Thoughts about Selling a Painting to a Stranger

(Somewhat a reprise from my other blog)

Yesterday, I went to the opening of the little art show at the Rio Grande County Museum. I was filled with trepidation. I showed up about 11:30 and was immediately met by a huge (masked) smile from Louise who runs the museum. She was in the gift shop, behind the counter, taking money from a young woman who turned to look at me. 

“That’s the artist,” said Louise. I had to go meet and greet. I’m a friendly shy person, that first of all, and as for being an artist? Someday I’ll get to the bottom (or I won’t) of how I feel about that. Anyway it’s complicated. The young woman told me she had just bought a Christmas tree ornament I’d painted. 

“Which one?” I asked her
“This one. It’s the Valley, right? The river?”

These are tiny. Basically 2 x 3 inches


“Yeah. And Mt. Blanca.” 

“I love it,” she said. “I love all your work. Do you do bigger paintings or just those medium sized?” She gestured toward “my” room.
“I have bigger paintings, but I hurt my shoulder and didn’t think I could hang them. I did last year.” 
“Fair enough,” she said. I thanked her and went on to see the show, feeling embarrassed and a little weird. I have never interacted with a buyer before, not one I didn’t know.

I found my artist colleagues that I haven’t seen since last year and chatted for a bit then walked around to see the show which is very beautiful. The wandering and chatting went on for a while, and while I was engaged in a conversation with a colleague’s voluble husband, I noticed another colleague with the young couple (who’d bought the ornament) in “my” room. She was actively engaging with them and my work. I saw her tell them to take a business card. I saw her lead them around the room — as if she were a docent! — looking at all my paintings. The husband came up to me and said something that I should be able to remember, but don’t. Essentially could he get a deal on one of the paintings, the one in the featured image. I said, “Sure. I really want to sell it.”

“What kind of deal? And why do you want to sell it?”

“I’ve had it for a while. I’m just ready to look at something else. Let me go see what I’m asking for it, OK?”

“Sure.” I understood it was going to be a gift for his wife for Christmas. I came back, gestured with a number, and we made the deal. I’m sure his wife knew. Meanwhile my colleague’s voluble husband engaged with the wife. I boxed up the painting and stuck in a pack of Christmas cards that she’d told me earlier that she liked. They were very excited to have my painting and he paid me more than I asked. Afterward they told me all the things they liked about the painting and I just felt weird. I invited them to come back to the museum on December 11 when I’ll do my reading. I hope they do. 

I realized through all this that I might be a painter, but as a professional artist, I’m not very experienced. I have to keep at this show thing until I’m as good at it as the colleague who helped me. It’s not the first painting I’ve ever sold, but it was the first one in that way, in that scenario, to someone who didn’t know me at all. It felt very different and validating that, yeah, I’m doing this.

Later I was talking with a friend about the experience. How does one talk about one’s own art? I know that people analyze paintings and want to know about techniques. I know there are philosophies and theories of art. I understand the major art “movements” — if not what they all represented, I know that they existed. I know many people — both painters and appreciators — approach paintings with a theory of something, a theory of colors or shapes, all kinds of things. When one of my colleagues looked at my paintings yesterday, she mentioned, “There is a lot of white.” I know that comment meant something to her. To me it didn’t. I just said “Yeah” because it is true. Paintings of snow are going to be white. So what is painting for me? What am I trying to “say”? Achieve? I don’t even want to go there. I just want to paint.

Last night I had kind of an epiphany about me and my artist’s novel, Martin of Gfenn. Martin is an artist and a leper. He has to fight against time and the community Commander’s lack of comprehension to paint the walls of the newly built (1244?) chapel of the leper community where he lives. He argues on behalf of painting the walls of the chapel, the importance of painting for communicating the message in scripture. Finally, he just paints (draws) an important element around the east window of the chapel and, seeing it, the Commander understands. From then the only thing Martin has to fight is the encroachment of the disease.

So here I am. As I talked to my colleagues yesterday — most of whom are at least my age — it hit me. It’s always been that for me; paint IN SPITE OF — because of — life.


“I hate logical plans. I have a horror of set phrases that instead of explaining reality tame it in order to use it in a way that is no use to anyone. I don’t approve of definitions or labels. Labels should go on suitcases, nowhere else. Myself, I should find it false and dangerous to start from some clear, well-defined complete idea and then put it into practice. I must be ignorant of what I shall be doing and I can find the resources I need only when I am plunged into obscurity and ignorance. The child is in darkness at the moment he is formed in his mother’s womb.” Federico Fellini

Show Hanging Update

You never know what’s going to happen in the San Luis Valley (or anywhere else). The year I moved here, I joined an art coop. This led to the fierce enmity of a local artist. She verbally attacked me twice in public and then scraped some of my painting off the window of the coop. She wasn’t even a member. She just didn’t want anyone but her painting windows. That is her claim to fame here in the San Luis Valley.

It was a nightmare for me because I hadn’t done anything to her and it kept happening.

Today…

I arrived at the museum just as she had finished putting up her work and had gotten into her car. I got out of Bella. The woman turned off the engine and got out of her car. “Can I help you haul stuff in?”

“Sure,” I said. I needed help. She’s also tall and I’m so short that it’s a little tricky for me to wrestle the boxes that hold each of my paintings up the stairs. Seriously. Between us we got everything inside. Then she said, “I’d stay to help you but you might be like me. You might want to do the hanging yourself so you can really think about it. I like to really think about where I put my paintings.” She had four, one of which took my breath away and I told her so. “I don’t even like people around me when I’m painting,” she said. “It’s kind of meditation for me.”

“Me too, ” I agreed. “Drawing is really meditation.”

“I love to paint,” she went on, “get into the zone and let the whole thing happen.” We talked about about our painting processes.

“You know, when I retired I only wanted two things,” I told her. “I wanted to do whatever I wanted, and I wanted to be nice to people…” I was going to say, “no more arguing with students over grades, just being myself.” She interrupted me and said,

“I guess I made that hard for you.”

Oh my god, I thought, she’s still thinking about that. We’ve been in the same place at the same time a lot since those days seven years ago!

“It’s OK,” I told her.

“I was really not OK back then. I was really messed up. I’m just so sorry.”

“It’s OK,” said again. “I’ve been really messed up, too. I get it.” I spread my arms for a hug and she fell into them. I could feel her relief.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, again. Then she got in her car and drove away.

Inside I looked around at “my” space. I have a whole large room just for my paintings. I got my work up and set up a little table for cards and tree ornaments. I forgot to take a photo of the show once I got it hung. I guess that will give me something to write about after the opening on Saturday. I had all the help I needed, too. ❤️🎨

Here’s how it started, though…

Where is “The One” When You Need Him?

Back in the olden days people had a lot of colorful phrases, such as “Whatever blows your hair back,” “Don’t rock the boat,” and “Paddle your own canoe.” I don’t hear things like very often any more. When I was a kid, they didn’t always make sense to me. The optimistic point there is that maybe I would understand them now? No guarantee. I feel more every day that it’s difficult to understand anything.

I’m about to go hang my show. I don’t even want to. The odds of actually selling a painting are close to zero. With my shoulder it’s going to be pretty difficult to manage. Sometimes I wish I had found “the one” who would, for the purposes of today, be tall, strong and cheerful with nothing else to do but hang my paintings on the wall in the Rio Grande County Museum. In fact, he’d be excited about it.

“The One” always emerges when I need something like that. He’s kind of more function than human which, I realize, is terrible, but there we are. Maybe that’s the point of a human life partnership. One person’s good at this and the other one is good at THAT. In real life I’d probably still be hanging my show by myself, which is one reason there is no “the one” here at Casa di Marta.

“I can’t help you on Tuesday! I told you.”

“I never mentioned this before. I just found out.”

“You told me about it a week ago.”

“Yeah, I told you about the show, I didn’t ask you to help me hang my paintings.”

“It was implied. You wanted me to volunteer.”

“I didn’t know then WHEN I would hang my paintings? How could I ‘imply’ anything?”

Then they criticize a person (me) for being “too” independent.

Negotiation is soul-sucking. BUT I just figure it went like this because I never married “the ONE.” The ONE would have helped me. 🙂

OH well. That’s the way the cookie crumbles…

BUT once upon a time, a friend, Wes Kennedy, did show up pretty much out of nowhere to help me hang my show. 1981. Wes had been very angry at me for having gotten a show AT ALL. He was also an artist, and he worked for a year tromping the streets of Denver trying to get a gallery show with no luck. I didn’t look for a gallery show. I was happy with a coffee house (that would be the salient point here). When I got a show at the first place I tried, I thought Wes would never speak to me again. “I work YEARS to get a show and you go out ONE DAY and what happens?” He stormed out of my apartment.

BUT he knew when the show was and he knew I drove a VW bug and that my paintings — all on paper, covered with glass — well, it wasn’t going to be easy.

He pulled up in front of my apartment at 6:30 am the day of the hanging — and opening — in his Volvo Station Wagon.

“I’m sorry. I’m an asshole. I’ll hang your show. I don’t think you can even do it.”

Wes hanging my show at Cafe Nepenthes

I have been watching a French crime series, Alex Hugo, in English it’s called Mountain Detective. Sadly, there’s only ONE season and I finished it. I loved it, most of all because the protagonist was eminently relatable. He’s a guy who lives in the mountains. He hikes, climbs, draws and lives by himself. One of the “bad guys” (who’s not all that bad) says, “No wife? No children?”

“No,” says Alex. “I’m free.”

They are sitting in one of the most beautiful mountain valleys I’ve ever seen.

… and I think, “How is that not enough for everyone?” Well, obviously because sometimes you have to hang paintings and you have a bad shoulder. Or two. OH well. Suck it up, sweet cheeks. You have to take the bitter with the sweet (huh?).