The better question is, how do you know if you’re an artist in the first place. Is it intuition, are you born that way or is it something you simply desire to be. I don’t think anyone really knows, artists just end up being artists. It’s like some kind of a disorder, I’ll tell you why I think this. I have beed drawing since I could walk, those are my earliest memories. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing, I just did it all the time. I was fascinated with the movement of my hand over paper, the lines and the finished work. I couldn’t stop, something compelled me. Teacher after teacher said the same thing, “He’s a daydreamer, he could be making straight A’s if only…” – yadda yadda.
This went on until the 6th grade when my english teacher, (who’s name I can’t remember) just let me do my thing until one day when she showed up at our house and explained to my parents that I needed to meet with her friend, an art professor at Lock Haven University. I don’t remember a lot about him except, the white hair and beard. He took my pencils away and put a pen in my hand. “Don’t ever use a pencil again,” he said. “If you use a pencil you might be tempted to erase, learn to be sure of yourself,” – that sort of thing. I went along for two years, doing what he said, drawing without looking or drawing with two hands at the same time, etc. I could hear the other students say, “Why is there some kid in our studio class,” I didn’t care, I was feeling at home.
Was I an artist then, is being able to draw well enough at 12 to be in a college studio class make you an artist. Maybe but, I didn’t have a deep desire to see the world in a different way or felt like I needed to express myself for an audience to gain validation. I didn’t care about any of those things, I was just doing the only thing I wanted to do, make pictures. Besides, I was just a kid, the only thing I knew for certain was that this was the only course for me and come hell or high water, that’s just simply what I was going to do. It never occurred to me that I could or would do or be anything different.
Somewhere around the age of 14, I started working in oils. Painting, by it’s very nature is transcending, not just for me but, for a lot of people. It must be some primal desire, cavemen understood this and so do weekend artist that on a whim, run down to their local art store, buy supplies and start painting. It’s in our DNA, the best expression I have heard is, “Everyone is born an artist but, most people grow out of it.” There is truth in that, have you ever met a kid that didn’t like to paint.
So, what happens when you start pairing inherited desire with a compelling force to make pictures, is this an artist now. Or, is there something else, like a need for self expression. Maybe, all I know is that this desire didn’t happened for me until a much later age. I don’t know if it was due to several break-ups, alcohol or drugs but, one day I woke up with this inexplicable desire to do something through my work. No longer an innocent childhood want, it was stronger. I needed to, had to paint what I felt except, how was I going to do that. I can execute a portrait or paint a nice landscape but, that’s not what I wanted to say. I started looking around to see what other artists were doing and found some really strange goings-on. Somewhere in history, somebody said it was okay to just do anything and, by the very fact that you’ve created it – it is Art. Hmm, something is not right.
I was living in Fort Worth at that time and there was not much in the way of a contemporary art scene. I felt like an old man at 22 with no accomplishments. I knew if I stayed, I would end working at some advertising agency or doing caricatures at the Mall. I could have gone to art school but, after three years of undergrad and my early studio experience, I didn’t think it would make a difference. Do artists need art school, that’s probably a subject for a different post. What I needed was to be in the Big Apple, so I jumped. Yes, I probably could have planned better, had I known the cost of living was going to be insane and what you got for it even crazier. So, I ended up in New Jersey and bounced around a little from town to town always with an eye on a better apartment or in a better neighborhood. It’s like that in Bergen County, busy and kind of depressed. The people are rude until you get to know them which is hard to do since they are so off-putting when you first meet them.
The issue however, was not the people or the bad neighborhoods, it was in fact the very art world I had dedicated my life to. There was a lot of whacky art on display and the galleries seemed to be designed to filter-out artist, maybe it was the amount of artist’s submissions or it could have been that they simply only wanted collectors in there, which kind of makes sense. Either way, not the most artist friendly environment. But, the most frustrating thing was, nobody would even look at my work, if they saw me walk in with my book, they would spin me around and ask me to leave. If I asked for an appointment, they said they were not looking for new artists. Really, how did they get artists in the first place. Oh, right – the parties and connections, if I only knew then what I know now, I would have just hung around for a long time until I made friends with the right people. I could probably be showing at Pace or some other ridiculously exclusive gallery. But, I didn’t know how it worked and because the bills were always due, I became an Illustrator, payed the rent and slowly drifted out of the New York art scene. – Part 2