I first started painting 20 years ago in art school. I hadn't planned on being an artist, I wanted to be a journalist. When I got to Freshman orientation at the University of Texas I headed over to the correct building where there was an auditorium full of uninspiring types, the first indication I was in the wrong place. A man got up on stage and actually began this stupid cheerleading routine. "We're gonna be writers! Yeah! We're gonna be journalists! Allright!". I turned to the girl next to me and asked her if this was for real and she said yes, she was loving it. At that point I left and began to wander the campus. I saw a building at with all these weirdoes and good looking girls so I walked over to have a look. When I found out it was the Art Department I signed up for classes right then and there. After three semesters of art classes and regular curriculum courses designed for the subgenius football team, I sensed that there had to be some way to avoid the non art classes altogether so I quit school to attend the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. One day in Hollywood I was in a bar and there was a guy getting more drunk than I was. He said that he had graduated from art school owing 60 thousand dollars and he had taken a data entry job to pay off the debt. This scared the shit out of me and I dropped out of Otis after three semesters vowing to get an art education while getting paid. My first job was handpainting hundreds of yards of furniture fabric, eventually becoming a color mixer. After matching all the color swatches they'd give me I'd spend the rest of the day mixing my own unholy color concoctions. I kept working in my studio after work until I had enough good work to approach a gallery. I was treated like shit, one dealer told me to unload his car before he'd look at my slides. I did. Another dealer told me I could get a show if I slept with him. I didn't. Eventually I ended up at the Zero One Gallery, a beat up space with a rock star clientele. My first sale was to a drug dealer and a solo show a few months later sold out. Naturally I wanted to show at the County Museum of Art but rock stars and drug dealers were good enough for me.
Unfortunately you can't have a successful art movement without rich art collectors to bankroll it. The sad fact is that no matter how good the work is, no matter how well written the manifesto is, unless there's money flowing nobody's gonna pay any attention. Robert Williams was beating his head against the gallery walls until a group of rich collectors who shared his aesthetic began to buy up his paintings and hang them up at home for all their rich pals to see. The role of critics is similar, collectors tend to get nervous if the names of their favorite artists aren't in print. This is where Williams triumphed, if you can't get the magazines to give you a review, print your own goddamn magazine. Thus Juxtapoz magazine was born and paintings by the soldiers of Roberts' army began to get exposure. Independent press like Last Gasp out of San Francisco were happy to put out exhibition catalogues of this kind of work and the jalopy was off and running with a new engine. The wild ride is about to get wilder.
So now we come to greatest of all necessary evils the artist must face: galleries. Galleries aren't charitable institutions, you can't expect them to show work that doesn't sell. The trick then is to find a gallery that'll sell your kind of work; you cannot tailor your work to suit the gallery. Sure after a few years of rejection and bullshit it gets a little disheartening but the idea is to learn how to present yourself and your work. The nasty part of the deal is that the artist's image is as important as the work they make. I know an artist in LA who is so fucking crazy, institutionalized crazy, that she can get just about any price with any gallery she wants. And its all because she's a notable character and when a collector comes back from her studio with a painting, you know he's gonna have something to say other than he gave her a check. Its called "the cult of personality" and Andy Warhol did it best. So you have to respect your dealer and overcome any aversion you may have to being around rich people. Don't laugh, its true, I've met quite a few artists who despised the rich, consequently they went nowhere.
an ideal situation the artist is supposed to make the work and the dealer is
supposed to sell it. But one of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given
was that the artist should never give up their control of how they're presented.
Yeah, it would be nice to just stay in the studio and paint but one has to attend
to the business as well. I come from the era of the DIY ethic, the "do
it yourself" way of getting things done. Lord knows I've tried to let other
people do it for me but it just seems they can't do it right. Ultimately an
artist has to be a journeyman of many talents, and own a truck.