Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Isla Acribillada

Cuba: Isla Acribillada 1980 mised media from Cuba Series by F.L. Campello
Cuba: Isla Acribillada (Island Decimated by Stabs)
1980 Handcolored Monoprint with embedded broken blade pieces


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Paint It! Ellicott City 2020 – Open Paint-Out Artists Wanted!

 Paint-Out in Historic Ellicott City: October 15-18

Be a part of the Paint It! Ellicott City Open Paint-Out! Grab your painting gear and head to Historic Ellicott City to paint alongside our juried artists during our annual plein air event. In lieu of our temporary community exhibit, this year we will be hosting an online exhibit of Open Paint artwork as well as promoting photos of the event/artwork on social media. Artists will have the opportunity to submit their photos to be shared. For more details and to register for free, click here.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A new art fair model for the Post Covidian Age

I first proposed a version of this model about a decade ago, when there was (even then) a sense of art fatigue brewing in the art world. 

In a post Covidian world, I suspect that a lot of people will still be a little leery of large group gatherings, and art fairs based on pre-Covidian standards may be a bit antiquated in the Brave Chickenized New World.

Herewith a revised Campello Art Fair Model

The important thing to remember, as I mull, chew, and refine a "new" art post-Covidian fair model to replace the existing pre-Covidian art fair model, which in its American incarnations seemed to work well only in Miami and New York, but not so well in the West coast (and as we DMV-based folks have seen with (e)merge and artDC, not at all in the capital region), is the marriage of a legitimate art entity (a museum) with an art-for-sale process as a means to raise funds. 

The seeds for this model already exist in the DC region with the Smithsonian Craft Show, now in its third decade. 

Considered by many to be the finest craft fair in the world -- and from the many artists that I have spoken to over the years -- one of the best places to sell fine crafts as well, this prestigious and highly competitive juried exhibition and sale of contemporary American craft usually takes place each April for four days. It takes place at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC and it includes one-of-a-kind and limited edition craft objects in 12 different media: basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art and wood. 

There were 120 exhibitors in last year's show, including emerging artists and master craftsmen, over 30 of whom were first-time participants. Twelve of those selected were also first-time applicants to the show. All were chosen by a panel of expert jurors from a highly competitive field of close to 1,400 applicants.  

So we have a model for crafts in DC which has been working for over 30 years. 

See where I'm going? 

Can we envision the Smithsonian American Art Fair? 

Or... The Smithsonian American International Art Fair?

The SAIAF would dramatically expand the business model of the Smithsonian Craft Fair to a National Mall-wide - outdoors - or even a citywide art fair anchored and guided by the Smithsonian Institution, and possibly either:

(a) spread throughout the various accommodating outdoor spaces at the various SI locales around the National Mall or even

(b) in temporary art spaces, booth, or containers on the open spaces of the National Mall itself! 

The latter is not as big of a deal as it sounds. 

The National Mall already hosts a spectacular variety of outdoor events on the Mall spaces where complex display spaces are temporarily built, secured and just as quickly dismantled, grass re-seeded, and by Monday the Mall is back to normal. 

For art, all we need is protection from the weather and security. Perhaps even a combination of "free" (to the public) set of exhibitors (maybe out on the Mall) coupled with a paid admission set of exhibitors inside SI spaces -- or just make them all free to the public? 

Details... details... 

This new fair model would be open to both commercial art galleries and art dealers, as well as to art schools, and (and here's the key "and") to individual artists and cooperative artist-owned galleries. 

Size matters. 

Would 1200 galleries, dealers, schools and artists in a mega, new-model art fair raise some interests from art collectors to come to DC for a long weekend in May? 

It would if it attracted 100,000 visitors to the fair instead of 10,000 (like the long gone art fair artDC attracted). 

Are you aware that in May the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival in nearby Bethesda attracts 30-40,000 people to the streets of Bethesda for this artist-only street fine arts fair? or that also in May the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival attracts the same number of people to the streets of the Reston Town Center to buy art from individual artists? 

Both Bethesda and Reston have two of the highest median household incomes in the US. And I am told that the Greater Washington, DC region has the second highest concentration of multi-millionaires in the world. 

The money is here - the key is to get the disposable income crowd in touch with the art. 

Both Bethesda and Reston manage to accomplish this one weekend each year. Do not, under any circumstances assume that these are "street fairs" where teddy bears, country crafts, and dried flowers are sold. These are both highly competitive fine arts outdoor fairs where artists from all over the nation come to and compete for spots because artwork sells well. 

I have seen $80,000 worth of sculptures sell to one collector in Bethesda and a painter with a price point of $17,000 sell out in Reston. 

Do not let the snobby attitude of the high art world affect your preconception of what these two street art fairs are like; go visit one this coming (and hopefully post Covidian) May and open your eyes. 

And because of them, and because of the success of Art Basel Miami Beach, we know that given a certain critical mass, people will come out to an art fair. The primary key for art dealers to have interest in an art fair is sales (and also exposure to new collectors, museum curators, etc.), but mainly sales. 

If you are a British gallery, by the time you get yourself and your artwork to Miami Beach, you're in the hole a whole bunch of Euros and British pounds; if you don't sell anything (like it happened to a British gallery in artDC and an Israeli gallery at another fair), chances are that you won't return to that fair. 

But increase the public attendance numbers exponentially, and Economics 101 tells you that sales will also increase exponentially. And unlike the hotel-deprived artDC location at the Convention Center, I am told by DC's tourist gurus that the National Mall is already a magnet location where visitors, regardless of where they are staying around the Greater DC region, flock to during their visits to the capital. 

Since two major Greater DC area street art fairs already exist in May in the Greater DC area, we can even consider aligning the weekends so that both Reston, Bethesda, and the The Smithsonian American International Art Fair all take place on the same weekend! 

Offer free bus service between Reston and Bethesda and the National Mall for collectors to hop around during the fair weekend, and a public buzz alignment will begin to happen. The Smithsonian American International Art Fair starts on a Thursday through Sunday and both Reston and Bethesda continue to run on Saturday and Sunday. And the Smithsonian American International Art Fair is focused as a major fundraiser for the cash-hungry SI. 

A formula of booth prices + perhaps a 5% commission on all sales (both tax deductible for American galleries) would take care of temporary Mall booth construction, re-seeding of grass, and booth construction inside SI venues and still yield a nice chunk of cash for the SI. 

If there's commercial success and high public attendance, soon we'd see some satellite hotel fairs popping up all over DC and its easy-to-get-to suburbs; the Phillips will jump on the bandwagon right away. 

ABMB had 26 fairs all over Greater Miami last December.  Another DC-unique element to the above model, and an important element that only a Washington art fair weekend can add: include the Embassies! 

In addition to all the above events taking place, the fair could also align with shows at 15-20 embassy galleries around DC. The embassies would showcase one (or a group) of their national artists, and then the fair would really have an international flavor, and the beginning seeds of an American Venice in the DMV. 

DC is a small city; it's fairly easy to set up transportation between the embassies and the Mall. In fact, some embassies could probably set that up themselves.

I think that this "new" super model could (and eventually when someone delivers and implements it -- it will) challenge Miami Beach -- and yes, I am aware that DC in May is not Miami in December -- but I also think that the District's own museums and public attractions trump Miami's anytime, so the DMV has something different to offer the potential collector who may be considering attending a new art fair in a city (like DC) that also offers him/her some other cultural and visual attractions besides good weather and nice beaches and sexy Cubans. 

DC art commisioners... Smithsonianos... DC city fathers and mothers.... call me! 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Portrait of Rodin

This is an etching of Rodin (after Rodin) that I did in the late 1970s at the University of Washington School of Art.

Rodin (after Rodin) etching by F. Lennox Campello, c. 1978
Rodin (after Rodin)
by F. Lennox Campello, c. 1978

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The curious case of predicting a juror's choice

As mentioned here, the McLean Center for the Arts sponsors a very good painting competition every couple of years called "Strictly Painting." 

A few years ago, around 1999 or 2000, the juror for that year's version of "Strictly Painting" was Terrie Sultan, who back then was the Curator for Contemporary Art at the Corcoran. 

I thought that this choice was a little odd, as Ms. Sultan, in my opinion then, was not "painting-friendly." 

In fact, with all due respect, back then I even blamed her for diminishing the great Corcoran Biennials, which used to be known at one point as the Corcoran Biennial of Painting. As such, they were essentially the only well-known Biennial left in the nation that was strictly designed to get a look at the state of contemporary painting, which was somehow surviving its so called "death." 

It was Ms. Sultan who decided to "expand" the Biennial and make it just like all other Biennials: Jack of all trades (genres) Biennials. In the process, depending on what side of this argument you're on, she (a) did a great service to the Corcoran by moving it into the center of the "genre of the moment" scene - like all other Biennials, or (b) gave away the uniqueness of the nation's top painting Biennial title. 

Even decades later, and with the Corcoran all but a memory, I'm aligned with the minority who supports camp (b) but understand those who defend her decision to become just another player in camp (a). 

Most people think that her decision and drive were the right thing to do in order to bring the Corcoran to a world stage, but clearly it didn't work, since the Corcoran has since folded.

But I digress. 

When she was announced as the juror, I decided to see if I could predict her painting selectivity, sensitivity, process, and agenda. It was my thesis that I could predict what Ms. Sultan would pick. So I made a bet, and decided to enter the exhibition with work created specifically to fit what I deduced would be agreeable to Ms. Sultan's tastes. 

I felt that I could guarantee that I would get into the show because of the transparency of the juror's personal artistic agenda. It is her right to have one; I have them, in fact, we all have them. 

I was trained as a painter at the University of Washington School of Art, but around 1992 or so, I stopped painting and decided to devote myself strictly to my love for drawing. 

So I had not picked up a brush in several years when I decided to enter this 1999 competition, designed to survey the state of painting in our region. It was my theory that Ms. Sultan would not be in the representational side of painting. It was also clear that she (like many curators) was seduced by technology in the form of videos, digital stuff, and such trendy things in the then novel Internet era. 

And so I decided to see if I could marry digital stuff with painting. 

And what I did was the following: I took some of my old Navy ribbons, and scanned them in to get a digital file. I then blew them up so that the final image was quite pixilated. I then printed about five of them and took slides of the printed sheets of paper. I then submitted these slides to the competition, but identified them as oil on canvas paintings. My plan was that if accepted, how hard could it be to whip up a couple of paintings after the fact? 

I titled them with such titles as Digitalism: National Defense and Digitalism: Expeditionary Medal and so on. 

From what I was later told, several hundred painters submitted work. 

And Ms. Sultan selected about only about seven or eight painters in total. And not only was I one of them, but she picked two of my entries. 

I was elated! I had hit the nail right on the head! 

I felt so superior in having such an insight into this intelligent woman's intellect that I (a painter no more) could create competition-specific work to get accepted into this highly regarded show. And then I began the task of creating the two paintings, using the pixilated images as the guide. 

And it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. For one thing, I had submitted the "paintings" in quite a large size; each painting was supposed to be six feet long. And it didn't take me long to discover that there are a lot of color nuances and hues in an average pixilated image. And I went through dozens and dozens of rolls of tape as I pulled off the old Washington Color School trick of taping stripes (in my case small one inch square boxes of individual colors - hundreds upon hundreds of them) in a precise sequence to prevent smudging and color peeling, etc. 

I painted for at least six hours every day, switching off between paintings to allow the previous day's work to dry off enough to allow a new layer of tape to be applied. I did all the varnishing outside, which usually attracted all the small neighborhood ruffians. It was incredibly hard work, and I was ever so sorry that I had even gotten this crazy idea. All my nights were consumed. 

Expeditionary Medal, oil on canvasBut eventually they were finished and delivered to MPA and Ms. Sultan even wrote some very nice things about them in the exhibition's catalog. 


I was in a mix of both vindication and guilt; exhausted but fired up with the often wrong sense of righteousness of the self-righteous. After the show, I had no idea what to do with them, and they didn't fit my "body of works," but I ended up selling both of them through Sotheby's

And today, some art collector in South Carolina and another one in Canada, each have one very large, exhausting and handsome oil painting of pixilated naval ribbons hanging in their home, in happy ignorance of the interesting story behind them. 

I mentioned the adjective handsome in describing them, because a few years ago I was telling this story to Prof. John Winslow, who asked to see the images of the real paintings. When I showed him, he said that they were actually "quite handsome paintings." 

I had never had my work described as "handsome" (although the Washington Post once described it as "irritating"), so it stuck in my head. So there you have it: The story of a former painter with a point to prove about a local curator, the subsequent hard-labor punishment of the process, and a hidden story behind two handsome paintings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Lessons for artists

An artist has a show and someone steals a piece of art. What happens next? With a signed contract, the artist would know ahead of time that either (a) the gallery has no insurance, in which case the theft is a full loss, or (b), the gallery has art insurance, in which case (a) the gallery puts a claim in with the insurance company, or (c) the artist deals directly with the insurance company. And, by the way, in the event that there’s insurance, don’t expect to get the full value of the stolen work, but in most cases (and policies) only the 50% commission that you’d have received in the event that the work had sold instead of being stolen.

Talking about commissions; how do you know, other than a handshake, what the gallery’s commission is? Let’s say that you are told that the commission is 50% (the general standard for independent commercial fine arts galleries around here). Is that 50% of the price of the piece or 50% of the final sales price? I know of at least one (now closed) major DC area art gallery that has a record of really screwing artists by giving them 50% of an agreed price for a piece; however, the gallery also often sells the piece for a lot more money to its out of town collectors and keeps the difference. Here’s how it works. The artist agrees to sell the photographs for $500 each and thus expects a commission of $250. The unethical gallerist sells some for $500, and some to its out-of-town clientele for $1000, but gives the artist the same $250 commission on those sales.

But let’s say that you have approached a gallery, and show them the works, and discuss representation, and the gallerist agrees to hang some of your work in his next group show. You are not sure if you are “represented” in the sense of the word as you understand it, but shake on it and prepare for your first appearance in a well-known gallery and invite all of your family and friends. At the packed opening, your second cousin-once-removed is admiring one of your huge watercolors, which are tacked onto the wall in a really cool post-post-post-modernist style. He leans forward to admire your brushwork and accidentally spills his white wine onto your watercolor, immediately making your representational work of art into a messy abstraction. What happens next? Does insurance cover damage? Is there insurance? Is that the guy who spilled the wine making a dash for the door?

Having learned your lesson, at your next opening you resign yourself to getting your new work framed and spend a ton of money getting them framed at the most affordable (in other words cheapest) possible way, but still spend a considerable amount of shekels -- because as everyone knows, framing is very expensive (unless you attend the Campello Boot Camp for Artists Seminar and learn how to cut framing expenses by 80%). When you deliver the works to the gallery, the gallerist goes into fits about your gold leaf rococo frames from Target and silver acidic mats and refuses to hang the work. A good contract would have specified ahead of time all issues dealing with framing and presentation standards.

Having calmed down, the gallerist then offers to re-frame all the work for you. You accept with a sigh of relief, and at the opening your 20 newly framed watercolors look great in the 8-ply pH-balanced, acid free mat board, under UV glass and Nielsen mouldings and backed by half-inch, acid free, pH-balanced foam core. You sell four pieces and are happy that things worked out in the end. A few weeks later you get a huge bill in the mail from the gallery; it is what remains of the framing bill after the gallery applied all of your commission to the total framing bill. A good contract should also specify the economic who’s and what’s of any framing done by the gallery.

Your relationship with the gallery is now seriously on the rocks, but then you are told that a review in DC Art News will come out soon. Three months after your show has closed the review finally comes out in DC Art News and it’s a good one. A young computer geek in Bala Cynwood, Pennsylvania, who is waiting to see his doctor for his annual physical reads that DC Art News review in his phone while waiting in the doc’s office, sees the nice reproduction of your work and after he goes home, looks you up on the Internet and contacts you directly and tells you that he read the review of your gallery show in DC Art News and wants to buy the painting reproduced in the magazine. You sell him the painting and put all your money in the bank. Sixteen minutes after the painting is delivered to Bala Cynwood, the gallery gets a call from a collector in Spokane, Washington who has also read the DC Art News review and wants to buy that painting. The gallerist calls you and tells you the good news. You are ecstatic that two people want your painting, but then you tell the gallerist that someone else in Bala Cynwood read the review and that you sold the painting to that person. The gallerist congratulates you on the sale and then asks you to make sure that you send him the gallery’s commission. You are confused because you had no idea that you owed the gallery a commission.

Your review in DC Art News has opened a few doors for your artwork and you are invited by a non-profit art venue to have a solo show at their space in a year. You are pleased and tell everyone, including the gallerist, who informs you that because his gallery represents your work, you are not allowed to exhibit anywhere else in the city, or maybe the area, or maybe the state, or maybe the US, or maybe the world.

Then your alma matter, impressed with your artistic prowess, invites you to a group show of alumni artwork in the school’s gallery. Since you attended art school in another state, you are pretty sure that it will be OK to show there, because after the last confusion, you discovered that the gallery had exclusive representation for your work only in DC, MD and VA (known to locals as the DMV -  an acronym that I invented decades ago), and your art school is in Brownsville, Texas. You tell your gallerist, and because he has never heard of Brownsville, Texas, he looks it up in the Internet and then he informs you that if you exhibit your artwork in “certain places” it will bring the reputation of the gallery down and thus the gallerist doesn’t want you to exhibit in Brownsville, Texas – or anywhere in Texas, Arkansas, and Nebraska for that matter... or any state that voted for Trump!

You beg and plead because you really want to impress your ex-girlfriend in Texas, and the gallerist allows you to include one piece in that alumni show, but makes it clear that he needs to be consulted on any and all exhibitions of your work. And so you exhibit your best piece in Brownsville and a New York gallerist, who happens to be a Robert Ervin Howard admirer, visits Brownsville to pay homage to REH's birthplace and decides to check the local yokels show at the art school. Because your immense watercolors are the largest works in the show, they catch his attention and he jots down your name. Weeks later his intern calls you and tells you that they want to show some of your work in their next group show. This is really hitting the big time, and you announce to your gallerist that a big shot New York gallerist is including you in his next group show. He congratulates you and reminds you that you owe him 10% of any sales made in New York, or in Brownsville, Texas, or anywhere for that matter. You rant and rave and ask why, and he tells you that the reasons for your recent success all lead back to the exposure that he has given you. You demand to know why none of this stuff was made clear from the beginning. The gallerist answers that “everyone knows this,” and that he “likes to operate on a handshake and without a contract.” You then realize that you have him by the balls, since you have no signed contract with him or his gallery, and tell him that you are leaving. He says some threatening stuff about verbal contracts, but you walk away anyway, wondering how you are going to get back the six paintings of yours that your soon-to-be-former gallerist still has in storage.

Nonetheless, New York is New York, and you go visit the big shot New York gallerist and meet with him, and over a handshake he agrees to put you in a group show and tells you that his commission is 60% - You are not sure if you are “represented” in the sense of the word as you understand it, but shake on it and prepare for your first appearance in a New York City gallery and invite all of your family and friends...

Goback to the top of this post...

Monday, September 21, 2020

A strategy for saving money on framing costs...

For those with minimalist attention span, yesterday I posted the quickie version of the below.

According to some stats I read a few years ago in a framing trade magazine, the average cost of framing in the Greater DC region was $67 an hour. It’s probably more than that now.

Other than time, framing two-dimensional work is often the most expensive step in organizing an exhibition (to the artist), and it’s astounding how little most art schools prepare students (and faculty) for avoiding the trap of spending a lot of money on framing.

There are some steps that artists can take to significantly reduce the cost of framing. Here I will try to list the most common mistakes, how to avoid them, and more importantly, how to get your artwork framed for a lot less than taking it to a framing shop to get it framed.

First and foremost: Prepare! Do not leave your framing to the very last minute. Having said that, I know that most of you will leave the framing to the last minute and then panic – go to your neighborhood framing shop, and drop way too much money to get custom frames made for your artwork. If you can afford it, and the price history of you artwork can sustain it – then skip this posting. But if you want to save a lot of money on framing, then prepare!

Do not, under any circumstances let the gallery or a second party take care of your framing unless you have the full costs ahead of time and in writing. Otherwise you will get stuck at the end of your exhibition with a framing bill rather than a commission check.

First of all: If (and only if) you can, work in standard sizes. Most photographers and painters already do. But unless your compositional demands call for it (like mine do), avoid working in one of a kind sizes. American and European standard sizes are different, but US sizes cover a huge range of sizes, such as 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, 12x16, 20x24, etc. If you can work within one of those sizes – i.e. do your watercolor on a sheet in one of those sizes, or print your photo on paper that size, etc. then half the battle is won, as then you should be able to buy ready-made frames that will automatically accommodate your matted work. This is important, as a good frame from any craft store, or from any art catalog, is usually a lot less than having one built from scratch! For example, a 16x20 metal molding frame, back metal brace/clips, wire, glass, pH-balanced acid free mat, hanging wire and acid free foam core backing is anywhere from $20 - $30 in any art catalog or locally from Apex in Alexandria. Having the exact same frame hand-made in a frame shop is around $100.

If your work, because of composition or whatever, doesn’t fit into a standard size mat or frame, then another tactic is to go and shop for a ready-made frame that is larger than your artwork – at least three inches all around the diameter of the artwork. Then take that frame and your artwork to a frame shop and have them cut the mat for you. Now you are only paying for the labor and materials to cut a mat – not to build everything from scratch.

If you can’t find a frame in a shop that fits your unique sizes, then shop through art supply catalogs and have them make you one. The savings over storefront framers is still significant. I personally buy a lot of frames from this place. Once you sign up, you get their catalogs as well, and then I hit them when they have a sale going on! From any supplier you can order moldings in one inch increments, so if your work is 18x30 inches, then you'd order a set of 18 inch molding, a set of 30 inch molding and it will be delivered with the hardware needed to assemble it - all you'll need is a screwdriver. Then visit your local glass shop for a piece of glass.

Because most solo shows involve a larger number of works, you should start thinking way ahead of time as to the number of frames that you will need. If you can decide that you will need twenty frames for your show, and you know what size they will all be, then go shopping for ready-made frames in any of our local area arts and crafts stores, or other stores that stock frames, such as IKEA or Bed, Bath and Beyond. Once you find a frame that you like, turn it over and see who makes them. Write the manufacturer’s information down, and when you get home, call the manufacturer of the frame and place an order for the number of frames that you will need. You are now buying the frames wholesale and saving yourself the entire store mark-up!

Don’t let the process of establishing an account with the frame manufacturer scare you. They may require an Employee Identification Number (EIN) – you can give them your social security number-- and they will have a minimum purchase (usually $250) – but by the time that you purchase 20-25 frames, that will be easy to meet. All you are doing is ordering the frame directly from the manufacturer rather than buying them through a store – it’s perfectly legal and saves you a considerable amount of money.

If you work on canvas, you may not even need to frame them. Ask the gallery owner – a lot of galleries will be happy to hang canvasses that are “gallery dressed.” That means that the edge of the canvas wraps to the back and that’s where it is stapled – rather than the side. We actually prefer to show canvas paintings that way.

Do not cheapen your artwork by choosing cheap materials. At all costs avoid using acidic mats (use only pH-balanced, acid free mats) and do not use cardboard to back the work – use acid free foam core. Using cheap materials not only damages the work eventually (as the acid migrates to the artwork) but also tells a potential collector that you are not serious as an artist to properly display your work. I am shocked at the number of badly hand-cut mats in acidic mats that I see in galleries all over the country – a lot of time is just plain ignorance of the business side of the fine arts – and the importance of presentation of artwork in a professional environment – such as a reputable fine arts gallery should be.

If you are an artist that moves a lot of work a year, then you should seriously consider learning how to cut your own mats. A sheet of museum quality archival 32x40 inches mat board is around $6-8 and you can get four 16x20 inches mats from it. To have one 16x20 archival mat cut in a frame shop will be around $20. You can buy a decent mat cutter for around $150, and it comes with a video to teach you how to cut mats.

The bottom line is that minimizing framing costs not only reduces the amount of money that an artist has to invest in offering a show, but also reduces the price point of the artwork – a very important issue, especially for young, emerging artists without a sales history track.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Guerrilla Framing Techniques - The easy version

Me: Custom framing is expensive!

You: Everybody knows that Lenster!

The average price for custom framing around the DMV is brutal - and sometimes complicated (or made complicated by frustrated designers posing as framers or artists who have seen too many Roccoco framing in museums.

Unless you're Frida Kahlo, generally speaking, the job of a frame for a work of visual art is first and foremost to protect the art.


And in the 21st century, and most of the 20th, the simpler the better; the less noticeable the frame, the more that the art is noticed.

If you have plenty of sheckels, then a good framer will do a great job. The best and least expensive framer around the DMV is Apex (703/914-1000, ask for Khalid and tell him Lenny sent you)

For the vast majority of artists, a frame should not cost as much as repairing your car's transmission.

You: Can you get to the technique part already?

Most artwork is done on geometric substrates; even if you cut paper or stretch your own canvas, most of the times it is either a square or a rectangle; ovals went out ages ago; in fact they were never really in... cough, cough.

In the USA, these art substrates come in standard sizes that apply not only to the substrates (paper, canvas, board, wood, etc.), but also to mats, frames, and glass.

Thus, if you work on a standard size substrate to start with, you're almost home, because then you can eliminate the middle man to getting your work on a wall: the custom framer.

An 8x10 substrate will fit into an 11x14 pre-cut mat and into an 11x14 pre-cut frame; and 11x14 substrate will fit into a 16x20, a 16x20 into a 20x24 and so on.

Around the DMV, both Ikea and Michael's and Hobby Lobby have ridiculously affordable prices for acceptable, minimalist frames. With Michael's if you sign up for sales alerts, you'll be bombarded with coupons (the best one is their 25% off for your purchase - including sales items; otherwise you get their 55% off regular price coupon emailed to you every 30 seconds).  Practically every frame at Ikea is a minimalist frame, but be careful because many of them are European size standards, which are different from US; however, Ikea frames generally come with acid-buffered mats, with is a nice "bennie" to have.

By the way, if you need a lot of frames in the same size - let's say two dozen frames, then I suggest that you find the ready made frame that you like and that will accommodate your work (this usually works for photographers), turn it over and see who makes the frame and then contact the manufacturer (if it's in the USA) and see if they will sell you the frames directly. There's usually a minimum order to "qualify" for this option, and thus situations may vary according to your needs.

If you want to do artwork in other than standard sizes, then more power to you, and framing just got a little pricier, but there's also a technique.

First find a ready made frame that is bigger than your odd shaped artwork and visualize the artwork inside the frame. If the proportions are agreeable to you (let's say you have a rectangular work which can be matted with both sides and top the same and bottom "heavy" - that is perfectly acceptable.

Once you have the frame, go to a framer and have them cut you a mat that has the outside dimensions of your frame and have them cut a window that fits your work. Now you are only paying them to cut a custom mat, rather than paying them to do that as well as creating a custom frame and glass from scratch. It should reduce your costs by about 80%.

Then just bring your matted work home, pop it into the frame and as the Brits say: "Bob's your uncle."

Saturday, September 19, 2020

How to sign artwork

One of the most curious things that I have puzzled about in the many decades of making art, presenting art, selling art and dealing with both artists and art collectors (as well as art dealers), is how often artists anguish over a signature.

There are gazillions of ways to screw up a work of art with a signature - the most common one is where a work of art is marred by a giant signature in glow-in-the-dark silver color marker or some hideous color like that.

Even a tiny and elegant signature can distract from a work of art if placed in the wrong area of the work. Imagine an elegant abstract, such as a Mondrian, with a signature in the middle of one of the color geometric shapes.

And, the real truth is that if you care at all about art as a commodity, then I will tell you that most collectors, especially the savvy ones, will always ask about the signature, if one is not apparent at first inspection. You can give them all the certificates of authenticity on the planet, but they want that siggie somewhere.
"A Picasso with a signature may be worth twice as much as one without a signature," said Mark Rosen, former head of the print department at Sotheby's, which sells approximately thousands of prints per year with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $100,000. "Chagall did a series of prints called 'Daphne and Chloe' and those that are signed are worth 10 times as much as those that are unsigned. Otherwise, they are the same prints."

By now you're itching to yell at me: "Lenster! What is this? Damn if you and damn if you don't?" 

Nope - it's just damn if you don't; just do it in the proper place(s).

Some easy to remember DO NOT Rules when signing artwork
  • Never sign with a gigantic signature; a normal signature (or even smaller than normal) will do fine.
  • Never sign anywhere on the surface where it interferes with the composition.
  • Never sign with that glows, shimmers, is metallic or will fade.
  • No need to put the little "c" inside the circle "copyright" sign by your signature. You already own the copyright no matter what!
  • If you sign on the back (verso in Sothebyse), make sure that it doesn't bleed through!
  • Don't sign using inks that will fade in time, or worse, separate, such as "Sharpies" do after a few years, when they acquire a yellow border around the faded black ink.
You want to know where to sign, right?

Cough, cough...

By the way... I'm meandering all about signatures on two dimensional work; you sculptors are all on your own, as long as you don't pull a Michelangelo on the Pieta stunt.

Where to sign two-dimensional work

1. On the back (make sure that it doesn't go through and can be seen from the front); in fact, the more info that you can put on the back to help art historians of the future, the better.

2. On the lower margin of the piece (usually the right margin, but that's up to you).

3. Photographs can either be signed (and numbered in a small edition, cough, cough) on the verso (there's a million "special" photo-signing pens for all you photo geeks; they "write" on photo paper and dry in nanoseconds and don't smear, etc.) Or you can sign them if you leave a white border all around the printed photo. Even signing the mat in the lower margin in pencil was in vogue in the last century and is OK.

If you don't believe me about the power of a signature, then just go online and research the difference in price between a signed Picasso (most of them) and the two dozen or so fully validated, authenticated and documented unsigned Picassos (the ones that he gave to one of his ex-wifes that he hated).

That will learn y'all a lesson about signatures and art, Jethro...

Friday, September 18, 2020

Tentacles (A man, an axe and a doctor: A tale of pain and art)

One of the blog posts that I get the most emails about is this horror story from 2005. Here it is again: Someone who was raised in Brooklyn shouldn’t own, and much less, try to use an axe. 

What follows is a true tale of horror, of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, of chaos and order, of the laws of the universe, of near death, of irony, of music, and ultimately of a new form of art. All of the characters are real, and if I could remember their names, I would name them.

I begin.

The back of my house has a rather wooded large area with many trees, and it also backs into an even larger wooded common area that I share with my neighbors. I am really a big fan of warm cozy fires, and during the winter I usually light one up every night.
my fireplace

A while back I went around and collected a lot of wood from fallen branches and also a lot of wood from a tree that had fallen months earlier. This wood had been cut, but needed splitting, so I bought an axe to split the wood myself.

How hard could this be? After all, I remember how President Reagan, while he was in office, was so fond of being filmed splitting wood in his ranch in California. If an 80-year-old President could do it, and make it look so easy, then surely a virile 40something could do it as well.

So I went to my local hardware store and bought an axe.

Act One, Scene I

It was a day much like many other balmy December days we’ve been having this winter. There was a little chill in the air, but more like a spring day than a winter day. I had gathered quite a haul of neatly cut sections of the tree trunk, each about nine to twelve inches in diameter, and I had placed them to the side of a large tree stump, which I planned to use as the base to split the firewood. 
the tree stump

The ground was wet and the grass was moist, as it had been raining the previous few days, but although the radio had announced that there would be rain later, I thought that I would have a couple of hours to split all the wood before it began to rain.

I would be good exercise as well.

Gloves in hand, I placed the first piece of wood on the stump, took one or two slow –motion practice tries, just to get the motion and aim right, and then took my first mighty swing of the axe.

There are some instances on this planet, when the laws of gravity seem to take a couple of nanoseconds off. Like when one is walking down a path, and a rock, as if by magic, jumps from the ground and lands inside your shoe. How does that happen? Is it evidence of magic? Time travel? Even if one considers a viable explanation, the most common of which is that the other shoe kicks the rock into the partner shoe, it takes some extraordinary physics and flight acrobatics to imagine a rock being kicked by one shoe, flying sideways through the air as you walk on and sliding into the other shoe. I prefer to believe that the rocks jump straight up and floats into the shoe.

the axe of this taleAnyway... back to my story. 

The violent action of swinging the axe to split the firewood must have caused a ripple in the time space continuum, for otherwise I cannot imagine or recreate what followed next.

For one thing, I completely missed the firewood waiting to be split and barely nicked the edge of the tree stump. But this bare touching of the tree stump must have caused a tremendous vector change in the arc of the axe swing, and to add more physics to the event, the brand new axe, (with its nice slippery handle, aided by my brand new - and even more slippery - cotton gardening gloves (I should have used leather work gloves)) slipped away from me.

And aided by the wet grass under my feet, I lost my footing and slipped towards the oncoming axe. At some point, I suspect that both the axe and I were completely airborne and approaching each other in perfect flight synchronicity.

And in some incomprehensible act of flying physics, the axe went in a perfect flight pattern back towards me and between my legs.

Act One, Scene II

The axe blade missed my family jewels – barely. 

I know this because I still have balls and because the tip of the blade nicked the small of my back. But I came as close to being a eunuch as anyone in the history of mankind has come; but the blade missed.

But the top of the handle didn’t miss and it crushed my balls.

Before I describe the pain, let me tell you that I've been kicked in the balls more than once. I have been an avid student and practicioner of the martial arts since I was 13 years old, and have competed in many full contact tournaments, and have been accidentally kicked in the balls many times. I have also had my share of juvenile and drunken sailor fist fights, where someone's foot or fist has delivered a painful blow to my genitals. And it does hurt intensely!

But this axe handle crushing my privates was a new dimension in pain.

And this new pain took on a new meaning as I collapsed onto the wet, muddy ground.

It was an almost exquisite pain, with shape, form, smell and incredibly enough, fireballs of vivid color dancing to music. During this time, I had a vision of how Christ and Jimmy Hoffa truly died; in fact I learned how every fucking thing in the Universe has died, and how every living entity in this Universe and the other infinite Einsteinian numbers of Universes will die. And in all cases, their death involved or will involve an axe.

Time ceased to flow, or perhaps it simply slowed down in order to make my agony more intense, which by the way, would have been impossible, as I had already maxxed out the agony scale for mankind.

And I know this is silly, but I swear that I heard the music from Guns & Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine emanating, in perfect tune to the pain, from my brutalized gonads; especially the part where the bag pipes come in.

Thus I do not know how long I agonized on the forest floor. A wet tongue belonging to Yoda, my neighbor’s dog, whimpering as he obviously felt my pain, resuscitated me.

I opened my eyes for the first time since I fell, and looked at Yoda’s handsome face. "Yoda," I whispered between clenched teeth, "kill me." He looked at me with his intelligent eyes and licked my face again. "Please bite my neck," I begged. "Kill me now!"

Yoda twisted his head in that almost human way in which dogs do, and walked away. For a minute there I thought that the stupid beast had gone to fetch a stick to play with, as he loves to fetch sticks. Had he done this, I would have kicked him in his balls. But he just vanished from my sight and then started to bark outside my neighbor’s back door.

By now the pain had diminished to a white searing pain on a planetary scale equivalent to a thermonuclear device being exploted at the core of the Earth, so the word diminished is quite bogus in this sentence. But, I sincerely wanted to find out how much damage I had done, and since by now my pants were quite soaked from the wet ground and the mud, I needed to check to see if I was bleeding.

Act One, Scene III

So I unbuttoned my pants, lowered them in agonizing ecstasy, and reached down to feel the state of my boys.

Which is precisely the moment that my neighbor, apparently being brought to the scene by Lassie-wannabe Yoda’s barking, made her appearance, as I am feeling my bruised sacs. 

my neighbor ladyMy neighbor is a very nice old lady who has a remarkable likeness to Grandpa Munster, and I think that she’s originally from Sweden, and she has a lovely and thick accent, and from the expression on her face, I realized that she was slightly concerned at finding a muddy man, laying on the wet ground, pants down to his ankles and fingers probing around his privates.

So I rationalized (the brain is an incredible asset) that I'd better explain, although the last fucking thing that I wanted to do at that moment was to chat with this Grandpa Munster look-a-like. But I figured that if I didn’t explain, she’d make a bat-line to her phone and report me to the vice squad.

And being the super nice lady that she is, she tried to hide her laughter, and understood, and asked me if I wanted her to call an ambulance. "Tentacles," she said (and she did say "tentacles" instead of "testicles"), "are very fragile."

"No shit Grandpa Munster," 
I felt like saying, but instead I moaned to her that it was OK, and that I’d drive myself down to the hospital.

It had begun to sprinkle, so she wished me luck and went back to her house.

And then it really began to rain; hard, cold rain.

And then the act of crawling back to my house became another exercise in agony, as I discovered that (a) I couldn’t walk because of the pain and (b) I couldn’t crawl on my knees, because of the pressure on my jewels.

So I sort of "rolled" towards my house, and then developed a sort of walking on all fours, legs quite widespread and putting most of the weight on my hands, as the rain fell on me.

So I finally make it to the house, thoroughly soaked and quite covered in mud. And (of course) the day before I had cleaned my house from top to bottom, and the thought of the irony of this alignment of misfortunes dawned on me as I muddied the floor of my pristine home.

I debated whether to change clothes or not, and decided that it would be impossible for me to physically remove my shoes, as my boys had by now begun to swell to an impressive size, and any pressure on them caused me to yelp like a newborn child. So I grabbed a towel from the laundry room, crawled to my van, put the towel on the seat, and climbed in to an internal symphony of new pains.

And I began the drive to the hospital emergency room.

Act Two, Scene I

Sometimes the lights on Democracy Boulevard align in timing so that one can go all the way from Seven Locks to Old Georgetown Road without hitting a single light.

Other times, a driver hits every goddamned light on the road.

Guess which of these two cycles of light synchronicity was to be my fate on that painful day?

Yep! Stop at every light, and to make matters worse, I couldn’t really "sit down" and was actually driving while holding most of my weight on one hand pushing against the car seat in order to attempt to float me above it, all the while leaning forward, sort of the way that scary old people in Florida drive.

I eventually pulled into the parking lot of the hospital, and of course there is not one single parking spot available on the ER area, so I have to park in the lot across the street, and do my crawling on all fours routine, in the rain, across the road, which as some of you may know, is quite a busy road. However, since Yoda had failed to kill me, I was somewhat hoping that I’d get run over by a car, and mercifully have it put an end to my agony.

But no one ran me over, although several cars did slow down, but I suspect it was so that they could get a look at the idiot crawling on all fours across the road, in the rain.

But in due time, I did arrive at the entrance to the ER, and at the very last minute I almost did get run over by an ambulance, bringing in someone with a medical emergency. 

And so I finally enter the ER, muddy, wet, cold and still in spectacular pain.

Act Two, Scene II

I imagine that most ER personnel have seen just about everything that humankind has to offer in terms of shock, but by the alarmed expression on the male nurse at the check-in station, it was clear that he was somewhat concerned by my appearance and by my manner of movement on all fours; I also noticed that the security guard was also somewhat alarmed (and armed).

He asked me what the problem was, and as I explained what happened, both this Gaylord Focker wannabe and the guard, who had drifted within earshot, actually had the gall to burst out laughing.

And I made a silent promise to myself that in a few weeks, if I survived this ordeal, I would hunt Nurse Focker-wannabe and kick him in the nuts.

So after the whole delay of data input and insurance verification, Nurse Focker tells me to have a seat, and wait, as the doctors (plural) are all attending the patient who had just come in via the ambulance.

"What’s his problem?" I asked, not out of concern, but thinking that there are precious few emergencies in the world that could take precedence over my distress.

And Nurse Focker explains that the patient is a 96-year-old-man who’s having a heart attack.

And I’m really close to start debating that at 96, he’s had a good life, and he's probably caused his own heart attack because of Viagra, so let this geezer go and assign me a doctor, preferably well armed with a needle full of painkiller. But I hold my tongue, and wait in my own private water puddle.

Several ice ages later, Nurse Focker says that I am to be seen, and asks me if I have a preference for a doctor. In retrospect, I think that he was asking me if I wanted a male or female doctor, but by now my social graces had completely vanished, and I told him that I’d like Dr. Kavorkian. He didn’t laugh.

I am then taken to the back, and told to undress, put one of those silly robes that show your ass, and sit on the bed and wait for the doctor. Somehow I managed to undress on my own, and laid on the bed, with my legs bent and wide open, much like a woman waiting for her gynecologist.

A little while later, the curtains open and the doctor comes in: A female doctor, of course, probably picked by Nurse Focker to make my life more miserable.

And not just any female doctor, but probably the only female doctor who had also been a body extra in Baywatch. And to my utter amazement, in the middle of this intense agony, my sick male brain still finds time to align a couple of thought patterns that whisper inside my head: "WOW, she’s hot!" before resuming sending new and novel pain patterns to my groin area.

"What have we got here?" she asks using the imperial "we" that annoying doctors like to use.

"We, doc," says I, devoid of any social skills by this point, "have a serious fucking case of smashed balls, and an even more serious need for some potent pain killer." And I begin explaining what happened.

And just like Nurse Focker and the rent-a-cop a few minutes earlier, Dr. Carmen Electra, Medicine Woman bursts out laughing while she’s probing and feeling down there, hands encased in latex gloves.

Laughter induced watery-eyes and all, she then tells me that it looks like there’s no internal injuries, but that she’ll order a scan to double check, and that I need to ice down my groin area in order to reduce the swelling. "You’ll be OK in a few days."


I thank her, and ask about a shot for the pain. To my astonishment she says that just a couple of Tylenols should do the trick. "Doc," I plead, "I am in really in some aggravating bad pain here."

"Don’t be such a baby," she responds, "You should try childbirth if you want to know what real pain is."

She’s lucky she’s a woman; otherwise I definitely would have kicked her in the balls.

Act Two, Scene III

A few days later, and things appear to be back to normal; I’ve been telling people that I have a back pain, and thus the strained walk.

And at some point, it dawns on me that the whole sequence of events, with the improbable occurrences, the diverse set of characters, and the Three Stoogian physicality of the act, is a new kind of art; a new kind of performance art that is, where really spectacular true events of common daily life assume astronomic personal presence and thus cross the border into a personal artistic quality, the like of which will never be repeated by any other soul on this planet.

So my performance piece is over: I call it Tentacles (not Testicles).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

How to eat a mango

For TBT: Originally published in 2011:

Here's another peek at some of the writing that I've been doing about my early childhood in Guantanamo, Cuba. This particular chapter has a section which deals with the art of mango-eating which I think you may find of interest.

The chapter in question essentially describes my neighborhood and the below segment picks up on a house up the street from my grandparents' house which had a huge mango tree: 
Next to Mongo’s house was another walled house where Enrique “El Manco” lived. His nickname was slang for someone missing a hand, although Enrique had both hands, but was missing several fingers from one of them. His front yard boasted a huge mango tree. It was easily the largest tree for blocks around, and during mango season, the huge branches, loaded with fruit, that hung above the street were an unending supply source of mangos for everyone with a good aim to knock some of them off with rocks and then pick them off the street.

But soon all the mangos from the branches that over hanged onto the streets were gone, and then we had to actually sneak into the walled garden and climb the tree and knock some mangos to the ground, climb down, grab them and scram back to the street before anyone in the house noticed the intrusion. This was nearly impossible, as it seemed that every member of Enrique’s family was always on the lookout for mango thieves, as the mango tree was a source of income, since they sold them by the bag-full from the side of their house.

The art of eating a mango deserves some attention.

There are several ways. The first one, and the most easy to perform by amateur mango eaters, is simply to take the mango, cut into it with a knife and slice off the meaty parts, peel the skin off and eat the hard slices.

Seldom did a mango knocked off Enrique’s tree make it to any house to be eaten this way.

Once you knocked off a mango, and provided that no one grabbed it before you got to it – as there was always a group of mango rock throwers, and anytime a mango came down, it was always a debate as to exactly whose rock had brought the fruit down. Cubans love to debate just about anything, and the mango debates provided very good training on this art. Anyway, once you had a mango, then you ran to either the shade of my grandparents' house’s portico or the bakery’s veranda to enjoy the fruit.

Here’s the proper way to eat a mango.

First roll it back and forth on the ground, a tiled floor is perfect, to mush up the inside of the mango. Then, using you fingertips, really liquefy the mango pulp by gently squeezing the mango over and over. Once that pulp is almost nothing but juice, with your teeth puncture a small hole at the tip of the mango.

You can now squeeze the mango and suck the juice through that hole. It’s sort of a nature-made box drink!

Once all the mango juice is all gone, now comes the messy part. No one, not even the British, has ever discovered a way to eat a mango without making a mess.

Once the juice is gone, then you bite the skin, strip it away from the seed, lick it clean and then begin to bite away all the strands of mango fiber still attached to the seed. By the time a good mango eater is done with a mango, the mango seed looks like a yellowish bar of used soap, slick and fiber-less.

Of course, your face and chest area are now completely covered in dried up, sticky mango juice, so then you'd usually head back home to clean up with the garden hose and drink water to quell the thirst that the mango sugar causes.

That’s how one eats a mango – at least in my childhood neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

On creating art and not knowing where it ends

When I was in Miami doing the Miami International Art Fair a few years 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 a decade 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 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 50 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 - including Thrift shops. 

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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Can art prices be negotiated?

That is one of the most common questions that newbie art collectors ask me and one that pops up all the time at the ubiquitous expert panels on collecting art, selling art, making art or whatever art. 

My first warning is to always advise everyone to beware of "art galleries" that have "art sales." Although art is a commodity, a reputable art gallery doesn't have "sales" with drastic price reductions. 

All that would accomplish is to destroy the price base of an artist. 

Leave the "sales" approach to rug stores. 

A collector can always try to negotiate prices, as some dealers are open to it and some aren't. Most dealers automatically give known or returning collectors a "collector's discount", and artists should be aware of this industry policy, and it should certainly be specified in the contract. 

Most reputable dealers will try to accommodate a client's requests and will often consult the artist on specific pricing issues, such as the case (in my own experience), where a collector wanted to acquire 40 paintings at once from an artist, but clearly also wanted a major discount. 

If you are a collector, beginning or not, and really want that particular piece of art, but because of your financial issues cannot afford the offered price, be honest and say so and see where that leads. Often the dealer can offer you other work by the artist in your price range. 

Be weary of price reductions of more than 10% as huge discounts hurt the artist's sales record and most reputable dealers will not do them. It is also perfectly reasonable to ask for a small discount if you are buying several pieces of art at once. 

And the most common mistake made by artists themselves: selling their own work directly at vastly reduced prices from the gallery price. This is perhaps the most fatal mistake that any artist can do to destroy his/her work's price base. 

Prices should be aligned and essentially the same regardless of where they are sold, at the gallery, at the studio or at the art fair.

Monday, September 14, 2020

How to make Fufú

 Fufú: This is how you do it 

PlatanoThat image to the right is not a banana, but a plantain (in Spanish platano). 

The plantain is most commonly eaten as a side dish in many Latin American cuisines, where it is simply boiled and then served as a side dish with perhaps a little olive oil and salt to add some flavor, especially if it's a green plantain, which are rather tasteless by themselves. 

The ripe ones are quite tasty and sweet, and are usually served sliced and fried. A few years ago you could only find them in Latin American bodegas, but now most major supermarkets carry them. 

But let's look at the green plantain. 

In most Latin American restaurants where it is offered, it is offered as a boiled side dish. In Cuban restaurants (and many Miami art galleries) it is also served as tostones, which essentially involves slicing up the plantain, frying it in olive oil for a while, taking it out and crushing it, and frying it again. Add salt and you're done. 

But Fufú is the real king of plantain dishes and it is rarely seen in any restaurants, even Cuban ones.

I think that maybe it is because Fufú possibly developed in the eastern part of Cuba (a province once called Oriente), and it may not be as well known or served in Havana, which is the only place that most tourists visit when they visit that unfortunate island and contribute money to the Cuban Armed Forces, which is who owns most of the tourist industry.

With its massive forests and mountains, a large African population from Spain's terrible slavery trade, coupled with its large French immigrant population which migrated to Cuba after the Haitian independence wars, a lot of Chinese working on the railroads that connected the sugar mills, and its concentration of Galician, rather than Castillians, Catalans, or Andalucian Spaniards, Oriente evolved into a very distinct region in Cuba, quite different from Havana and the other Cuban provinces, and so did its Cuban Spanish language and its cuisine. 

Oriente is where Bacardi rum was invented, and where Hatuey beer was created, and where the mojito and Daiquiri were invented... get my drift? 

And in Oriente the humble plantain is eaten as a very delicious side dish called Fufú, with the accent in the last "u" like in Hai-ku.... foo fú

Start with a couple of green plantains. Wash then and cut out the tips of the plantains, but leave the skin on. Cut the plantains into three equal pieces per plantain and bring to a boil in water and boil for a few minutes until the green skins start to peel away. 

While they are boiling, in a frying pan heat a generous dose of olive oil with a seasoning dash of salt and pepper (or Goya Sazon is you really want some exotic spices). 

Add chopped fresh garlic and chopped (very small pieces) onions to the hot olive oil and fry the garlic and onions; lots and lots of garlic. 

While the onions and garlic fry (don't overcook), the plantains should be ready, so pull them out, throw away the green skins and put the cleaned hot plantains on a large flat plate and mash them as you would do for mashed potatoes, but not to an extreme - they should be lumpy. 

Once they are broken up some, add the frying pan mixture of oil, garlic and onions and mash it all into the plantain mixture. Salt to taste and this culinary work of art is ready to eat!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The curious and disgusting case of H.G. Carrillo

Via The WaPo, GWU Professor Lisa Page sounds very apologetic as she reveals that a guy from Detroit passed himself off as a Cuban for years and years, and only after his unfortunate death, did his immediate family "out" him.  Read Page's "explanation" here.

Page asks in the headline: When writer Hache Carrillo died, the world discovered his true identity. What does that mean for his legacy?

Seriously? That's in question?

I can tell Professor Page that - at least for me - it (a) upsets me for a reason that I'm not 100% sure as to "why" and (b) leaves me perplexed that a guy from Detroit could get away with this for a large chunk of his life.

Lisa Page is co-editor of “We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America.” She is also assistant professor of English at George Washington University, where Carrillo also taught.

Five gets you ten that he never participated in a single event in Miami.  He would have been nailed as the impostor that he was within the first few seconds of a conversation with a 10 year old Cuban kid.

How about his writing about the "Cuban immigrant experiences" - from which I can see how a lot of reviewers fawned over?

I've had never read Carrillo - in fact, I had never heard of him until he was outed and THAT made a story in Cuban-American circles, as most of us had never heard of him either.

Shouldn't that have raised an alarm somewhere?

The Babalu Blog notes:

I doubt he visited Cuba, and he apparently steered clear of real Cuban exiles and Miami. According to newspaper archives, he was never featured in Miami’s Nuevo Herald and only once in the Miami Herald (a 2004 review of his novel, but only about the book, not him). In 2005, he visited a college in central Florida to present his novel, and the Orlando Sentinel ran a brief interview with him. Asked who’d had the most influence on his writing, he named several authors–who included no Cubans, not even Reinaldo Arenas, but did include Gabriel García Márquez, who is anathema to the Cuban American community. It should have smelled fishy, but Orlando is not Miami.

 Let's read Carrillo/Carroll and see how long before he starts sounding fishy...

I found a short story titled "Cosas" here, and by the third word in the story my alarms already went up! 

The story starts like this: "Esteban y Casamiro were headed for a place that did not exist and they were out of cigarettes." 

I've never heard of any Cuban named "Casamiro" ---- "Casimiro" with an "i" yes... but "Casamiro" - but maybe it's just me...

I'm on page 2, and it is clear to the most casual observer that this impostor is not Cuban - at least through his writing, which uses Spanish words like "pinche" and "vatos" that are NOT part of Cuban slang (not to mention that he misspells "cerveza" as "cervesa." 

On page 23 I grudgingly give him a "maybe" on his use of "Santo patron" -- doesn't sound "Cuban" - more Mexican, as Cubans usually just say "mi santo" to refer to whatever saint's day it is on their birthday. Also on that page he writes: "Esculpame Padre" - when he should have written "Disculpame."

Page 30 he refers to Cachita as "La Virgen del Cobre" which (maybe it's just me) but sounds very odd, as she's usually referred to as either "La Virgen de la Caridad de El Cobre" or "La Virgen de la Caridad"... but the "del Cobre" bothers me... should be "de El Cobre." He also calls her "Señora", which sounds weird to me in praying to Cachita, which is how Cubans refer to the Virgin. Perhaps I'm being overly cautious now...

Page 30: He refers to a whore as "la maja" - I don't even know what that means? Unless that's a weird reference to Goya's Maja?

Page 33: "Chingao" is a Mexican curse word, not Cuban - If anything Cubans would say "Singao" with a very soft "s" sound.

In page 35 Casamiro curses these words: "Buche! Chancho!" - no idea what those curses mean, but they're not Cuban slang... a "buche" is a "swallow/sip" as "un buchito de cafe" (a sip of coffee).

Page 36: The cursing here is Google Spanish... makes me cringe that somehow this passed as Cuban cursing... any reader of Cuban ancestry would immediately start dialing numbers in Hialeah.

Last page: Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish - not Cuban -- this is the ultimate insult!

I'm torn by the fact that this fabricator of a false identity perhaps got where he got - including a faculty post at George Washington University - by eschewing his African-American identity in exchange for an Afro-Cuban identity, and in the process perhaps... what?

Lisa Page (and others) seem to give him a "pass" because he was clearly a nice guy and loved by his students.  It saddens me that his family, and his mother (who after his death was quoted as saying that she was "really hurt by the whole façade" had to live through this fakery and most immense of cultural thefts.

It saddens me that Herman Glenn Carroll - his real name - had to live for over two decades with the weight that this immense lie must have carried on his conscience. I feel sorry for him.

And I still cannot comprehend how... in the age of information, this happened - did not a single "real" Cuban-American or Cuban scholar ever read anything that this guy ever published and raise an eyebrow?

Does it say something about the critics that reviewed his work and the organizations the heaped prizes on him?

Makes my head hurt.

Update: I've expanded the article here.