We all wear uniforms that hold our secrets. Your suit, scrubs, hardhat, sensible shoes, heels, sneakers define you in some subtle or overt way.
My painting clothes, the work pants and shirts ripped and spattered over a decade in the studio, bear all the marks and scars that define any artist: triumph, failure, magic, truth, dedication, doubt, sex, beauty, repulsion and perseverance.
I just finished a piece for a show this weekend at Locust Projects, a venerable Miami art space focused on experimental work. I’ve been invited into this show for a number of years and take the honor quite seriously.
The pants were not my first idea for this exhibition. My original plan was a large sculpture made of Illy coffee cans I’ve been hoarding for years (much to Jodi’s chagrin). However, I’ve not yet cracked the code on how to best present these shining metal cylinders for maximum impact.
The pants were Plan B (though I’ve been thinking about how to exhibit my painting clothes for years).
Originally, I wanted to present each cherished article of work clothing separately behind glass in wooden box frames, creating elegant tension … but at $900 a frame, that was not happening.
Next, I thought to hang the pants from monofilament to create the illusion that they were standing up, as if inhabited by a ghost. That did not feel right either. Too limp.
Finally, as my deadline approached, with no better solution, I opted to simply tack the battered jeans to the wall of the gallery.
And so the show was hung, with my pants thrust against the wall like an invisible scarecrow. As I strolled the preview last week, I thought my piece looked good amidst a sea of compelling work. The following day, as I worked in my studio for another upcoming show, my phone rang.
The gallery director from Locust said, “I want to talk to you about your piece. Some people I’ve spoken with have commented that this work doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of work you’ve submitted in past years. Those works started conversations and really made you want to know more.”
WHAT A BUZZKILL!
For two reasons (three if you count bruised ego):
1. In my mind, I was already done with that work and onto other big art and writing projects.
2. I did not have another piece teed up to fix this.
The gallerist made her case yet made no specific demands; she left the decision up to me. I hung up and thought hard about her frank assessment.
And goddammit if she wasn’t 100% right.
Fact is, the tacked-up piece was the result of my failure NOT my success in presenting this rich concept.
When I told Jodi she said, “Yeah … I wasn’t going to say anything, but …” Jeeeez!
I called the director back and told her, “I like the pants. They have a deep narrative and I dig their aesthetic.” I explained how my original plans did not pan out. And asked how she thought the piece might be best presented.
She bounced the question back to me but not before saying basically, Don’t make it about the pants!
So often, we fail to recognize the essence of the thing we are staring at.
Luckily, some geniuses have eyes that see further, wider and deeper than the rest of us. Moreover, they are able to activate the sight of others, gently yet precisely. That exceptionally capable gallerist did just that with her few courageous words.
I shut my eyes … and when I reopened them I immediately dug through my studio and found an old window I’d been saving for the better part of a decade for just such a moment. And a painting I’d been stuck on for years. And together, these forlorn ingredients became a lovely new recipe, which in a few hours came hot out of the oven.
“Now we are talkin’,” the gallerist said with a wink, when I showed her the revised work. It was all she needed to say.
If you’re local, come to Locust Projects THIS SATURDAY NITE, Oct 25th. Auction starts promptly at 7:30pm. Tix $50.
Locust Projects 3852 North Miami Avenue, Miami, FL 33127