Monday, March 16, 2009

The Gualala Show

Here's the piece as it appeared in the show. Ain't nothing like the real thing, though. You see this full size and it makes you want to sacrifice a goat to it. A thousand bucks and it's yours.

I know, I know. I've been ignoring the blog the last week or so. Sorry about that. I've been going through it a bit -- not the kind of mood where the missus cries and worries that I might be arrested, just the kind where I'm pissy and useless. It happens some times.

Part of that has been my nervousness and doubts about participating in this art show up at Gualala. It's my very first outing into one of these things and while I'm not sure where the Gualala Art Center fits into the academy's hierarchy it's definitely a couple of notches up from a pizza place or a realtor's office. What I'm saying is real artists, real art, real display space.

It had me nervous, especially given my stated opinions on the fine art world.

Also, I was part of the group responsible for the food and had no idea what was expected of me and what I could count on from other people. That had me nervous as well.

Then there's the old social anxiety. I'm trying to tackle this one and so was looking forward to using the event as a therapeutic tool as much as anything else -- but I was going to be dealing with a bunch of people I don't know.

And I was spending a ton of money in preparation for this and I really doubt that I'm going to sell my piece and even if I do I'll just be making a couple of hundred bucks and what the hell is going on, oh christ the earth is spiraling into the sun...

... and so on. It is my way.

And here I am standing next to it. It really happened! Really! The observant will notice that since the print is three by four feet and I'm around six-three, that means that my legs are two feet long. Which disturbs me on some level.

The good news was that my family rallied around me. My sister Charity, bless her heart, rented a wonderful, luxurious house for us up in Gualala. My dad Verle came along, and his wife Lisa (we're too close in age to make me feel comfortable calling her my step-mom, same as with me and the missus's daughters) and of course the young ladies Ava and Una.

I can't tell you how much this helped. Being around them socially puts me into a familiar and functional mindset and their pride and support really made me feel good.

So I contacted the other food people, made a shitload of sandwiches (artisanal ham, aged Gouda, and pickle with mustard, sopprasetta, hot coppa, and a nice nasty provolone with vinaigrette, fresh mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil, dressed with a lot of sweet balsamic vinaigrette to make up for the weak out-of-season tomatoes), threw a fistful of Jack Vance novels (perfect for insomnia reading) into my knapsack, and kissed the missus goodbye for the weekend.

Since Lisa was taking the pictures we have no record of her, but here's the rest of my family. From left to right, Ava, Charity, Una, and Verle. You'll have to excuse the expression on my dad's face -- he was overcome by his love for the sea.

The preparations for the show went well -- the people getting the food ready to roll worked well and neatly together and the overall contributions were enough to provide an impressive spread.

By keeping busy I was able to keep my jitters under control. The beauty of the area helped a lot -- nothing like trees to calm me down. And that's how I handled the show. I'd go inside, cruise around, gulp some beer, talk to anyone who made eye contact, then after the conversation I'd go out and walk around, check in with the family, breathe deeply, and return to the fray.

That's how you do it when you're a grownup, right?

It was nice -- not my idea of a good time but not painful.

As for the show itself, it looked good. Really good. It struck me that arranging a collection of extremely diverse art like that is the same kind of exercise of taste as putting together a good mix tape, and in this case the results were very pleasing -- exhilarating jumps and bumps with no jarring transitions.

It's funny. I'm so used to thinking about this stuff from the creative perspective that it was kind of a numb shock to see people looking at it as, well. Art. It left me with a sense of vague dreamlike unreality.

There were all kinds of crazy visual details at the beach. I've got to take photography next semester -- and I think I might try and tease Lisa into taking her photography a bit more seriously. Honestly, throw a little Photoshop on this and you've got a great print right here.

That night we went back to the house. A little wine mixed nicely with my back pills and a hot tub to render me more physically comfortable than I'd been in some time.

And the company was great. Honestly, if you were to record three or four hours of my family hanging out you'd be able to put together a solid forty-two minute show for Comedy Central. They're smart, funny people with a combination of edge and heart that just makes me feel good. I'm so grateful to spend time with them.

Then two things happened the next day that gave me a bit of a slow-burn realization. We were checking out some nifty dinosaur sculptures at a nursery-cum-giftshop, and when I complimented them to the woman running the place I mentioned that I'd done some paleo art. She asked for websites, talked to me about her own background -- a nice little conversation that left me feeling as though I were on the inside.

And then after our delightful excursion to the beach (full of top-notch crabby kid drama; the ladies can sulk like nobody's business when they throw themselves into it, so the inevitable happy ending makes for a good story arc) we went to fetch the cooler I'd borrowed from Dad and Lisa from the art center. While we were there, I asked Lisa to take a picture of me next to the print for the blog.

And when I was looking at the picture on the camera's monitor it hit me. The thing that had been hanging over me the whole time, the reason I had put myself out with no real expectation of selling the work and no real profit even if it did sell.

There I was, in a real gallery, standing next to something I'd done myself. There was my work next to the work of my instructors and TAs and the ringer students, the real artists. And it belonged there. And I belonged there.

It was kind of like a graduation, a bar mitzvah, a wedding. Or like the first check I ever got for my writing. I was different.

I've been faking it out of a combination of intellectual knowledge and bravado. Now I feel like an artist. Doesn't matter if I ever achieve any success. I now know that my work is at that level. I have that. It can't be taken away from me.

It feels good.


Traumador said...

That is a GREAT painting!

Way to go on overcoming the fears!

Though I'll let you in a on a secret. Even though I have a track record for being an extreme extravert who'll ask or do anything in public, I still always get nervous too. It's just a matter of surpressing the fear, and you got that down by the sounds of it.

Lastly I see nothing wrong with that leg length. So long as they get you from A to B, and the Missus likes them, your set!

Zachary said...

Well done, comrade!

Hey, I have that skull on my desk at work. :-)

robp said...


Two feet and legs go together.

And... it's really nice to find myself realizing some of my own work is on the same level as professional work that I like. I know this is a recent phenomenon for you too and I think we've helped each other get where we've gotten. Personally I was almost at a point where I didn't think I could get to a certain level, and now the world is filled with possibilities. Lots of hard work, but I was going to do that anyway, only I was going to think it was pointless.

I think there's a point where it's hard to realize how good your own work unless other people are recognizing it too. And considering how little I think of other peoples' opinions my problem has probably been an inability to get my work in front of the right people. Some positive feedback is necessary, but from most people it doesn't count.

Good to see you standing next to something you can almost pick on. It looks like you've improved it significantly from the versions I've seen. Glad to hear you enjoyed Oglallalalalalala. And it had the good taste to enjoy you. (See, you can look like an artist, it's corporate America where you wouldn't fit in. Artists can make the most godawful drink mixes and serve them to their fans and get complimented on their uniqueness. Not that unique can have a ness.)

Sean Craven said...

Gentlemen, thank you very much for your kind words of support. And as an aside, wasn't it Lincoln who, on the subject of leg length, said that a man's legs should be long enough to reach from his body to the ground?

Traumador, I totally hear what you're saying. I'm operating under the 'fake it til you make it' principle and it seems to be working so far.

Zach, it's a resin replica of a Velociraptor mongoleinsis skull. I bet it is the same model...

And Rob, you're damned right that we've helped each other. The piece in the show is a version of a Swillistration and I've had the kicker piece that you use so frequently chosen by a jury for display in the show my art marketing class is putting together.

And you're absolutely right in that self-judgment is more or less impossible. My reaction to my work has a lot more to do with my mood than with its quality. But recently in my worst moods I've thought, "I'm just a pretentious pulp writer," or "I'm just a hack illustrator," followed by, "I need to work harder and step up my game," rather than, "I am a no-talent drag-ass creep who isn't fit to ruin paper," followed by, "I should quit right now." It's an improvement.

As for odious drinks. You know me -- I'm a beer or a beer and a shot guy but... Here are three tipples I have ingested at one time or another.

The Snout --

One twenty-four ounce can of strong malt liquor such as Camo Black Ice or St. Ides. Four ounces of cheap gin. Alternate gulps while cringing more at your degradation than at the extremely nasty taste.

The Bloody Asshole --

Twelve ounces of V-8. Twelve ounces of India pale ale or other hoppy, malty beer. Two ounces of juice strained from salsa with a spoon. Two ounces of hot sauce. Four ounces of bourbon. Drink one and think, "Hey, this is pretty tasty... but it doesn't seem to be doing much." Drink a second; regret it.

And, for when you're in a Charlie Brown mood...

The Red Baron --

Twelve ounces of root beer, four ounces of Robitussin DM. Gulp desperately while thinking, "This doesn't help the taste at all." An hour or so later, think, "I can't believe you can just buy this stuff at a drug store." Caution -- a pal of mine had one of these and didn't come down for three weeks and wanted to kill herself the whole time; leaves you with a 'this can't possibly be good' reaction. The active chemical caused deaths when it became a fad some years after I stopped doing that kind of ridiculous shit.

Yeah, I could put on a hell of a gallery opening. Literally. I could torture the damned. I didn't even need to go to the ones I haven't tried, like the Brutal Hammer or Purple Jesus Punch.