thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, it’s funny you mention Magritte and that’s a painting I’ve always enjoyed and I use that as a comparison when talking to people about my work or abstract work also. It’s not what it appears to be.
But with the paintings from this show, I guess it’s been this way with me and my paintings I’ve done through the years; In many ways I paint them for me. It’s almost a way for me to reconnect with that time of life that was very transformative to me.
CC: …reconnect with people, family that are no longer here. Or just reconnect with something…So many of the times the paintings are kind of done to kind of reach for something or explore something. I think it’s great that other people enjoy the paintings and like to look at them or share them or even take them home. That’s another thing that’s really special to me.
Yeah, that’s got to be such a high to have done all this work and be emotionally involved in this painting that reminds you of your grandfather and then have someone appreciate it so much that they buy it and take it home. Then they are appreciating it too, on a different level. I just think that’s got to be huge.
CC: Oh, absolutely. And another thing that’s really fun about it to me is I try not to talk too much about the work when I have an exhibition and they want me to talk, give a gallery walk-through, I try to stay somewhat vague because they have a whole other meaning to me that I don’t want to spell out to someone else because it’s very personal thing that I think I can be very unique to every individual. One thing I’ve been fortunate to experience is sometimes people will come up to me at an exhibition and maybe they’ve seen a painting of mine as an object in it and it just kind of clicks. It’s like a catalyst for a memory that they’ve just forgotten. They haven’t remembered this in forever….They just tell me this story about something that happened when they were a kid or someone they knew, and you can just tell that it’s very touching moment because their eyes are very twinkly and I LOVE it because that’s not my story. That’s their story.
I think it’s great because the painting served as a catalyst for this connection and I just love all of that.
Yeah, there’s such transformative power in art…It’s just amazing.
CC: Yeah. This was several years ago, but I was fortunate enough to be included in an exhibition in New York state at this museum. The show is one that I had often followed. It’s called Representing Representation. They used three of my paintings and I was just blown away that I was included in this show. And about a month later or so, I had had a young girl reach out to me through my website in an email. They had to write some sort of term paper… They had gone to see the show with their high school group and had to write some sort of paper on a painting. So she asked me a few questions in the email. Just to elaborate a little bit, just to break things down a little bit, and I did that. And she wrote an essay, that was kind of a short story where the painting kind of came into part of it, but it was very autobiographical. She ended up sending it to me. I was just so honored that she picked my painting for that.
That’s amazing! I bet that was such a high!
CC: It was great!
So you have the Stories of Stillness, but then I saw you had Butterflies. Is that a different series?
CC: A lot of times with my work, I might have the object. I might start with THAT, and say I have to paint THAT. And I don’t know why. Maybe it just sort of tugs at me from something I remember…maybe I don’t quite remember, but it’s going to resurface at some point. So I start the object of the painting. Sometimes I’ll plan things out much more meticulously. So the first painting that that butterfly appeared in was this painting, Aria…
CC: And I just loved it with all the different colors…the vibration and lines, with the bellows and vents and keys. It just has this great vibration. I loved it and wanted to paint it, but I needed something above it to kind of interact with it, without interacting with it, at the same time. I wanted it to be organic to contrast this artificial object with…and I’ve used feathers before in this show and also previous shows. But I didn’t want to use that again. In my mind, as I was working on it, I playfully just called it Aria. Because I thought it was another contrast to this very informal object, using that formal term. Then…and I like that….so as I would continue to paint, another musical term popped up. And that was Madame Butterfly…
CC: And then I said, hey wait a minute, that’s something to think about…butterfly. So I did some research and I looked into different types of butterflies and colors and shapes and everything. That’s when I selected this one. I found the perfect photograph that I wanted to use, and I thought it was a great addition in terms of color and how playful it was….
That is great.
CC: And after that painting, I really liked that image, or that possibility. I’ve been doing a lot of research on butterflies while I’ve been working on that. So I had started to plan out this painting, Union. And I was carefully planning this one out because I really wanted this to be a much more elaborate setup. This one was dealing with a lot of current events that I wanted to focus on. So the butterfly here is the perfect thing to kind of oversee this painting and connect the shapes and there’s this triangle shape that now fulfills and this was an Eastern Swallowtail which is a very common butterfly that we have around here. This is a female butterfly, due to its markings. I liked that idea that you could use the butterfly, where it’s from…its gender… things like that to kind of tell a story…even if no one knows it.
CC: So this one, her wing is actually broken…
Right. What is the salt?
CC: Well the Morton’s Salt container, I’ve used before in paintings; and I love it as an object.
Yeah, it’s great!
CC: When I grew up there was all this old advertising stuff around.
LOVE that kind of stuff.
CC: Yeah, I love it too. My grandfather collected all this stuff. You know, the Sunbeam Bread girl….You know all this stuff. So the Morton’s Salt containers are something that was very dear to me. I wanted to use them again. I wanted to use, you know, there’s different labels from different years, with different illustrations, which I liked. So I decided to use this image again, using this ring of salt around them, which…
CC: …in many cultures is believed to be a protective barrier and I liked that. This is an old table top that I got out of my grandfather’s barn, actually.
CC: So here you’ve got these three girls here, because the butterfly is also female, the three sides of the triangle. I like to play into a lot of the symbolism that is numerology. But this one, you know it’s a painting about current events, but, to me, it was just a curious image that hopefully the audience can come into and keep seeing something different each time, maybe asking questions of the painting and continue in a conversation. Not just looking at it and moving on.
And then the third painting I did in the show was called Duality and this was one I was planning out while working with the previous painting, Union. Again, while I was researching different butterflies, I thought, wow, this is so neat. I can use it as another piece from my image bank that can represent so many things.
Someone once asked me what my pictures were about. In many ways they’re about relations or relationships. Like I was telling you earlier about trying to connect with someone. You know these objects personify someone to me. Or someone I’ve known…or would like to know someday. And sometimes it’s the relationship of the object to another object. Trying to examine relationships.
Some artists don’t seem as concerned with the audience. They’re more concerned with making their image…And that’s fine. I totally respect that. With me, I’m very much thinking it through, with the audience in mind because I want someone to come to the painting and it speak to them on some level and for the audience to spend some time with the painting and go through those layers, like you described and maybe discover something within the painting that is within themselves.
All images c. Christopher Clamp
Carmella Jarvi is a former painter that has since evolved into glassmaking with kiln glass. It’s really fantastic looking- She invited me to her studio, behind her house, which is in my neighborhood!
–So I was looking at some of your stuff and it’s really exquisite!
c. C. Jarvi
–How did you…I don’t know anything about…glass making…blowing…anything…
–How did you get into it?
So I’ve always had a secret love for glass. But as an artist, married to an artist, I couldn’t just pick up and change. I was a painter for decades, and just had drooled over glass and enjoyed other people making glass, but my inspiration is water. So from my birth, basically my whole life, my inspiration has been about water, chasing water and trying to capture it in paint. And finally we went to a family wedding in Mexico, and the tropical waters, and the underwater caves…I just came back and said “Paints are too ugly. I just can’t paint…i can’t capture water with paint. So I have to learn glass.” And that was six years ago.
Wow! Ok, now what kind of paint did you use?
I did pastel painting. I did oil…acrylic watercolor. So I did a lot of different types of paintings. And if you actually Google me, the images, you’ll see a lot of women in water paintings. But I had a friend, Rose who is a glass artist here in Charlotte…and that clicking is one of the kilns…
The random clicking…I only have one going right now, so it won’t be too crazy…
So you know, Rose said, “Come on out, I don’t care if you can’t pay me. I’ll share what I know. And she was really generous with teaching me. And then I won an Arts and Sciences council Regional project grant. I had 20 sessions with her. And then I realized I really needed my own studio at home. As awesome as that was, it’s a community set up. I’m driving with all my glass. It’s down I-85, you know, twice a day, which is stressful. You know, by a prayer, “Please don’t hit me.”
[laughter] Exactly. Please don’t let me hit a bump…
But I’ve always been an artist and loved art, but I’m just driven in a new way since I switched to glass. It’s like a new passion and then even if I’m working a lot on some other business projects, I’m out here nearly every day. So I will squeeze in a couple of hours at night, or you know, last night I was out here until like, 9:30. And I’m out here this morning. And then, you know, before I showered…
So I really am trying to do as much as I can.
That’s cool that you can do that, though.
Yes, it’s cool sometimes, and sometimes it sucks. Because you have to walk past the checkbook, the yard, the laundry. You know, and I’m married to an artist. Although, it has its perks. It also has its downside. We’ve financed a lot of things; We’ve done without. Theres been many times we’ve shared a car…an old car, ridden the bus. You know, and luckily things have turned around. Not luckily, but thanks to God, and a lot of hard work.
A team effort. But you know, so it has it’s days where it’s wonderful and sometimes it sucks. Especially when the big bills come.
Yeah….What kind of art does your husband do?
He’s a painter. He does encaustic paintings. He’s been a painter all his life. But he’s really switched, made this transition into more abstract work, which is very exciting. So we’ve known each other for 25 years and been together for, like 22.
Yeah, so the studio you’re sitting in has half his, half mine. We have a little barrier in between.
Because we are married…You know
laugher. That’s wild! So what is it like being married to an artist?
You do have good questions. That was one of the things I liked about your podcast.
You do ask some good questions.
Well, let me start by saying, I’m not a typical artist.
I’ve always been an artist, wanted to be an artist, always been a practicing artist, even when I was a full time art teacher. Always did it on the side. We don’t have kids, but I like business. I’m very organized. I’m kind of half in the middle of the creative, verbal…So I’m very good at managing multiple of things. I do a lot of managing, marketing, grant writing. And I’m married to a super talented, yet more typical artist who hates it…
Right…I was going to say, most artists don’t like that…
He hates business. But I will say, over the years…I’ve been full time for about 10 years…a full time artist…and he’s been, he took the plunge three years ago to be a full time artist and he’s really worked hard to network and you know won like the CSA has an art pop billboard…you know…so he’s done some things that give credibility.
As artists you can get your MFA, you can even go and get a doctorate, but there’s not really professional endorsements that you get. It’s a little different than other professional degrees. And so as an artist you want to have collectors or galleries, or win grants, or residencies, because it’s, like, your professional endorsement. So if they are investing in you, then other people are more apt to invest. Especially when you get above the beginner or cheaper work. You know, when you are asking people to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars, you’re not just flitting from this to this. So that helps.
Yeah, that is so great!
I genuinely love business.
That’s so wild, because most shy away from that. But that’s cool, because you can do it for both you and your husband…
No. No. Because we’re married. We have negotiated…like…we do trades. He is really good at design. He does my business cards. He is my go-to guy when I’m trying to put words with images…
I will ask his opinion. You know, so I trade him his graphic design skills for some of my business consulting. And that works better.
Oh, that’s cool.
Because when you’re really good at something, it doesn’t mean you want to do it all the time. So as an artist, I’m still a team of one. So I would have to do my art, my other business projects, plus the stuff for him while he gets to be with his art. So… I mean, that’s…that’s not what he’s asking me to do, but that’s kind of why it doesn’t work out like that. I mean, I help him. I help other artists. I love helping other artists, but after being a full time artist for 10 years, I realize I was giving a lot of stuff away. And I have to pull back. This is expensive. This has been an enormous capital investment with the kilns and the electrical and the lights. You know, because we had to have the studio rewired, because he was running heat guns and all of the heating units and I was trying to run kilns and our electricity used to be run down the backyard. They kind of rig it, so when the air conditioner was on or you did laundry, you could not run a kiln at the same time. So we had to bite the bullet and pay for this to be done with new electricity. We have a business Duke Energy line. So it’s another bill. You know, but it’s great because we can run all the kilns and I think we’ve only tripped the switch once in two years and that was when we were both doing our little air conditioning unit. You know, it was the heat of summer and he turned his on and it popped it. And, you know, it was fine. We just can’t run everything but we can run a lot. So….
Well that was another question I had. I have no concept of what goes into melting glass, so if I’m asking a stupid question…
All good questions.
But, like, I’ve worked with clay…not professionally…someone else has fired it in the kiln for me…but is it kind of like that?
Uh, yeah. I have started with factory glass and I get it from Bullseye. Bullseye Glass out in Portland. There have been some controversial things that have happened with them and the practices. And if anyone has followed along with them. They’ve basically created some new filtering systems and things like that…but I buy my glass from Bullseye. It’s very pretty. It’s compatible. Because when you are melting things, you want them to be compatible. If I had a piece of glass that melted at one temperature, trying to combine it with glass that melted at a different temperature, it would actually crack and have, you know, internal stress. So you have to have glass that’s compatible.
Some people will use, will fire just window glass. It’s called flirt glass; and that’s fine, but that’s not your art glass. I use expensive, beautiful art glass. And I start with sheets or stringers or grit and basically combine the glass; melt it. What’s unusual about what I do, well…back up….there are so many steps…So I do kiln glass which is also called warm glass. So you think about your cold glass, which is stained glass and you don’t ever heat it. So that’s cold glass. And then you have warm glass which you use a kiln. It’ s kind of like a clay kiln, but it’s a little different with the shelves and things. And then you have hot glass, which is blown glass with the furnace. So basically with a kiln, you’re melting it as hot as you would in a furnace – if you want to – you can get it that hot. You don’t have to. So there’s a lot of science and math and a lot of learning. So I spent probably three and a half years, just learning a lot, making mistakes and learning from that. But what I do different is I actually cast the glass in the kiln. So I make a big form of glass and then I will cut it with a tile saw because you always use water when you’re cutting glass, or break it and recombine it with other glass. So I’m actually using the gravity of heat to move the glass. And that’s how I make these interesting forms.
–It’s like a science project…. Since this is completely new to me, I might not be asking the right questions, But I was interested in what is your inspiration? So, like for the bowls, how did you decide what color to make them, how did you decide what shape to make them?
So, water inspires everything. The whole reason I’m doing glass is because I’m trying to capture water. So I do a lot with the teals and the beautiful turquoise blues and things like that. But then I get tired of doing the same things over and over again and just variety, or doing a commission, using the colors of the business. I did a Price Waterhouse Cooper’s commission and I’m doing another corporate commission now. I’m using colors that fit with their… corporate colors, basically….
[Carmella swats a fly out of her kiln]
–Do they ever get in the glass?
No. If they did, they would burn out. That’s the downside of having a studio with the doors open and everything. And it’s actually pretty cool here right now. In the dead of summer, it could be 95 degrees. And when the kilns are going, it gets hot.
But all of the inspiration comes from water. Then I end up getting cool combinations of opaque and translucent colors or playing with the same elements of art, principles of design that every artist uses. So I can contrast between a duller color and a brighter color. And so I find things I visually like and I repeat them, experimenting with different colors and different steps. Different firings.
I’ve always been drawn to water. I grew up…my grandparents had a place on Lake Norman. So I literally spent my whole life in water. Never learned to swim. Never officially. Just have been fascinated with water. And then I discovered swimming pools and all the other water sources. Going to rivers and the beach. Even my name, Jarvi is Finnish. The pre-Ellis Island translation means “beautiful lake.” And my grandfather would swim in the lake year round. He was from Michigan, so even in the winter, he was out there in the water. There’s just something about it. So many levels to it. We’re made of water. So much…the earth. There’s a spiritual level, you know, baptism and just level after level after level and then it’s just beautiful…
–Yeah, I was going to say, it’ s just beautiful
Just yet the most simplest thing and trying to capture it is so hard. As a painter to try to capture it…and what was interesting as I was trying to go more and more abstract but literally splattering water and layering paint between clear varnishes to try to get the depth and then I went to Mexico and said, ‘ok forget it.’ And so I’ve been pretty much doing glass for the last six years.
—When I was looking at your website, I saw that you did what you call “public art.” And when I think of ‘public art,’ I think statues and things like that. So, do you do glass statues? How would you protect that?
So what I’m doing, I have been doing for the last probably 5 or 6 years is scaling up my work. So you have a studio artist, a painter who works solely in their studio. And you have a public artist who do work out in the public. It could be traditional sculptures, it could be paintings, it could be projective light. There is a lot of different types of public art. And you know, in Charlotte, we’ve been pretty blessed to have an Arts Council and people in leadership who understand it. Now not everyone loves every piece…
–Right, and they don’t have to…
Yeah, it’s very beautiful and there’s a nice concentration of it uptown. You can have privately funded public art or publicly funded public art. So basically I’ve been moving from very small scale pieces that someone will collect or a business will have in the interior of their office, to scaling up my work.
So the first time it happened in 2014, I got one of the ArtPop billboards. So my glass was put on vinyl and it was 14 feet by 48 feet.
Right, so that was the first time my little glass had been scaled up. So when I’m talking about the public art, I haven’t made it in the way that…so the thing about public art is you have to kind of get one in order to qualify.
So I’m at this point where I’ve had some cool larger scale; either my glass on a digital projection or the billboard or some larger pieces of glass, but not large scale like that
So when I’m working with small, I call them proto-types, working with mosaics, like taking glass and doing the little pieces of it and doing some cast glass. So that you can have a glass that’s outside. We’re not in Arizona, so it’s a little different. Because the thing about glass is, it’s a slow moving liquid. People think of it as a solid, but it’s its not really a solid. So if you go and do glass and you have a glass structure in a really hot environment, it is going to actually slowly change…
And I’ve had three pieces of my cast glass outside for a year and a half. So they’re out in the Charlotte elements, the heat of summer…the cold winter, and nothing’s happened. So I’m just, you know, there’s a precedence for having outdoor glass, but I’m pushing boundaries and testing myself.
And then there are other opportunities like public transportation. So there’s a lot of times artists will make small prototypes and then have someone else fabricate and install it. So, right now I’ve applied for something in New York with the transportation where they’re looking for emerging artists to create pieces of art that they will have then have fabricated in mosaic or other things and professionally installed.
And, you know, it’s a long shot, but you get the first one and then it opens up, you know, just like grants. It took me a while to get the first grant and then you get more. And then there’s the other public art application for my glass is having my glass on plastics or other man made materials. There’s a lot that’s being done with different types of not just vinyl… people think vinyl and billboard…and that’s cool but there’s a lot of really nice ventricular plastics where you can get multiple views, depending on the way that you look at it. So I really had some cool ideas with projective light, and not just the glass, but other clear and translucent plastics.
You know, so I’m at this transitional point where I’m still creating glass and I always will, but I’m looking for venues to scale it up and have it produced in other materials. So I’m not going to do a 20-foot glass sculpture for something. You know, I’m not set up to do it and even if I was, I wouldn’t want to do something at that scale. I would have someone else go and create it. I would help to manage it and my vision and that’s another cool thing about public art is you get to be more the administrator. Like you create the original vision and the original piece that it’s based off of, but then other artisans basically create it and install it. You know, pretty exciting.
—I’ve seen artists who have installations in museums and galleries and they have other people doing it. I’ve always wondered how they feel about that. How do they know that those people are going to do it right?
Right. Well so you’re an integral part of it, and this is where a lot of artists will say, “Oh, I wanna be a public artist, because there’s a call and it’s $50,000.” Well the actual part that the artist is getting paid out of that is much smaller and a $50,000 public art budget is tiny in the big public art scale of things, but the artists are just looking at the dollar signs, not realizing all of the meetings, all of the interaction with the players involved. You know, whether they’re neighbors or your community leaders, or the craftsmen and women who are going to make it. It’s a very tedious process. You know, it’s not easy money, but I’ve always been a risk taker. You know, like just quitting my safe teaching job as a high school art teacher for ten years. I just quit. I don’t recommend doing that, but ten years later, here I am…
—That’s awesome. Where did you teach?
I was out in Cabarrus County, at Northwest Cabarrus High School. It was a great program and I had an awesome other teacher that I worked with. So we basically started out with a very small art elective program. Like Art 1/Art 2; Pottery 1 and 2 and we grew it into Art 1 to Art 4 and there was AP Art, Fiber Arts, different clay. It was really cool. Some of the students I’m still involved with and friends with. It’s been a real blessing.
But as a teacher you keep giving and giving. So it’s nice to go, I’m not getting any younger, I want to be an artist too.
–Yeah, this is for me
And I kept giving it away. I mean, I loved it
–No, No, I understand
Especially high school
–So where on the timeline of teaching art did you make the transition from painting to glass?
That was after I quit, so I went to school to be an art teacher and graduated from UNC Charlotte, also with a philosophy degree. I love words!
I was philosophy senior of the year.
–Oh, I love that!
And I’m actually more proud of that because it was such a tiny program and very difficult. So I wrote, like, a 50 page senior thesis.
I mean, it was! I mean I never want to go back to school just for that reason. But you know, so I graduated and went straight into teaching public school art and taught for 13 years. The last ten of those, so from 96 to 2006 I taught out in Cabarrus County and I genuinely loved it but I knew I wanted to follow my own dreams. So I quit and continued painting and teaching. You know even if you’re a self-employed artist, you have to have multiple revenue streams…
If you want to pay the bills and you don’t have someone paying for you. That’s the way it is. So I continued painting and in 2011 we went to the Mexico trip and I said,
“I’ve got to do it,” and I switched.
–Good for you! So, I want to talk a little bit about that. Like, how scary was that?
Very scary. I mean, I’m still having dental work done. You know, so a teacher artist, married to an artist and then I’m just switching and I have another business endeavor that I’m working on. I’m probably going to lose a little more on the flats of my teeth. [laughs] It’s scary, but it’s also like, I had hippie parents which is both good and bad. The good part of it was I could do, they told me I could do whatever I wanted. You know, and the people in my life, I was always encouraged. So it’s scary, but I don’t want to get…I’ve seen so many people with their life wait and wait and wait until I get retirement. Wait until this happens. Wait until…well life’s a moving target. This get’s better and then this sucks. Now you may have more money, but then you lose your health, or your spouse or your family. I’ve spent a lot of time taking care of family. It was scary, but I had to do it.
–I’m with you. Life’s too short. You need to be doing something that you love. Everyone has these ideas of what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to have this job. You’re supposed to be making this much money at this time. And if not, something’s wrong with you. You’re supposed to have this degree and if you don’t, you can’t get this job and then, what if you’re stuck in something you don’t like and then you’ve wasted all this time getting that degree or working that job. I really admire you for taking the plunge. You’re my hero.
Awww. It was kind of crazy here. Life is uncertain and everyone takes risks in different places. But I think when you don’t have kids…that helps.
And an artist…you know…if we don’t have kids, why am I not doing this?
You know it’s different…we’ve discussed it many times, if we had had kids, it would be a totally different thing.
But it’s actually scarier to not do things. I’m one that if I get to a point; it’s not that I get bored; it’s that – so I painted women and water for years. And I genuinely loved it. I pushed it in different directions and I still sometimes miss it. You know, when I think about painting, I would still sometimes love to be able to do it. But life is so short, you know, you have to pick and choose…you have to pick and choose your friends and the beauty of getting older is you do realize that you don’t have to do that and artists actually get a pass. I realized, you know, I’ve been around a lot of people who had money and collectors and people. What’s interesting is that they’re a little envious of us.
So they are working hard in their life, for their kids to leave the nest, so they can retire. So they can sell everything and go live on an island or something like that. So it’s kind of interesting.
–Yeah, it is.
And even if you get a degree in one thing, it can help you in something else.
So, like my philosophy degree; my family was kind of like What? Why are you doing this? Because it did add extra semesters and it was really hard. I’m again, most proud of the philosophy degree and I love art and teaching and it wasn’t that it was easy but I really worked for that degree. But it’s helped me in grant writing. It’s helped me in connecting with people; When I write, when I speak. It’s helped me to be a better teacher. So all of those things that you would think, what’s a BA in philosophy going to do? Actually it’s probably served me quite well. Because basically, everyone in school was like oh, if you make it they will come. What a load of garbage. Then and now.
You need the business, you need to be able to articulate what you’re doing and share the excitement. You don’t have to be bubbly and verbose like me. It’s personality driven. You can be very flat and like British humor and still be very successful if you share that with people.
Artists are also entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs are by nature very positive. They don’t look at failure as bad. I mean, you want to make calculated risks and not be stupid, but entrepreneurs are a lot different from artists because artists are by nature very pessimistic, melancholy. And it’s a hard life. I’m not saying it’s easy, but in business it’s exciting when you do something and you take some risk – And big risk, big reward. If you never really take any risk then, yes, you may enjoy painting that painting for the 4 thousandth time, but you’re losing that joy.
I am excited about a new project I’m starting. It’s an internet based platform for artists where they can go and it helps them with their business. It’s like a digital assistant. So it would help them with their writing and help them with their images. It would help them with their web presences over all and applications.
–That’s really cool!
Now this is scary. This is the stuff I lose a lot of sleep over. Because it’s totally different. It’s in the tech world. I’m working on raising funds to get the website built, finding partners, which is interesting.
–Oh, that is so exciting!
And that way I can help artists. That’s the cool part
–I just love how you keep reinventing yourself and you don’t seem scared of it. You’re just like, this is what I’m doing.
Well it’s a natural segue way and I love people, so there are times I’m wake up and go, what have I done? You know, What am I doing? Especially something like this tech project. You know it’s going to be something like 90 to 150 thousand dollars just to get the website built. But that’s everything. You know the website is everything. I can’t have a friend of mine do it from their garage.
Even though I love technology, it frustrates me a lot. So I will go on call for entry and I’m doing a show for something and my Photoshop doesn’t work right, or whatever it is, there’s always a glitch in it. And it drives me crazy too.
You know, PC/Mac compatibility. There’s all kinds of stuff. And I have an understanding of technology so if my friends really don’t, it’s worse for them. And I know some really talented artists who don’t apply for national shows just because they don’t want to deal with it. They don’t want to resize their photos and they don’t quite know how to do this.
So that’s what’s really exciting is I’ve spent my whole life helping other people and a lot of other artists. As an art teacher, I was helping creatives and budding artists…
Yeah! creating creatives. So now I can help them with that, but it also means that I have to say no to things more. So now I’m just going to work on my glass and this project. I can’t have all these little things going on, or I will lose my mind. Some of it’s already gone.
–Haha. But that’s a good thing.
–I wanted to ask you, who is your clientele?
Who supports me?
–Do you sell to stores? Because there’s all these cute little art stores around town, or sell to individuals?
So, because glass is so expensive, I’m already at the price point now where I’m not making any money after investing all of this stuff. So backing up, a couple of years ago, I was with Sozo gallery, which is in Uptown Charlotte, and it’s a great little gallery and we had a good relationship. So I was selling little pieces. I make everything from what I call little mini glass trays, basically tiny little pieces of glass which someone can buy for 50 bucks up to doing commission pieces for 4 grand.
…And I’m happy to do more.
But I do try to make and sell some things are small, that people who are really on a tight budget or my artists and creative friends can get. But then I want some things that would fill that spot that’s needing the art in a larger home or business.
So at Sozo, she sold to a number of different people. I did get the Price Waterhouse Cooper’s commission through Sozo, but she’s in Charlotte and I’m in Charlotte and there’s an exclusivity clause, which a lot of galleries will have. So I could not sell my art anywhere else without giving her her cut.
Right, and I understand because it’s very expensive to be a gallery owner and she’s taking the overhead cost and all of that, but because I’m in Charlotte, it made it kind of difficult. I was at the McColl’s center for a fundraiser and I sold some work through McColl. Well, I gave half of what I made for McColl to the gallery.
So we decided to part ways. So I’ve been without a gallery for about a year and a half now. This past week, I dropped off some glass at a gallery called Coffey and Thompson, in Southend. It’s been around for a long time, but it was recently bought by a new owner and they’re doing some cool stuff. So it’s moving from what it was into something new and they’re wanting to show more art, more contemporary art. Stuff that’s a little higher caliber, if you will. They don’t have the exclusivity clause and I like the new owner, kind of the way she is thinking and her team is thinking in a more innovative way. So I’m taking some risk in putting some glass there. So I’m selling the small pieces through the gallery and then doing commissions and some larger pieces for an individual and for that business.
I did a crowdfunding campaign for a new kiln. I started planting the seeds. I got everything from a ten-dollar investment to up to five hundred.
I got three five-hundred ones! And they weren’t all family!
–Rock on! Oh my gosh!
But it was also very scary because when I did it, because if I didn’t raise the minimum amount, which was like $43,000, I would not have gotten anything and all of my investors would have lost their money too.
So my own mother wouldn’t contribute until the very end.
She said, “you know if you don’t reach your goal, I won’t get my money, and you won’t get it.” I said, yeah, but thanks for having faith.
But that was important because it made me really step up. Sometimes as artists we get lazy. And because it’s not given or this didn’t work…that happens in business all the time.
What do you do? You learn from it. You don’t repeat it.