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Richard 's Story > Chapters > Tempe Arizona...The MFA Days and Beyond

The Artist as Exhibitor in Tempe Arizona 

Date Range: 08/15/1986 To 06/20/1996   Comments: 0 Views: 9351
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The Life of an Exhibiting Artist living in Tempe as well as travelling artist who appeared internationally. 1986-96

There were challenges around every corner during my residency in Tempe Arizona. It was not easy to get exhibits as they were largely controlled by vestments of academics or people in groups who sponsored these shows or exhibits at the university or in galleries around the Phoenix valley.
I would have liked to exhibit more of my work around the city. Unfortunately there were quite a few barriers to be hurdled and often the politics of art-life within these streams, gullies and rivers of venues being past were sometimes insurmountable, other times they were as petty sweet as the sugar on the bottom of a lollipop and a feeling of gain was made....but most often being hard earned even if they reallly didnt need to be.
Propositions for gallery showings were often closely protected by the artists. There was a sometimes reckless competition to try to put work up in shows and exhibitions around the valley. I could have had many exhibits, I had tons of work from New York. Literally I then had a store-room filled with works that I had outgrown. Landscapes and still-lifes as well as portraits seemed to cling to the storage room walls. I would work over these as the time progress for other exhibition opportunities as well as compititions that I was involved in. I counted a stack of some 80 still-lifes, each Leaguesque and somewhat dark to Arizona tastes and sensibilities. They showed that I could paint academically but also were a boon to my progress as these dark paintings spoke of a time and essence of "Old Masters" that was not an Arizona tradition...and I was painting from the heart, with skill in hand, my paintings and really did not wish to change into the light colored pallette of a 'brush with decorator art' that seemed to be encroaching around me. There were other artist who were successful. Their work was fun and it sold well. Some of it was geometric abstract and a kind of surrealism that brushed against my eye. Much of it seemed as insincere as a pagan at a Vatican Chapel, but then again who was I to judge. I was working from the heart and not the "market". If I chose my colors wisely they would have been three color spans of teal, rose and white with just a touch of reddish...then gold to touch it off for that designer touch, that seemed famous then. I was the critic. Few artists caught my eye in my surroundings. Too much of it seemed as weak as the petals of a unwatered rose in the Arizona summer, and I found myself very quiet about what I felt. Perhaps my own work was seen as prudish or even obnoxious by Arizona painters. I couldnt draw a 'straight' cactus. It was annoying that I couldnt do these kind of artworks. All in all it pained me that cowboys and sunsets were not my variety of art and neither were horses...but they seemed to sell...that and the very heavy abstractions that were pumped out at the art school. The biggest hurdle in art is getting people to accept your vision as your heart. Artists are the first to lay criticism and throw metaphoic stones at glass houses no matter where the glass may lay. Then there were the people who liked my work. As an artist there were a few who understood the process that I was looking for and the proceedure to fulfill this. I had my quabbles with the academics who insisted the work, really should be abstract in nature, and not have any tendencies to look toward European art or art from the last several centuries as models for the "convicition" as a painter. During my years in Tempe-Phoenix I joined groups such as the Scottsdale Art Group and Central Artists Group as exhibitions opportunities as well as other groups that seemed to give me headway into selling my work. I joined the Lions Club and attended meetings, as well as the Rotary. I went to function after function to try to be able to grind a nitch for myself that would be sustainable. I did two day showings and one week showings (some exhibitions where my name would not be put on a roster and my work stuck in a corner waiting to plunge down on the first available viewer, sponsor or patron. My name was difficult to see if ever printed. Some of the exhibits simply were printed on Zerox copiers, the names for the selected artists left out to some fan-fare. This was the opportunity, to exhibit. After a while one could feel if there was something left out, or that an exhibit would be for 'the chance' to get a work or works seen in public without much to do with a grandious sense of fame in the art market, this was for the "special people". As the names revolved around me I could begin to sense the favored and the circle of friends complete as well as the ocean of wanna-bees. There is a special section for the art world in the wanna-bees. It sometimes takes so much guts to do ones first art exhibit and declare oneself famous the first try out. But the case in point is that there were way too many wanna-bees and when they overshadow the artists with their degrees and over 3000 credit hours and large bodies of work it starts to be very very annoying...especially if they are catty and make off the cuff prescriptions for artists, expertise aside, self-engrandizement able. 
Now look I said after about 7-10 exhibits later. I had seen both aspects of this cage of being an artist. On one side chatter about "the group thats in" and on the other side "wanna-bees". I felt myself "smack dab" in the center of the devil and the deep blue. What the hell, it is the art world...and things such as this happened in New York as well...altogether more intense, but some how with a propriety of more dignity. (That is my imagination...New York was about 20 times more intense...thats all) 
I added exhibits to my Master List as soon as they were done. I tried to leave off malls, storefronts, coffee houses etc and just put them under the word exhbition on my artist exhibition list. 
There has to be a reason to exhibit. Art for Art sake dosent cut the mustard. One has to show work and thorough that particular venue gain access to better and more durable venues for exhibits. To talk about art? No! Thats for art school.  It makes a nice sideline to talk about influences etc during an opening. Sometimes it leads to bigger and better things. Sometimes it leads to none worth mentioning...probably lower and lesser adventures of putting some work up at a friends house and watching ones investment dissapear. Needless to say that has happened, and needless to say I have reservations about giving out work...because it is and has been and expensive investment.
Art show are for...sales, and hopefully making contacts wtih better prospects. Art school exhibit hang-outs are nice and homey but sometimes just parties just for the ability to hang out and make an exhibition. After 7-10 Exhibits, the rye from the wheat began to seperate as with the wheat from the chaff. I found myself exhibiting for the sake of gain numbers of exhibits...and thats just that! Hardly anyone ever sold a piece at these group exhibits...unless it was an arranged pre-sell. As an artist I know the value of a sale. This is important to keep ones work going. I was breathing heavily through 1986-1988 just to keep the life of what I had to study to do alive and in some ways sacred, and not wrecked by pushing out the paint as designer art for untold odd size sofa paintings. Art is different than Kitch. The word Kitch has a very specific meaning, and it tends to drive the message home in very quick order. Kitch is meant to sell and gather dollars...true art has a price and is produced by a skilled artisan. Kitch and art never meet in the same alley. It will always be the Kitch that wins out, and the true art to run home and bury itself deep and indefinately in reams of sorrowful canvases meant as art and for studies.
The Art School "Ozanne"
Sooner or later one has the chance to invest oneself in the process of teaching art instead of a trail-head exhibitor in uncertain events that make one worry about their pocketbook. Art is expensive...period. Each canvas costs money. What part of that dosent the 'general public' understand. Each canvas I have done presents a problem of at least 30.00 lay out in materials...using the best as the case may be. The time and energy making the art and going to school adds a zero to this expense. Paid for now, a quarter portion of the  general interest on a BFA Degree over the course of a thirty years according to a schedual. Now an artist has to pull in 300.00 per month to carry his school loan. What about after that? Art School or Graduate School? Simple math, if one cares to do it. It makes art a very expensive artical to purchase in any case. Look over the sales of the work over time. Say one person makes three paintings a day...and sells one of them a month. Pretty horrible case hummm? Well it can be that type of case for many, including loans, housing etc. I was lucky to be sponsored at this time. Without that it would be a red up my art for flipping hamburgers. Now there are wiser places to make ones money...teaching and this is exactly the kind of school I tried to develop in 1987.
"Learn Painting and Drawing: From the Masters!" This was the key slogan on the flyer that went around Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe as well as Chandler. The newpaper adds were sent out and conclusive...that I was definately putting my money where my mouth was. My sponsors were very happy and even thrilled at the one of the first independant art schools in Tempe. Expensive proposition but doable. I was to teach piano as well as art in the scheme of it all. I kept the ads evolved over several months and hopes I had, and even some dreams that it would be a sticker.
I taught piano and gave several art lessons during the course of my first, second and third year in Tempe. Not to say it was easy to get students. It wasnt. Simply it was easier to get them in New York as "everyone" in Tempe seemed to have a BFA degree and art training...even if they didnt.
So I went, tested and received my community college teaching certificate in several areas related to my experience. I applied for several positions and was granted an interview that didnt necessarily turn into a position for me...but rather articals in perception that I had to have an MFA to teach and they simply wernt going to go by my slides...which were beginning to wear out they were shown so much.

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