Back in the early fifties, at the age of nine, I decided that, unquestionably, I’d become an artist, even though I didn’t exactly know what that meant and the only painter I knew was my sweet grandmother. I clumsily professed my certainty to my mother one late afternoon. She smiled and nodded, and carried on with whatever she was doing. I had no idea that decision would reverberate with such polarity between anguish and elation throughout my life. But I’ve never regretted it. Not once in these sixty-four years. And as far as I can tell, this is a common occurrence and attitude of most artists.
In this world, it’s impossible to calculate how many consider themselves painters, printmakers, or sculptors, expressing themselves in a plethora of mediums and ‘isms,’ but out of a global population of more than six billion people, I can only assume, happily so, there are many, and I believe, for the most part, for good reason.
For the artist, it’s never just about making the art. There is always the tricky part that comes first–the search, eventual discovery, then uncertainty, always followed by trial and error, and still more uncertainty. Persistence eventually enters into the dance. For myself, and I suspect for most artists, the joy is in the doing of it, once we’ve cleared the debris that limits our conviction. This is where the ‘verb’ lives, the action. And nice it would be, after such a complicated birth, if that were all. But unfortunately, to pay the bills, buy a little food, get more art supplies, artists also have to sell their work. It’s not easy, because the selling part of the process is cumbersome and usually awkward. It indeed was and has always been for me.
In the early seventies, I was delighted when I first began exhibiting with galleries. I made art, and the galleries sold it. Nice, I thought. I needed only to appear at my openings every eighteen months or so. Over time I watched the value of my art incrementally increase, often wondering what it was that stirred the prices upward, far beyond the rise in the cost of living. I suppose one can attribute it not so much to any specific talent, which, like the art itself, is highly subjective, but rather a sense of dedicated focus and personal vision. And the right gallery, of course. One can’t argue that in some cases, it’s the gallery that makes the artist and not a few galleries believe this. It happens often enough, but, when all is said and done, it is the artist who takes the broadest range of risks.
I moved full-time to Thailand in 1998 to do a documentary on and for the elephants. I decided to discontinue my gallery associations. After being here a few years, the country and culture felt right. I decided to stay but continued making art. It’s in the blood. But there is virtually no market in this isolated rural spot in Northern Thailand. So, now, at an age I wear as comfortably as I can, I’ve decided to reconnect my art to my homeland. Having been away so long, it’s a bit of a challenge jumping back into a world and market considerably more crowded and fractious; certainly, noisier.
Brick and mortar art galleries, I suppose, still remain the most viable avenue for the artist to introduce her or his work to the public. For the most part, galleries have been critically instrumental in defining the relationship between artist and an economic market, and I’ve long held the opinion that without a gallery, especially one that has a solid reputation, it’s impossible to establish and define a positive trajectory for the value of one’s art. Perhaps, like so much else, that’s changing. We’re seeing more and more online art galleries and secondary art sales platforms.
I’m in a steady trot trying to keep up with new online technology. The internet, for good or bad, is altering our understanding of reality. Like most artists, galleries have their own websites, listing all of their artists and images of their work. But I’ve long held the belief that buyers of art need to be actually standing in front of a work of art, to feel it breathe, to get a sense of its texture, even smell it; no doubt that’s changing. I can easily imagine a scenario not too many years distant when a gallery’s on-site opening also includes live streaming in such a way that online visitors can participate in the event as well as make immediate online purchases for their collection. Perhaps it’s already happening.
Technology is unavoidable. And while it continues to move us into areas unimagined only a few years ago, art remains inside us–a consistent human heartbeat. It’s part of us, and whether it’s visual, poetry, storytelling, dance, music, or photography, art remains a constant parameter of our need to express the height and width of our emotional spectrum. Like history, art is a residue of human activity, binding us one to another, a glue of remembrance from those who’ve come before us for those living now, and for those who come after; it is our fingerprint of intent, a guide, if you will, perpetually reminding us that we have choices.