*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Observing these objects and imagining their history broadened my perspective. In China, we were still living in a culturally impoverished era, but art had not abandoned us – its roots were deeply planted in the weathered soil. The stubborn survival of this indigenous artistic tradition demonstrated that our narrow-minded authoritarian state would never be able to remake our culture in its own image. From then on, when I wasn’t spending time with my parents, I was immersing myself in the world of antiques. The dealers found me perplexing, for I followed no prevailing tastes or conventional wisdom. Instead I was taken with obscure objects, and made a point of buying things that seemed to have little or no value; my hungry spirit was nourished as I imagined the stories lurking behind each piece. The observations and insights that came to me from the distant past spurred me on to make art of my own.
– Ai Weiwei in 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows
This is exactly my experience with the folk art I collect!
Comments are welcome!
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A: I have been a professional artist for thirty years so some things have changed and some haven’t. I have a portfolio book of 8 x 10 photographs of all my pastel paintings. Since my process is slow and meticulous, the latest, “Troublemaker,” is pastel painting number 124.
I have always gotten my work professionally photographed. Until 2001 my husband Bryan was my photographer and since then I have hired three people. To document older work I have slides, 4 x 5 transparencies, and color and black and white 4 x 5 negatives. I continued with slides and film longer than many artists, but finally switched to digital files a few years ago when buying film and processing it became difficult.
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* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
“What’s to say? Great paintings – people flock to see them, they draw crowds, they’re reproduced endlessly on coffee mugs and mouse pads and anything-you-like. And, I count myself in the following, you can have a lifetime of perfectly sincere museum-going where you traipse around enjoying everything and then go out and have some lunch. But … if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey, kid. Yes, you.” Fingertip gliding over the faded-out photo – the conservator’s touch, a-touch-without-touching, a communion wafer’s space between the surface and his forefinger. “An individual heart-shock. Your dream … Vermeer’s dream. You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time – four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone – it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all – a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you… fateful objects. Every dealer and antiquaire recognizes them. The pieces that occur and recur. Maybe for someone else, not a dealer, it wouldn’t be an object. It’d be a city, a color, a time of day. The nail where your fate is liable to catch and snag.”
Donna Tartt in The Goldfinch
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A: I search the markets and bazaars of Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere for folk art objects – masks, carved wooden animals, papier mache figures, children’s toys – to bring back to New York to paint and photograph. Color is very important – the brighter and the more eye-catching the patterns are on these objects the better – plus they must be unique and have lots of personality. I try not to buy anything mass-produced or obviously made for the tourist trade. The objects must have been used or otherwise look like they’ve had a life (i.e., been part of religious festivities) to draw my attention. How and where each one comes into my possession is an important part of my creative process.
Finding, buying, and getting them back to the U.S. is always circuitous, but that, too, is part of the process, an adventure, and often a good story. Here’s an example. In 2009 I was in a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, called Panajachel. After returning from a boat ride across the lake, my friends and I were walking back to our hotel when we discovered a wonderful mask store. I spent some time looking around, made my selections, and was ready to buy five exquisitely-made standing wooden figures, when I learned that Tomas, the store owner, did not accept credit cards. I was heart-broken and thought, “Oh, no, I’ll have to leave them behind.” However, thanks to my good friend, Donna, whose Spanish is much more fluent than mine, the three of us brain-stormed until finally, Tomas had an idea. I could pay for the figures at the hotel up the block and in a few days when the hotel was paid by the credit card company, the hotel would pay Tomas. Fabulous! Tomas, Donna, and I walked to the hotel, where the transaction was made and the first hurdle was overcome. Working out the packing and shipping arrangements took another hour or two, but during that time Tomas and I became friends and exchanged telephone numbers (the store didn’t even have a telephone so he gave me the phone number of the post office next door, saying that when I called, he could easily run next door!). Most surprisingly, the package was waiting for me in New York when I returned home from Guatemala.
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