I'm very close to completing the 36"x36" Brown Bear painting. I think I have another day's work to do before I can varnish it and let to dry for packing. This one will be going to Ottawa.
Once this one is done, I will completing the 48"x48" canvas of the same totem. I am hoping that this one will be accepted into the 2017 Sooke Fine Arts Show this summer.
The dilemma of getting to know the real artist, or a reasonable facsimile
Something happened this past week that reopened questions on being an artist, questions of professionalism, and the dilemma of marketing. I received a call in response to a recent complaint based on my personal Facebook page. The complaint was on its ‘negativity’. The offense(s) in question were my personal interactions and responses to global issues with friends on my page, and particularly, my occasional release of frustration over the ongoing struggle in getting sales and awareness for my artwork. It was my one outlet. I was told that it made me appear unprofessional and reflected badly on artists and galleries associated to me. I was advised that I should not include my personal self in any social media, as it pushed people away. And at all times, keep it upbeat and with a smile.
The ‘professionalism’ critique cut deeply as it has been a priority through the years, and the loss of my personal page where I could just be who I am has left me feeling numb. But I’ve had time to ponder on this, as I’ve done in previous challenges. I needed to think through the questions and the various forks in the road that they presented. I wouldn’t still be an artist today if I had succumbed to past criticism at face value. I’ve learned a long time ago that I couldn’t please everyone, while maintained my continued hope that there were enough supporters out there who believed in my work. But even then, there are times of doubt when I even wonder whether there is. It is part of the journey. The one truth that I’ve come to know is how I’ve been a lone wolf in my work through the years, pursuing my artwork when I’ve usually been the square peg fitting a round hole. Only I know the compromises I’ve had to make in the quest of balance between my art, supporting my family, and the financial restrictions. Professionalism and integrity are always at the core of what I do.
Returning to the Facebook page question, it was originally my personal page to interact with the outside world, keeping in touch with friends, family, and people that I’ve worked with through the years. My artwork gradually came into the mix as I was trying to get the word out. I’ve been wrestling with the growingly complex mix, so I then created a Facebook Artist page, thinking that would be the solution. But I found that I could not invite people to this page. It had to just sit there and wait for people to find it, unless I paid for ongoing Facebook ads to help things moving along. I was left with the complex mix. Occasionally, I posted a few statuses about the concern, and how my political views etc. may be getting in the way of promoting my art. But it was/is part of who I am. It all is part of the whole. My art does not unfold as a completely separate entity. But I do also still maintain my website, including blogs (Journals) about my art, both in Iconography and Painting. But there too, a website is not a solution in itself. There is the hurdle of getting traffic to a website. It sits there online, waiting for people to come across it haphazardly, as most don’t know to look for it. And there too, there is always the solution of throwing more money into advertisement.
I’ve never had the only key component for the phrase “It takes money to make money”.
I had approached both Federal and Provincial Granting bodies, inquiring about a possible application to further paint close-up time capsules of the West Coast Totems. Having a collaborator connected to the project would help, but the problem is that they insist that I don’t qualify for assistance, as they’ve pegged me as being a ‘commercial’ artist. The reason for this conclusion is my not having been paid fees by a professional gallery to show my work (even though I’ve had 4 solo exhibitions in Community Arts Galleries, have had pieces accepted in two large Fine Arts Shows, plus a 35+ years body of work in Iconography). ‘Commercial’ is such an odd niche to be put into. Commercial! What does that mean exactly! All artists need sales in order to survive. Does it suggest that I just crank out art for sales, without the ‘fine arts aspirations’ and goals normally associated with an artist? But that is a whole other topic.
Back to the recent critique.
The research that I’ve done on marketing artwork indicated that patrons want to get to know the artist behind the work. It often helps in making a sale once that connection is made. But the critique received poses the question as to whether patrons initially want to know the real artist (with the nuts and bolts of an artist’s passion and challenges along the way), or do they prefer hearing what they want to hear when meeting an artist, and only hearing the marketing spin. Also, if there is a painting, or series of paintings that they like or are drawn to, do the paintings lose their impact and ‘professionalism’ after meeting the real artist behind them, or reading of the passions in the artist’s life? These all inform an artist’s choices and direction.
So yes, I’ve since gone through my Facebook page and deleted anything political, and anything that could possibly be inferred as negative. But of course that can only include what I post, with no control as to what persons in my friends list post. So it is now another art page where I post updated artwork, and attach links to my blogs with all the behind the scenes information. I actually call them ‘Journals’ as it better represents how I use them, and it is rare to receive comments even though viewers have the feature available to them. My website also has all the layers, commentaries, and ongoing journals entries with background and thoughts.
But having done that with the Facebook page, I felt as though I had been silenced, cut off. It had been my window to world but now, I was no longer able to respond to what friends and acquaintances shared, or to react to global issues. I live a life within isolation given the multitude times that I’ve moved around, and because of circumstances, commitments and finances. That combination isn’t conducive to maintaining friends along the way as they move along on there own paths. So it has been me and my son, and ever changing studio(s). So, as a way of regaining my voice and connection to the world, I created yet another personal Facebook page, which I’ve assigned with a private setting in order to keep it disconnected from the art page. But with the Facebook limitations, I’ve ended up with two Andre Prevost pages, with the only way of distinguishing one from the other by using two different profile pictures: one with painting reference profile jpegs, and the other with no art reference. I am sorry for the confusion to my friends (list), and I now feel a bit ambiguous about this new level of complexity. I find myself hesitating now, every time it comes to logging in. Log in to which! My new Personal page, my transitioned art Facebook page, my Artist Facebook page, or my Iconography Facebook page (not to mention Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). Which contacts do I keep in one or the other? Many are connected to the art, either theirs or mine, while some also share serious issues for awareness and dialog (First Nations, America, Europe etc.). Which page can I respond to these? So it is all leaving me as a split personality, and having to segregate much of myself in order to maintain a more marketable self.
I venture to think that artists of pre-social media days had their time in cafes, friend’s homes and such to discuss anything they so wished, and being themselves. And yet there were also those who worked and struggled with isolation and their work, and many did live impoverished lives. But even so, it did not make their work less professional or less crucial. I wanted to believe that patrons supported the art for its sake, in spite of the artist’s complexity, or whether the art institutions and critiques of the day accepted the artist or not. But in fact, galleries, benefactors, and art institutions can in fact act as a buffer between the artist and patron, and do have an impact on how an artist’s work was categorized, for public consumption. It is all part of the journey, passion and belief in ones works. If it was just myself, going hungry and struggling with my budget is one thing, but when you have a family, it’s a whole other ball of wax. You can’t make the decision that your family will also be hungry and go without.
Am I an artist? Absolutely. Am I a professional artist? Absolutely. Being a financially struggling artist does not make me unprofessional. Commercial? Well, I would argue that, if I were doing this for purely commercial reasons, then I would have totally missed the mark given that the focus of art I’ve followed isn’t necessarily so. I need sales yes, in order to survive and stay in my studio. But there is much that I still need and want to do, even though I know that a lot of it would not be typically marketable or commercial in the conventional sense re: style, choice, colour, etc. This is where funding agencies and collaborators come in to help permit me to continue the work still to be done.
So yes, being the Virgo and perfectionist that I am, I have had numerous soul searchings, both as the artist and the person. It all makes me who I am, informing my journey, with all the foibles, hurdles, accomplishments, self-doubts, limitations, love, and disappointments. I bear the many similar traits of an artist, even though I for the most part, am not a ‘joiner’ by nature. It is how my art was formed, and on my own terms, carving my own way and styles while most often straddling seemingly opposite art forms and cultures. But always in respect.
My living room, which has become more studio then living room, is a game of rotating, musical easels. The two paintings on the floor have been relegated to the back burner for now, as I need to complete the commissioned Brown Bear painting on the easel on the right, and proceed with the commissioned Blackfoot Sacred Heart Icon on the left. The two paintings on the floor need to be completed in time for submission to the 2017 Sooke Fine Arts Show.
I'm in the final stretch with the Brown Bear, working in the wood grain details.
I just got the icon design inked in this morning. There will be adjustments as I move forward and as I begin to block in the base colours.
I'm making progress with the 36" x 36" Brown Bear commission. I've started on the wood grain and cracking, but have a bit of undertone glazing to complete before getting in the extensive wood grain of this totem (at the Capilano Suspension Bridge park).
The past week had a few hurdles as a self employed artist. The banks just make things so difficult for self-employed persons. And utilities expect their payments on schedule even though art income doesn't come in as initially expected. Fortunately, I was invited to do a Icon Presentation and a 1-day Icon Workshop in Vancouver this past weekend.
I haven't been feeling well the last few days, but still pushing forward with the Brown Bear commission. I'm still in the process of shaping the totem and getting the undertones in as I go. These all have to be done before i can begin developing the wood grain which is predominant in this totem. The forms in West Coast Totems are such that you just need to keep tweaking the image on the canvas to that they are exact to the style of the carver and Nation/Family it represents.
I have a few scheduling conflicts this coming week, and I'll be in Vancouver this coming weekend to do a presentation and workshop, so I'll get the painting as far as I can. I want to have this painting completed as soon as possible.
Now that I was some firewood, thanks to a dear friend, and heat in the studio has been restored, I am able to return to painting. I had started a 4ft x 4ft canvas of the Brown Bear for art show submissions, but I received a commission request for a 3ft x 3ft painting of the same subject. So that explains the canvas sitting on the floor in the background.
I've been working on the Wolf Totem painting once again. It always takes a while to jump back into a painting part way through. It takes some time to reconnect and rediscover where you were when you had to put it aside for a while.
With submissions coming up for upcoming Fine Art Shows on the Island, I needed to also start on another painting. And the 4ft x 4ft canvas was calling out. I'd looked through my image library to try and find another image that would be suitable for such a canvas, one with adequate resolution to work from. But I was feeling that the only image that best suited this canvas was the Brown Bear. I had done a 3ft x 3ft painting of it, and included it in my first solo exhibition at the Silk Purse Gallery. I was so happy when the Brown Bear painting found its new home with a dear former student of mine.
But during that same exhibition, one gentleman voiced that he loved that painting but that it was too small. So, I figured that the Brown Bear was calling again, and I wanted a composition and size that could command attention in a show. But as with all my paintings in this series, I will not refer to picture of the first painting, and only work from the photograph. It will guide the way, with whatever changes that come up along the way.
I also find it helpful to have a second painting in the works. It informs the work being done on the other. Also in this case, it is helping me connect to the starting phase of a canvas, given that the Wolf was further on in its progression.
Feb. 22, 2017
Now that I've completed the recent commissions for icons, a totem painting which I had started last year, is back on the easel. I have a number of canvases waiting in the wings, including a 4ft x 4ft... I'm drawn to the 4x4, remembering how much I enjoyed painting the 3ft x 3ft Brown Bear, but it needs to be just the right image with a high resolution for adequate information for the detailing in such a large canvas.
In the meantime, the wolf totem which had been started, will be a good way to get back on the bike so to speak.
But I started feeling cold symptoms on the same day that I delivered the last icon commission on Monday, and have had recurring stabbing sinus headaches since, and not feeling great at all. But the canvas is patiently waiting.
Now that the icon commission has been completed, and hopefully delivery on Monday, weather permitting, it is time to return to a totem painting which I started some time ago.
The 6 painting from the series which are now on consignment, are being installed this weekend at JDStevenson Gallery in Chemainus, BC.
I am also in touch with CanvasPlus who is doing the giclee prints for the series.