On The Surface, Part III

Tony and I returned to his woodshop from the storage unit. During the trip he talked about his early experiences with the professional art world. The topic seemed to stir something up in him as he couldn’t understand why gallery owners and dealers typically pigeon-hole artists into a single type of work- a topic for debate with many artists.

On one hand, you have dealers and brokers who are attempting to sell something based off a certain level of consistency and thus quality. Without being able to depend on that, it would be a challenge to sell artwork. On the other hand, artists tend to explore options and variety through composition, at times varying the style or approach of the subject matter based on what they are feeling at any given time. For some, repeating the successes of past works to create consistent, predictable work can take the joy out of the creative process. Tony sided with the latter argument, citing the negative impact it had on his father and his father’s artist friends. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but will discuss that in another entry.

In any case, we began cutting down strips of maple to secure to the backside of the hardboard surfaces. During the process, Tony handed me a brochure for The Santa Fe Trail. I remember he had mentioned it earlier, but now that it was before me, he beamed as he told me the whole story. Essentially, he created the entire brochure- a commissioned project by the state of New Mexico where he spent a year, on location, creating a map of the trail, the corresponding text and some of the most sophisticated black and white drawings I have ever seen. I was amazed by the variety of creativity within the brochure itself and understood more than ever his frustration with the gallery system.

Here was a man who possessed talents to do life-like portraits, design a brochure, create a map, build furniture and was learning chemistry in his spare time, in addition to a list of many other creative endeavors. With all of these skills, it was easy for me to understand his concern as it related to pursuing art as a full-time career. Tony was simply beyond category. “I don’t want to paint just trees,” he told me.

By the end of the night, we had cut materials for four boards, glued them on to the back of the hardboard surface and sanded down the edges so the backing was completely flush with the facade. They looked just as I pictured and I was thrilled with my new painting surfaces.

Tony let me keep a copy of the brochure which I took home and promptly shared with JQ. As Tony and I work to refine process and product with the painting boards, he continues to challenge me to improve as both an artist and a free thinker. I look forward not only to working with him on more projects, but returning his generosity and helping him in any way I can. Surely, there will be more stories to come.