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September 2008 Naked Brush Blog Posts

Wed, Sep 10th, 2008

As I was thinking about how to introduce The Naked Brush Tour, I saw Guy Trebay’s New York Times column, “Wanted: Genius Designer” in which he muses about Fashion Week on its opening day. “Who will be the Next Big Thing?” he begins. But then he proceeds to bury the whole notion of style stardom with a down-to-earth look at the surplus of money at stake, as well as an overall do-it-yourself trend that has spawned its own surplus of online fashion experts aged 12 and up. Trebay seems to hope that in the age of instant celebrity, the Next Big Thing won’t be a single designer but a “yeastier and more broadly based network of shared information and connections.”

I’m all for that. Welcome to The Naked Brush Tour, in which an artist gambles her own time, money and good name to visit dozens of galleries in North America with the aim of (1) exhibiting and selling her large charcoal drawings in the right galleries and (2) sharing her experience with both artists and art dealers, in the hope of generating constructive dialog. Yes, yeasty is the word.

Like Trebay, I’m looking at something that has yet to unfold. Maybe unlike Trebay, my investment in that unfolding is considerable.

Let’s survey the landscape. Have there ever been more visual artists hoping to become the Next Big Thing? Have there ever been more galleries also hoping to make it big? I look at the Gallery Guide map of Chelsea and wonder when in human history has there ever been a greater concentration of the visual arts in one location. And, if the trend continues, how will they make room for all those galleries on one tiny, two-dimensional map?

My challenge is more multi-dimensional, I think. How to get a dealer to consider work that may not readily be characterized as contemporary? In other words, work that is instead not short on sustenance, sincerity and unabashed beauty. Or how to convey its conceptual underpinnings—that I start each drawing by lying down naked on a charcoal surface and then let that imprint direct the final outcome—without evoking kitsch or just plain silliness? (Figurative. Think figurative.) And how to effectively represent, in digital form, drawings that measure six by four feet yet feature highly detailed surfaces?

Plus how can I overlook one of the big lessons gleaned from decades of experience: that meeting people face to face is the best way to begin to know them? Dealers tell me that people want to meet the artist. I’m on my way.

Finally, why call it The Naked Brush Tour? When I described my plan to make a series of trips to cities around North America, my friend Tim said, “Hey, you should get tee shirts printed, like rock bands do.” Not a bad idea. Then in June the Palm Beach Post published a profile of me as artist. On the first page of the “Accent” or features section a tiny photo of me hovered in the upper right-hand corner. Beneath the photo a caption read, “This artist uses her naked body as a paintbrush. See why…” Yikes. But then another friend, Victor, said, “You’ve got to call this The Naked Brush Tour!” And so it is.

Stay tuned for The Naked Brush Tour: The Tee Shirt.

Sat, Sep 13th, 2008

In six days I’m leaving for the second leg of the Naked Brush Tour. The prep work has become my art form for the moment.

This being the Naked Brush Tour, a protocol is required. With my own finite resources on the line, focus is imperative.

Here’s what has happened so far. In late June I embarked on the Naked Brush Tour with a trip to Montreal.

Why Montreal? When I was a member of the CUE Art Foundation in New York a few years ago, one of the many, many opportunities was having a curator review my portfolio with an eye toward seeking gallery representation. My drawings had already been accepted into the Drawing Center’s Viewing Program—a great honor that would end once I gained representation with a New York gallery—so the emphasis in the CUE meeting was on galleries located everywhere else. Struck by the “esoteric” nature of my work, the curator suggested Montreal as a receptive place to start.

That kind of calculated decision is what’s known as marketing research. Stay with me now. Marketing research is an off-putting business concept that can help artists tremendously, if they let it. I’ll tell you more about my reluctant entrée into marketing via the valuable Artist as Entrepreneur Institute, but first there’s Montreal.

Montreal was a painless choice for my first stop. It’s the kind of city I would move to in a flash. Cosmopolitan yet human scale. Beautiful and still blessed with the funk of pre-gentrified neighborhoods. Abundant opportunities to practice my French.

But I was going to Montreal for only a day or two. And I was on a mission: to locate the right gallery to represent my work. The protocol led the way. Having selected my market/city, I scoured the web to identify at least half a dozen galleries that seemed like plausible prospects for representing my drawings.

Define plausible. It means, first, that a gallery exhibits work that seems stylistically akin to mine. I’ve already mentioned that my work is earnest and at ease with the concept of beauty. And yet it can also be challenging. “It makes people think,” a dealer once warned me. So I find galleries that could be open to that.

The second criterion for a plausible prospect is that the artists a gallery represents should include those who, like me, are considered “emerging” as opposed to “established” or “household names.” And while many galleries nobly focus on the artists in their region, since I’m going outside my region for most of the Naked Brush Tour that focus could exclude me.

And, of course, the gallery has to be open to taking on new artists.

I took my time researching Montreal’s galleries online. Thankfully there is the Association des Galeries d’Art Contemporain. I studied each of the galleries’ sites, keeping to my protocol. Who are the artists represented? What kind of work do they do? Who does work that relates to mine somehow? And what do their CV/Bios tell me? Are the artists all established or are some still at the front end, like me? The research takes time. But if I were a dealer, I’d want to know that an artist had done her homework before contacting me. And I don’t want to waste my time or anyone else’s while on tour.

Speaking of which, this is more than enough for now.

Tue, Sep 16th, 2008

Three days before I leave on Leg 2 of The Naked Brush Tour. Eager to spend some time in a temperate climate, assuming no hurricanes visit while I’m away. I’m even more eager to see how The Naked Brush Tour unfolds the second time out.

Following protocol, I found eight galleries in the first city I’ll be visiting this time, and six galleries in the second. Then each of the galleries received an email, the same basic email I sent to galleries in Montreal. Here I’m following the advice of my friend Clare, a former gallery owner. She suggested balancing confidence in my drawings with thoughtfulness for the gallery staff. “The worst thing for a dealer is to have the artist walk in unannounced, portfolio in hand, and expect a meeting on the spot,” Clare emphasized. Dealers say as much on their websites. They have their protocols too.

So my email says (1) that I’m coming to visit in two weeks or so, and hope to meet them. (2) It describes what drew me to their gallery, i.e. a general comment on the kind of artwork they choose to exhibit. And (3) I mention two or three artists they represent whose work relates to mine in some way.

My email doesn’t say that I want the dealer to look at my work, or even meet with me in an extensive way. So literally I’m paying them a visit. Looking forward to meeting them face to face—and checking out the gallery.

And yes, I do bring samples of my work. But in Montreal I actually left them in the car (at Clare’s suggestion) and waited until the dealers asked to see them. Most of them did. But now where will I leave them when I’m riding public transportation?

Before I sent that initial email I finally added a signature to my emails, to include my website address. Some of the Montreal gallery folks looked at my work when I first emailed them, and commented on it in their replies to me. Now I’m starting to get replies to the latest round of emails and again some commented on my work.

Often a gallery’s reply simply restates their policy of not accepting walk-in submissions or requests for a portfolio review. For me that’s an opportunity to reply and rephrase my request to visit the gallery and meet them.

True, there have been a couple replies from galleries whose focus is more limited than what I gathered from their websites—too limited to include me. But only a couple. My first reply from Montreal was one of a kind (I hope): “Not interested. Not at all,” it announced. Yes, it gave me pause. Until my sister Cindy reminded me that I was going to Montreal to check out galleries—plain and simple—and I would accomplish that in any event.

We haven’t gotten to any of the visits yet. But I’m willing to say this subdued, thoughtful approach appeals to me enormously. Maybe it’s that I’m bucking the tide of what dealers have come to expect from artists. Of course I would like that. But even more, it has created enough curiosity for some to want to see my work. And that’s what I’m looking for.

Sun, Sep 21st, 2008

The anticipating is over. Now I get to live Leg 2 of The Naked Brush Tour.

I forgot to mention that this leg would have a bit of vacation built into it. So it will be a few days before I visit galleries. And yet we need a few days to get caught up. Time off is also needed. Trust me.

In fact, I think I’m going sightseeing right this minute. I’ll come back soon!

Mon, Sep 22nd, 2008

Back to Montreal.

The plan was to bring a few drawings in a tube—just in case a dealer expressed interest—and to check it as luggage, as I’ve done in the past.

“You can’t trust the airlines with original artwork!” my wise, world-traveling friend Beate insisted. She’s right, it’s the dawn of a new era in air travel. So I had digital prints made of the drawings, printed on matte vinyl to be extra seaworthy. These I entrusted to the airline. Nothing takes the place of looking at the original drawings, but these are reasonable facsimiles. And that matte vinyl has real possibilities.

The trip to Montreal was made easy by my friends, Lincoln and Savitri, who live in northern Vermont. Not only were they caring hosts and enthusiastic cheerleaders (“Can you believe she’s just taking the initiative and going directly to the galleries?!” Lincoln said, more than once), they also lent me a car for the two-hour drive to Montreal. Really good friends.

There were six galleries to visit in less than two days. Imminently do-able, I thought. I walked into the first one and introduced myself. The gallery owner looked stunned. “I thought from your email that you were a man,” she said with a heavy accent. What do you say to that? We walked through a fine exhibition of works on paper. She showed me her flat files and more works on paper, and mentioned her collectors’ interest in them. All excellent news for this draw-er.

I asked about exhibiting work by non-Canadian artists, since her focus clearly was on Canadians. My concern was that dealers there might resist showing work by Americans who seem to have so many opportunities to exhibit. “I show Canadian artists because it is Canadians who are submitting work,” she explained. That surprised me. We had a look at my website, her second time there. And she described her submission process, which incorporates the input of expert friends. She invited me to submit images. She couldn’t have been more gracious. I couldn’t have been more gratified. It took about half an hour.

Next was a series of galleries all in the same building. It felt a lot like Chelsea, except that this was the only such building. I walked into the second gallery on my list and introduced myself. The warm, friendly man looked surprised. “I was sure you were a man,” he confessed, “just guessing from the tone of your email. Sorry.” Yes, it was puzzling.

In his email reply to me he had wondered why someone would recommend Montreal as a place to show esoteric art. Now he was eager to have some fun with that idea, which clearly missed the mark in his opinion. I was a bit embarrassed, maybe. I focused on the fine paintings in front of me, small works that evoked mid-century California yet were done with such detail, almost like Persian miniatures. It was still a fun, free-wheeling conversation, until we were interrupted by two journalists. I knew to bow out. “Come back after you’ve seen the other galleries,” he called out.


Tue, Sep 23rd, 2008

On to gallery #3, also located in the Belgo Building, Montreal’s Chelsea. And guess what? The owner was expecting me to be a man.

By now you’re thinking, okay what’s the trick. Exactly what I was thinking. Another artist would have come right out and asked a dealer why he or she was expecting a man. Not this one. I mean, it just seemed ungracious somehow. Here I am in a French-speaking city, with a name that’s a feminine noun in French, and still we have this confusion. So the best I can give you is my interpretation.

Given that all they had to go on was my email (and my website, which should suggest I’m female), I think they thought as follows: An artist who takes the initiative to identify a far-away gallery and initiate contact and propose a face-to-face meeting is probably a man. If you have another interpretation, I’m all ears. What mattered to me was that I had managed to distinguish myself further without even trying.

The conversation in the third gallery was brisk and business-like. The owner rejected the notion that Montreal was a place for esoteric art. More than that, she let me know that most residents of her/our generation are still pretty angry with the Catholic Church. I didn’t press for details. Again I felt a little foolish. Thankful to be in Montreal, but probably not because it welcomes esoteric art.

Ultimately the owner wanted to see my work, make a decision and get on with her afternoon. I ran down to the car and retrieved the tube. She studied the drawings spread out on the floor in her cramped office. But they weren’t for her.

“Have you visited any of the other galleries?” she asked, then recommended one a few doors down.

Now I found myself in a situation I had intended to avoid: walking into a gallery with no previous contact, carrying my tube of drawings, expecting them to look at my work. And yet I did have the recommendation of gallery #3’s owner. Would that make me more welcome?

The recommended gallery was a busy place. I took my time going through an exhibition of works by “young artists,” most of them small works on paper taped to the wall in a cluster. Does my work fit here, I wondered, knowing I had seen their website earlier and decided it was not me.

The gallery assistant approached me, a warm woman in her twenties. I relayed the recommendation from the previous gallery. She said the owner was busy with a collector, but the assistant was happy to see my drawings. I quickly spread them out. She was interested and asked a lot of questions. When I told her how my drawings, based on chance images, had resulted in narrative works about my life, she became much more interested. And when I described the memoir I was writing based on the drawings, and the reading-performances I had done in Florida with the musicians Bill and John Storch at Red Dot Contemporary and Klein Dance, she was especially keen. Suddenly my work became the kind of work they show.

For nearly an hour we talked. She told me how inundated the galleries are with “dossiers” from artists. And how undeveloped the gallery industry is in Montreal. Even though the city is enjoying its own dot-com boom, the galleries are having to teach boomers the plusses of buying an original work as opposed to a poster. Not a print. A poster. In a joint effort among galleries, a series of seminars was underway to create a new generation of collectors. I was impressed by their initiative to create new markets.

In the end she encouraged me to submit my dossier. The chance meeting had been a pleasure for both of us.

Tue, Sep 23rd, 2008

Not many replies to my emails this trip. Two galleries let me know they focus on regional artists, maybe more exclusively than what I surmised from their websites. I still intend to visit and introduce myself if I have time. What constitutes the minimum payoff for my efforts, I think, is to meet a dealer face to face. And still be mindful of their time, but also mine.

Then there was this:
“I think your work is quite interesting, and would like to see it in person.”

A most welcome reply. I wrote back as soon as I saw it yesterday, said I would call her today and gave her my number. Now I’ll just wait. And smile. And continue with the Montreal story.

But first some coffee.

Fri, Sep 26th, 2008

We need to wrap up Montreal so I can move on to the cities I'm visiting now. This tour is a whirlwind.

I went back to gallery #2 in the Belgo Building, now carrying a conspicuous four foot tube of drawings. "Okay, okay, so let me see what you've got," the dealer said a bit reluctantly. He studied them carefully and found the two "Istanbul" drawings interesting but concluded that my work was too conventional for a contemporary gallery. He recommended I visit several "more commercial" galleries in town.

Maybe I should’ve been offended but I was thankful for his frankness. It helped me clarify how my work differed from a lot of the art I had seen that afternoon.

It was the end of the day. We talked for another hour, mostly about the role of artists in envisioning a new kind of future for the world. I showed him my small "Icon" drawings, which I made to trigger a more transcendent line of thinking in the viewer. He enjoyed them most of all.

I headed out in search of one last gallery for the day, driving to the north end of Montreal before giving up the search. In one of the guidebooks I found a restaurant serving Quebecois food in a punk atmosphere, which sounded perfect. I veered off in that direction. When I found that it no longer existed, I thought maybe I should spring for the 2008 edition of the guidebook instead of getting the '07 edition from the library. Anyway I had a simple French supper—duck confit and red wine—in a restaurant filled with working families celebrating the weekend. The waiter's parents, by the way, live in Hollywood, Florida.

On Saturday I made the drive back north to visit a farmer’s market. It was a terrific place to have coffee and imagine a life in Montreal. Afterward a quick visit to the gallery that had eluded me the night before. Commercial in a sense that I was not comfortable with. It reminded me that the character of a gallery's website doesn't always reflect the character of the gallery itself. And sometimes when you can't find something, you maybe should just leave it alone.

I stopped in at a gallery nearby that had been recommended by several dealers the day before. It's a large and lovely space that was at that time devoted to a retrospective of a beloved Quebecois artist. All in all it felt a bit intimidating. And yet the young woman I spoke with was very welcoming in describing their submission process.

Nearly every dealer I spoke with seemed honored that I had traveled from South Florida to visit them. Beforehand I was worried that Montreal galleries might shun artists from the U.S. But these folks were openly gracious and appreciative of my attention. It was the perfect place to kick off The Naked Brush Tour.

My intention was to visit two "more commercial" galleries recommended by the dealer the day before. But I was spent. I rushed back to Vermont to share the good news with my good friends.

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