Art Gallery

Regarding "Inspiration" vs "Necessity"

A few days ago, a visitor to my art studio was watching me paint for several minutes, asking good questions about what I was doing, and sharing some of her adventures in artistic endeavors. Then she asked me a really good question that I think bears addressing: “What do you do when you have to paint but don’t WANT to paint?” Then she followed up with a related question: “How do you paint when you just don’t feel inspired?”

There are so many ways I can answer those questions. I wrote a blog a while back “How to create when you don’t feel creative” that addresses some of this, but I’ll answer from a different direction here. 

Art is not just born in a moment of whimsy.

It’s not controlled strictly by the emotions…

I’m a full-time artist and I have my studio in an awesome tourist Mecca: Asheville, North Carolina. We get visitors all year long from all over the country (and other countries) who spend the day wandering through the art studios of over 220 artists, looking at the artwork and getting to know the artists. Because this is more than just a hobby for me, we don’t eat if I don’t sell paintings and I won’t sell paintings if I’m not producing them. So I don’t have an option regarding whether or not I’m painting. That’s my job. What if a doctor didn’t show up in an operating room, or an airline pilot didn’t show up at the airport, or an Uber driving didn’t show up in his car or a restaurant owner didn’t show up at the restaurant simply because “they didn’t WANT to show up”?  I’m not different.

Art is not just born in a moment of whimsy. It’s not controlled strictly by the emotions. If it were, then most of the professional artists I know would go out of business. Just like everyone else trying to earn a living, professional artists have to do what they do, do it as best they can, and then hope it sells. 

I can’t answer for any other artist out there, but personally, I’ve never NOT wanted to paint. I love painting because I love imagining (I can’t help it). But the issue of painting when I’m not “inspired” usually just means I have to be quiet, go for a walk, listen to music. Creating involves emptying the creative “tank” inside my head and when that tank gets drained, it’s important to fill it back up again. So I hike. I pray. I think. I listen to leaves rustling in the trees. I try to listen to God. How one “fills up” would probably be a personal thing that varies from artist to artist, but that’s how I do it. 

In short, I don’t have the option of just painting when I’m “inspired”. If my creative tank is empty, it’s because I’m not regularly filling it up and while I sometimes don’t have control of when and how my “tank” is empty, I do have control over how often I am filling it. It takes time. Resting time. Quiet time. My culture would look at that sort of thing is frivolous and unproductive. It is not. For an artist (and I assume everyone?), that replenishing time is absolutely essential, and that’s an element of my culture I try vigorously to take exception to. 

The Best Complement I've Ever Received

A couple weeks ago, a woman from New Jersey entered my art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District and unknowingly paid me just about the highest compliment anyone could give me, exclaiming to her husband, “Oh, this guy’s artwork reminds me of Monet. It’s like neo-impressionism!” (I didn’t even know that was a word!) Compared to some of the things people say (like, “I think these are photos he’s somehow dipping into glass”), this comment made me smile deep inside. Monet has long been my hero. What he did with his oil paint was magical. The color variations, the light, the texture and the compositions of his work are (in my opinion) second to none.

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The Story Behind the Series

One of my all time favorite series of paintings he did has to be the Poplar series from the summer and fall of 1891. If you’re not familiar with this series, there’s kind of a fun story behind them. It seems the trees were growing in a marsh on the banks of the Epte River, just south of Monet’s home in Giverny, France. Each day he painted, he got into his small boat and rowed upstream to his floating painting studio (for the record, I would love a floating painting studio!) that was moored there in the river, with the poplars in the background, planted in a single row by the waters edge, forming a graceful S-curve with the river. According to the story, when he was about half done with the series, the trees were put up for auction and were about to be purchased by a lumber merchant. Undaunted, Monet decided to purchase the trees himself so he could finish his paintings. Upon completion, he did sell them to the lumber merchant who had wanted them in the first place, and I assume they were turned into pencils or furniture not long after that. 

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I love this story because it hints at a familiar obsessiveness about creating. The thought of him thinking “well, I’ll just buy the trees so I can finish my paintings!” just cracks me up but I love it and I’m so glad he bought those poplar trees. I do wish I could visit the Epte River and see that line of poplars now. The trees themselves may be long gone but they will live forever in his work. 

The Big Reveal

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

For months now, I’ve been concocting a new type of artwork. I wanted to create a new type of painting that was dynamic rather than static; a painting that billowed out from the wall rather than lie flat against a wall. I’ve shared the earliest experiments here in an earlier post, the early development of those experiments and some problems I had along the way. Now finally, my first “Sails” piece is hanging in my studio and it’s even better than I’d originally planned.

I had thought I’d just create different shapes of “sails” mounted into a hardwood “rail” top and bottom (see photos below). That was where the first experiment ended and I liked them but had yet another idea that sprouted out of this one: What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that? How would you mount them? Ahhh…questions to answer and problems to solve!

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

As it turned out, mounting them at different angles to each other was somewhat of a simple problem to solve, and the result is something much more dynamic (in my opinion) and much more visually interesting (again, in my opinion). I can imaging this type of artwork running down a 40’ corridor or across the lobby of a hotel or bank. I can also see these in a contemporary home.

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This is the thing I love about creativity. These are made using exactly the same steps as any of my landscape paintings (though you’d never know it). The only difference is that I’m painting on a flexible panel and I’m mounting it to the wall on slotted rails.

What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that?

So my first experiment for 2019 is complete. I have two other experiments to tackle this year (as soon as I finish a few more commissions — they come first). So the next time you’re wondering around the streets of Asheville’s awesome River Arts District, please come and visit my studio, take a look at these pieces and let me know what you think! Cheers!



"I'm just not making the sales I need!"

I’m frustrated. Over and over again, very nice visitors file into my studio at 10:15 - 10:30 AM and ask me “What time do all the other artists show up?” That’s such a good question. And when I answer with “some of them will open at 11:00 I think, and then others — who knows?” they sometimes get short with me. I understand that angst. People travel to Asheville and they make their way down to the River Arts District in the morning and they’re greeted with what looks like a ghost town. At 10:00, I’m one of just a handful of studios open.

What’s frustrating about this is not that I’m the only one around. That’s actually good for me. I sell lots of paintings before noon (maybe because I’M OPEN BEFORE NOON). Sorry for the attitude. :)

What’s frustrating is that some of the artists that are not around are the very ones I hear complaining about sales. “I’m just don’t make the sales I need to make it worth it to be here”. But…if you’re not open, how will you make sales?

So if whoever is reading this is an aspiring artist who would like to do this full time, here’s some advice: Look at creating and selling art as a full time job and have regular (and consistent) hours. Then advertise those hours. I know there are lots of artists who are part time in their craft. I totally get that. That was me for many years. So just make it a goal to be “open” as often as you can. And think about finding other part time artists form a co-op and publicize that you’re open! Invite people to visit. Advertise! If you go in with other artists, that makes all the shared costs a lot more possible.

I really want to see other artists succeed, and that can’t happen if people do not see the artwork they are trying to sell. And if the doors are locked, no one will see the artwork and…hence, no art sales. It’s not rocket science.

Exploring Austin Galleries, Part 2

My wife Joy and I delivered a painting recently to some clients of mine in Austin, Texas. It was so nice to see the home my painting would become a part of (it was magnificent by the way!). After the delivery, we spent the day exploring several of the art galleries in town. The first gallery we visited was amazing. If you have not read my post on that visit, please click here first, then return to read the balance of this post, because that post will have a very different tone than this.

When we left that first gallery, I was really excited about what else Austin had to offer. Granted, we did not see every other art gallery in town, but we did see several and honestly, the rest left me feeling really frustrated. I hope it’s okay I say that but it’s really the truth. I know a lot of people who just do not visit art galleries any more because they think they obviously just don’t “get” art (because of some bad experiences with it in the past). If you are one of those people, I get it. If I could do anything, I’d just want to encourage you to keep exploring the art around you. Art is the voice of the culture, and so it’s really important. That said, the voice I heard singing the rest of the day in Austin was pretty off-key, and left me not only discouraged, but really frustrated.

Why frustrated? Well, if you want someone to appreciate your 12” x 18” piece of artwork priced at $8500, don’t make it something that looks like anyone could do it. There. I said it. In my opinion, really great art should wield the power of mystery. It should force you to wonder “Oh my gosh, how did they DO that?”. Over and over again though, the rest of the day in Austin, I was confronted with a lot of art that honestly left me thinking “If I had two hours and the right materials, I could make this myself”. Granted, I am an artist too, but still, if you are going to charge several thousands of dollars for something that I’m pretty sure I could recreate in 120 minutes, something is wrong (isn’t it???).

“With any painting, that skill is what you’re paying for.”

I am an artist in Asheville, North Carolina and I have an open studio there in the River Arts District. People come into and out of my studio all day long and so I hear a lot of comments. There are plenty of people who do not like my artwork (I can hear them making comments since I’m standing right there). So I totally understand that everyone has different taste in art and that’s totally fine. And because of that, some people will value types of art that I do not. But if an artist is going to charge several thousand dollars for a painting, whether I like that style or subject matter, I would hope I’d appreciate the skill involved. With any painting, that skill is what you’re paying for. I don’t like a lot of abstract art. I don’t like cubism. I don’t care for a lot of Pointillism. But I can appreciate the skill involved in the creation of abstract, cubist and pointtalist art. In other words, you don’t need to enjoy ANY type of artwork. But if it’s well-crafted artwork, whether you like it or not, you should be able to appreciate the skill involved.

This is just my opinion, but I feel pretty strongly about it. But if you disagree, that’s fine. And if you disagree strongly enough, I can spend a couple hours creating a mock art piece and charge you $8500. Hmmmm. This could be the start of a new creative direction for me!

Exploring Austin Galleries, Part 1

We’ve been spending the winter months in Dallas, TX so while there, we really wanted to visit the state capital, Austin (mostly because we heard it was a lot like Asheville). I had a list of galleries we planned to visit and while most of what we saw was really frustrating (see next blog entry), the exception was the Guo Aihe exhibit at the Russell Collection Fine Art Gallery. Understand, I may be unique in the way I view and judge art, but what really grabs me is when I see a painting and wonder “Oh my gosh! How the HECK did they do that?” See, to me, that mystery is what captivates me.

art gallery painting

When Joy and I entered the Russell Collection gallery, we were warmly greeted by a young Chinese man and woman who explained what it was we were looking at. Rather than being pushy salespeople, they were merely informing us and I really appreciated that. Turns out his father comes from a village of artisans in China and he produced all the art on display in this exhibition. When we entered, I thought we were looking at lacquered paintings, but I was wrong. They were each ceramic paintings, glazed with extraordinary color; luminous, shiny, bright (see why I was attracted to them???). I commented about the amazing color and was told that when the color is applied, it’s applied as a ceramic glaze, i.e. EACH color looks like a brick red slurry. How that uniform monotone slurry turns into the intricate coloration I saw in each exquisite piece utterly baffles me. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness, and that I was only a poser. I don’t mean that in a self depecating way but in a (I think) really healthy, humble way. This was really unique to me. I’ve never seen anything at all like this and oh my gosh, if you’re anywhere near Austin, you should visit this gallery.

I am an oil painter in Asheville, North Carolina (which BTW is still way cooler than Austin). I have an open art studio there and meet people from all over the country on a daily basis. And it’s easy to get comfortable and complacent with what I do. But it truly is not often that I see artwork that really causes me to pause and wonder. What I saw in Austin (at the Russell Collection gallery) did. No other gallery hit me this way on this trip, but I’ll spill my angst in my next blog.

Preliminary Photos of my "Sails" Prototypes

So (drum roll please), I’m ready for the “soft” unveiling of my “sails” experiment. Normally, I’d wait until I finish a painting to take it’s completion photos, and these three prototypes are still technically pre-completed, as they still need a layer of resin and edges cleaned up. That said, I couldn’t wait any longer to at least post some photos of the pieces. Usually, when I experiment with something, some things go right and some things go wrong, so you shape an idea into what it will be. This time though, there was no shaping…it just all happened exactly to plan. Trust me…that’s unusual.

This project posed some challenges though. First, I had to find a substrate that would easily bend. Then I had to find a material I can use for the texture the would also flex. Once I figured this out though, the rest was easy.

I’m really happy with these, and I think the possibilities are really exciting. These prototypes are only about 20” tall, but what if they were 4’ tall? The panels here are all mounted in two parallel hardwood tracks, but what if they’ were mounted at different angles? What if they overlapped each other? Sorry, this is how my mind works. The “what if’s” never stop until I try it and see.

Back to work for now. More to come.

”Azure Sails”

”Azure Sails”

“Aegean Sails”

“Aegean Sails”

“Crimson Sails”

“Crimson Sails”

Recent Projects on my Plate

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My gosh, the life of an artist is so much fun, but can be really busy this time of year! I’m so thankful for that! I’m still amazed I can do what is (for me) the most fun thing I can think of doing and be able to make a living doing it.

Currently, I’ve got twelve paintings in various stages of creation that will end up in my open art studio / gallery in Asheville’s River Arts District. These are mostly local landscapes with a few “generic” themed landscape pieces. When I paint for my studio, I have to consider the fact that visitors are mostly tourists that would like a piece of art to remind them of their trip to Asheville. I’ve learned over the years that venturing too far off the path (of local themed paintings) is not a great idea if I want the art to sell (and I do).

And so far, I have six commissions lined up for a January start date! Here are my assignments:

1) 44” x 72” piece that depicts the view off the back deck of my clients house near the tip of Long Island, NY. This will feature some trees in the foreground, and wetlands with cattails and fishing docks in the mid-ground and the sparkling water of the bay in the background.

2) I have a 24” x 72” piece that is a panorama of woodlands at the tail end of summer, so the trees will be mostly green leafed, but with a hint of gold and rust thrown in here and there.

3) 12” x 35” spray of orchids. This will be fun and challenging because the orchids will be built up and sculpted onto the canvas, then covered with the aluminum leaf and paint.

4) Two 8” x 10” paintings of birch trees during summer and autumn (to go with another two I did last year for this client featuring birch trees in spring and winter) so this will make a complete four seasons group.

5) A 36” x 36” painting depicting a scene from the Netherlands. My clients are using their own photo for this one (I love it when people feel the freedom to do that!)

6) A 24” x 40” painting featuring a scene on the Biltmore Estate of an old oak tree overhanging the French Broad River in autumn.

So that’s what’s on my plate right now. That should be enough to keep me busy and out of trouble for a while anyway! Huge thanks to everyone that has asked for commissions! I’m offering a 20% discount on any commission ordered now but that I can start after the holidays. So if you’d like to own one of my paintings at a discount, now’s the time to inquire about it!

Okay, enough blogging. I obviously have to get back to painting!

Planning for a Second Studio Location!

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This winter, I will be doing the preliminary set up for a second art studio…in TEXAS! I love mountains or wild seascapes, so I never, ever thought I’d be excited about being in Texas but here’s the thing…three of my four kids are there and seven of nine grandchildren are there, and Joy and I have the opportunity to set up shop right there with them all. We’ll still be keeping Asheville, North Carolina as our home base, and St.Claire Art studio in the River Arts District will still be open there, but parts of the year (corresponding to slower tourist seasons in Asheville), we’ll be painting in Texas.

I’m excited about two things related to this: first of all, I absolutely love the idea of being close to our family, and second, this opens up new opportunities for galleries in the central U.S. and Rocky Mountain states.

…finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party…

I’ve always wanted to find gallery representation in that part of the country, but being on the east coast, it’s just too far away to realistically explore. And finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party who knows the artist and the gallery owner. This second option happened to me just this summer. There is a gallery Elk River, Michigan (on the north-west coast) that will be carrying my work in the spring and I’m really excited about it! I’ve been to that area and it’s gorgeous — and it’s frequented by tourists. This opportunity came about because a client of mine that lives in that part of Michigan knew a gallery owner and she played matchmaker, and I’m so appreciative whenever that happens because it makes my job so much easier!

So if anyone out there in cyber-land knows of galleries I’d fit into in the central US and Rocky Mountain states, please let me know! This spring, I’ll be ready. :)

What makes art "Art"?

“Red Triangle”  Francois Pelletier, 2003

“Red Triangle” Francois Pelletier, 2003

Imagine one afternoon not long ago, you were visiting a rather famous art museum. Some of the art, you felt like you understood and you were feeling pretty proud of yourself. And then…you came into the “modern art” wing and and saw there, at the end of a long hallway, the huge master work by French painter Francois Pelletier “The Red Triangle”. Imagine please that this was your first time seeing this piece (maybe it is?). If that was/is the case, what is your visceral reaction? It’s okay to be honest. We’re all friends here. Many people (we’ll call them “Group One”) express that they have felt and received the message Pelletier was trying to convey and others (Group Two) laughed at the people in Group One, so whatever your reaction, you’re probably right.

What makes art “Art”? Do you know? Is there an actual answer anymore? See, what makes art “Art” depends upon several sometimes conflicting assumptions. Is “Art” beautiful? Sometimes, but not always? Is it disturbing? Sometimes but not always? Is it serious, whimsical, deep or meaningless? I know people who would answer with a resounding “YES!” to each of these descriptions of what makes art “Art”. Eventually, you get to the point where everything and anything at all is art if you “think” it is.

But honestly, I think that is only possible because today in western culture, we’re not allowed to have any form of “measurement” when it comes to measuring the value of art. I don’t mean that we’re not given any form of measurement, I mean we’re not “allowed” any. But if that is correct, then art (and artists) really are in a completely unique category.

Imagine you were planning a trip to France and you went to TripAdvisor to see what were the “must see’s” in France. The Louvre had five stars, Eiffel Tower had five stars, the restroom in front of Nortre Dame - five stars, the bus from the Arc de Triomphe to the main train station — five stars. And then you notice that every point of interest, every restaurant, every hotel had five stars. Well of course they do, it’s Paris, right? But seriously, if there was no judgement being exercised by anyone rating on TripAdvisor at all, if everything they rated was given five stars, what sort of help would that be? And do you really think that the bus from the Arc de Triomphe to the main train station “DESERVES” five stars? But “who are you to judge?”

So if there are not standards at all (and our post-modern western civilization tells us there are not), then is there such a thing as real art? Beautiful music? Skillful poetry and prose? Masterfully executed films? If your answer is yes, then how can our post-modern assumptions be correct? And if the answer is no, then how can we live in a world like that? Can you?

I’d love your input on this one. No judging here. This topic is a pretty big one and I will not pretend to be the ultimate authority here. It’s just my blog, that’s all. :)