Tuesday, November 30, 2004

That Locked-Into-A-Shower-Cabinet Feeling

Every time I have an exhibition, I am amazed anew at how much hard work goes into a show. I don't know whether that's just because I haven't had very many. The one I've been preparing for, in Madras, is perhaps my ninth or tenth(I haven't been keeping track over the thirty-plus years from the time of the first one).

By hard work I DON'T mean the exhibits themselves but all the other stuff. The getting-the-work-ready-for-show stuff. The invitations. The guest list. The list of artworks. Recording the works on film (CD, now) so that I don't lose them forever in case any of them get sold. A brochure (I am not planning to print one -- I never have, so far. Too expensive. But there's got to be an "artist statement" accompanying the price list or else the reporters who wander in to stare uncomprehendingly at the work have no material to print up in their paragraph or two of press coverage. Left to themselves, they write descriptive passages such as: "There are some coloured patches on the walls") Just the sheer girding-of-neurons for putting the work on display.

Of course, I could greatly ease my burdens by choosing to have shows in the city of my residence. But that would be tooooo simple. So instead, I keep choosing to go ELSEWHERE, which involves not only packing the work but having to decide whether to frame the pieces before despatch or after. If before, it means that every item weighs three times as much as it might without the frame, and I increase the price of the work by the cost of the freight AND face the stress of traveling with large bits of unwieldy luggage. If after, it means shredding my nerves with tension, as the framing gets done in the five minutes between the time of my arrival in the city of the show and the show's opening. So far, I've gone for a mix of options -- framing some pieces before the show and others at the last minute, depending on size. For this show, however, all the frames are going to have to be done after arrival ... arggh. My nerves are pre-shredded.

Maybe other artists consider all of this as part of the territory of art. I feel towards it like a cat feels when it has been locked into a shower cabinet, with the hot water ON. But there's no option: if I produce work, I have to show it. The only artists who can get away with not having shows are those who are so successful that the world snatches their work wet off their canvases. And the route by which they get to be that successful is by having shows relentlessly, year in, year out, seducing reviewers, bullying patrons, bending over like contortionists until they reach the promised land of infinite saleability.

Meanwhile ... I've still gotta pack my pieces and fly away, on Friday morning. So far, I've got all the work completed -- aside from my prints, of which I will show around thirty pieces, there are 29 of my new stuff, what I'm going to be calling "hybrids" or "squiggle paintings" in my mission statement -- 24 in the 12"x12" size and five in the 18"x24" size. Their formal name is "mixed media collages" but so far everyone to whom I have said that has looked blank -- and well they might, because it doesn't say very much, does it? Neither does "hybrid" but at least it indicates the neither-fish-nor-fowl nature of the little critters and "squiggle paintings" give you a fair impression of one of their lead features -- i.e., very many coloured squiggles.

A few friends have been over to see them. Of them two have said they love them -- and one bought three right away! Of course I can only release them after the show but STILL ... it's very encouraging (oi, you! In case you're reading this, take a bow, please!). On the other hand, since this particular friend is an unusual person, unique in several ways, perhaps his tastes are a bit otherworldly ... ? Only kidding! Another friend, however, was disapproving. She felt I had neither explored the medium enough for it to be authentically funky, nor do the pieces have enough finesse to be fully valid as art.

She was frankly disappointed and we have spent a couple of hours trying to talk ourselves through this difficult patch. There are uneasy moments to be negotiated, like slippery patches of ice on the sidewalk, when a friend can't say she/he likes the work one has shown to her/him. On the one hand, I believe a friend has the absolute right to be unimpressed. On the other hand, the sense of having failed is usually painful to deal with. I can remember one moment, a very long time ago, when I had just finished a canvas -- it was still literally wet, and I was very pleased with it. It represented a distinct departure in style, something that I still think of as a turning point (it was aconceptual portrait of my niece, then about nine years old). But a friend walked in the door of my room that very morning, the first morning of its life, saw the painting, wrinkled his nose and said, "Yuck. Not good."

Oo!! That was hard. A punch straight to the SOULar plexus. He was being honest, but brutal too, under the circumstances. I never quite forgave him. It would have been okay a few days later, and perhaps in softer words. Or perhaps it would never have been okay ... I don't know. I am not particularly sensitive and react fairly cheerfully to criticism. But I have some issues with timing. In general, I avoid showing work when it is still in progress or when I'm trying something out for the first time. I really do hate being watched at work -- I don't even like to be asked whether I am about to start working on a drawing/painting -- it feels like ants crawling on the underside of my skull, yow. Just the thought of it right now is NASTY. Once I'm finished, though, I'm usually very calm and accepting of whatever people might say -- it's a bit like closing the door while changing clothes, but not caring if people boo when you come out wearing a glitter-bra over a khaki-coloured nun's habit.

Anyway, with the current work, I am happy to report, the issue of pain doesn't seem to arise. It's hard to say exactly why. Maybe it's because these things are sort of informal. Light-hearted. I am thrilled with them, but I realize there are many others who will not be. I know from my mother's reaction -- she saw four of the initial pieces I took with me to Madras on my visit of two months ago and said, "But where is the art in this?" -- that my friend of last week, the disappointed one, is not alone in her opinion. I am so sure of her motives however (I mean, I know that her disappointment arises from her desire to wish the best for me) that I can look upon her reaction as a kind of innoculation against all the rough moments that are the typical fallout of a show, even the low-key type I have. There will be annoying reporters and relatives who will look disturbed and long periods during which nothing at all happens except the thud of each minute following the next, with no new visitors and that cold, empty question hanging in the air: "Why don't I go home, drown my sorrows in KitKat and forget about being an artist?"

Ah well. More next week! The show is scheduled to begin on the 8th.


anshu said...

Does that mean I can't tell you how I felt about your books... j/k. Good luck!

zigzackly said...

In theatre, it's "break a leg!"
What's the appropriate wish-with-jinx-breaker for an artist?

Marginalien said...

Chica -- go ahead! Bring on the empty horses!! (ref to the title of a David Niven book -- according to him, that's what an East European film director called out when he wanted the stampeding, riderless horses to thunder past his camera)(why? Oh ... I've always wanted to yell "Bring on the empty horses" at someone!) When it comes to books, I am a hardened toe-nail.

Zig, good question! How about: "Break-a-brush"? "Brush-with-death"? "Break-a-frame"?

Marginalien said...

This comment thing hasn't been working for a day or two it seems ... I'm giving it a shot now ... let's see if this posts ...

Hurree said...

A cat in a shower with the hot water on... oh, I feel for you. So do the two billis you've met. But, about your art--all I can say is that the words that have come to mind when I've seen your previous stuff aren't poetic, or highbrow, or critically approved. Sometimes I've said a silent "She Done Good!" Sometimes "She Done Demmed Good!" Very rarely, it's distanced: "I'll Have To Come Back To This Coz I Dunno What I Think of It". And very, very often, it's just "Yes".
I think something artists don't get told often enough is how long their work reverberates. I can't remember people I met five days ago. I can remember paintings and books I loved five years, ten years, fifteen years ago. Some of your work has been part of my internal landscape for a long, long while: little echoes and questions will emerge every so often, they have as much a place in my life as old friends.
That's what you don't always get to see at exhibitions and art galleries. Good luck with the show; break a brush, a palette, a frame, whatever it takes. And (pointed cough) show some of us who live in Your City the work, eh?