Saturday, January 16, 2010

On creating art

When I was in Miami doing the Miami International Art Fair a few days ago, I received a phone call from a very well-known poet.

Once he identified himself, he explained that he was calling because he was interested in using one of my drawings, which is in his collection, in his next book. The drawing, he explained, which he hangs in his kitchen in New York, has managed to be come a stern and vigilant observer of his daily activities, and he has written a poem about it.

I was honored by both the request (to which I gave my permission) and also curious as to where he had acquired the piece, which once described I recognized as a piece that I did maybe 2-3 years ago.

He told me that he had acquired the piece at an auction in New York, where he resides.

We connected rather well and spoke for nearly 30 minutes, and I promised to send him a CD with more images of my available work.

But the point that stayed behind with me, and something that I’ve been mulling for years now, is the curious travels and life of a piece of artwork once it leaves the artist’s studio and is acquired by someone.

I first started dispersing my artwork back when I was a teenager in Brooklyn. Around when I was 13 or 14, I lived in a six apartment brownstone in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. The building was owned by my uncle, and part of my duties was to sweep and mop all three floors every weekend. As such I had access to the basement, which was used mostly for storage and had a rather sizable assortment of old paint cans of all sizes and colors.

Those paints, along with regular commercial paint brushes and cardboard were my first canvasses, and I used to paint imaginary landscapes on them, which then I would take to Manhattan and sell them in parks around 14th Street, across the street from Macy’s.

Then when I was in art school at the University of Washington, I was one of the many artists who sold artwork at Seattle’s wonderful Pike Place Market. It was there that I sold nearly every one of my art school assignments as well as hundreds of watercolors and drawings created specifically to be sold.

After art school I moved to Europe, returned to the US for postgraduate school, moved back to Europe, returned again for good, and all through that time began to sell work at gallery shows and art fairs, and by my own estimates I believe that by now I have sold, given away, traded and dispersed well over 5,000 paintings, drawings, prints, reproductions and sculptures in the last 40 years.

Out of that rather huge number, I have no idea where 98% of them are, although all through those same years I have never, ever, stopped producing art. Even when I was in Beirut, in the middle of a war back in the early 80s, I never stopped drawing and creating art.

Every once in a while, like the phone call from the New York poet, a work’s location returns to me, and with the emergence of the Internet, more and more have been making their way back to me as often their new or original owners want to gather information on the creator.

I’ve had emails from Europe, Latin America and Asia, with images attached, as someone who has come across and acquired a Campello wants to know more about it, or confirm its provenance.

Works have been donated to universities and other to institutions. Collectors have bought them at auction (oddly enough mostly in Europe), and people have even acquired them at antique shops and other stores.

It’s a fascinating trek that the art takes and that occurs without the knowledge of the artist. I often regret that I never kept better records of where and who owns the work (I still don’t), but then again, I also like the fact that these pieces are dispersed all over the planet and will probably be still around for centuries after I am gone.

Some don’t even have owners. Between 1975 and 1992 I created about 100 small figurative clay sculptures that I then buried underground throughout Europe (mostly in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom). I wanted them to be “discovered” accidentally by future diggers. Some may never see the surface again.

I’ve also done a “hotel art intervention” project where I would disassemble whatever hotel art was in my room and either create a new piece of art done on the back of the print or whatever was in the frame, or in the rare cases where a bad painting (usually one of those one of a million Chinese oil paintings), I would “add” to the painting, and reframe the work and re-hang it in the room. I did this dozens and dozens of times over the years and just did one during one of my last hotel stays.

And in three instances, between 1977-1981, wearing a pair of white workman’s overalls, I installed three separate framed large watercolors in three different lobbies of three different skyscrapers in downtown Seattle.

I haven’t got the foggiest idea where any of that work is today.

But they’re out there, most of them anyway, and years from now, when I’m no longer here, they’ll still be out there.

It’s a good feeling.

Nevin Kelly Gallery closes

Here's the news release:

With a little bit of sadness and great appreciation for your support over the years, Nevin Kelly Gallery will close its permanent gallery space effective January 31, 2010 in favor of a different approach to exhibiting art. For the past seven years or so, we have tried to bring a fresh perspective to offerings of contemporary art in the Washington, DC area. We have featured work by established Polish and European artists and have showcased works by many talented local artists. Along the way, we have made some great friends and have had the pleasure of being surrounded by some really fine art.

The past year has been exciting. After six years on U Street, we moved to the Highland Park Building in Columbia Heights. We are grateful to Chris Donatelli and Bozzuto Management for their support of our efforts and for the use of public space in the building to display art. We also made a second trip to the Affordable Art Fair in New York City and received a heart-warming nomination for Best Gallery in DC courtesy of the readers of Express Newspaper, owned and printed by the Washington Post. In this last year, we hosted two solo shows featuring works by H. Wesley Wheeler and Ellyn Weiss, respectively, and staged two group exhibitions that reflected the issues of the day. The first, Stimulus, was meant to stimulate the mind and the economy by offering all works at $500 or less. The second, Zeitgeist II: What's Important Now?, a follow-up to 2008's Under Surveillance, presented the participating artists' views on the most important issues we currently face as Americans.

Although we are closing our retail space, we hope to continue our participation in DC's vibrant art scene. We will seek opportunities to host shows in pop-up locations and will continue to gather artists together to talk and showcase their ideas.

So, stay tuned by checking our blog or receiving updates via our newsletters. Thanks for being a part of our community for the last few years!