Monday, March 23, 2009

In which a foolish young man takes a whacking from reality

That's me. In about 1969 or maybe 68. I was about 16 or 17. I left the military academy after several years there and returned to public school . Shortly after this I left high school early, in order to more fully participate in the 1960's.

I am showing you this picture mostly so you can have a laugh at my expense. The artist I critiqued this week on my blog probably needs a laugh at my expense. But here's the other reason why. I happened to speak to several young art students over the last week, they were talented, obviously quick and seemed excited about what they were studying. I have since been thinking that I should do a post about that time in my life. I also want to describe the earliest period in my art career.

When we met someone in those days we would not ask "what do you do" but "what are you into". When asked that, you were supposed to have an answer that told what you did that was creative. Some people might say, "I make macrame plant hangers " or "I play guitar"or "I am studying English lit " my answer was of course, I am going to be an artist. We all defined ourselves not by what we did for a career but what we did to give our lives a purpose.

I was stretching cotton sheeting over an embroidery hoop so I could draw on it in India ink. Then I would batik (a wax and dye process popular then) color into them. I could get all sorts of effects with the batiking process. There were a lot of outdoor art festivals in those days and a lot of hippie types were doing pottery or making jewelry and selling arts and crafts at these festivals. I did my first, the year that picture was taken. I had ten or twelve of my batiked ink drawings mounted on cardboard and covered in saran wrap. I thumb tacked them to the section of red wooden snow fence to which I had been assigned. It was a beautiful early summer day and there were bands playing and pretty young girls in granny glasses and long India print dresses. A young physician and his wife came up to my little display and bought two of my drawings. One was, as I remember, of a wizard under a toadstool.

They gave me 60 dollars apiece for them. In 1968, 60 dollars was serious money. You could rent a small apartment for $60.00 a month. Over the course of that day I sold most of what I had brought with me. I don't remember the total I earned at that festival, but I think it must have been $300 or $400 dollars. I was absolutely blown away. I decided that day, that I would make art for a living. I had always planned to be an artist but somehow had never put that together with the idea of making a living. I was really young and naive. I had no idea then, how terribly difficult the years ahead would be. The 60's was an optimistic time and we thought we could do anything.

I wasn't somebody who wanted to draw and paint and then got a teaching degree so I could continue doing that . It never even crossed my mind to be a teacher, or go into commercial art. I wanted to be a professional artist, fine art. That day set me on a course I have followed all my life. Other than a few part time, student sort of jobs in the 70's like driving cabs in Boston, sweeping floors or working in nursing homes I have never had a job.

What I did have was fifteen years of no car, no phone and no bank account. I would surely have starved to death if it had not been for my various girlfriends in those years. I will always look back fondly on the many kind young women who gave of themselves so selflessly.

Also, although I don't think you could guess it from this picture, several years in a boarding military academy had hardened me up pretty good and I had learned to be enduring and stand my ground when necessary there. It was a tough place.

I did have one sort of help that made it possible though. My father, even though he literally thought I was crazy, did this. He mailed me a check for 300 dollars every month, for year after year. He also was willing to pay for any school I could get into. I saved him a lot of money on college. I don't know if I could have done it without this stipend, perhaps I would have found a way, perhaps not. I was so driven, I think I might have. Inflation was running high then and a few years later 300 dollars would buy me a bag of groceries, 3 cases of beer for ten bucks, a carton of Old Golds and a months rent. But not more. Lots of times I went hungry, I cut my own hair, did my laundry in the sink and fixed my shoes with duct tape. I bought paint instead of food lots of times, routine. But I painted every day. Some months I sold a painting. In those days they were all 300 dollars. I did fifteen years of that. I will have to write about what the art market was like in the 70's. There were almost no galleries that sold traditional painting and "smart" people only liked modern art. Things have changed a lot since then. What I figured out early on, was this, and it got me to my goal of making a living as an artist.



Dan Gurney said...

You bear remarkable resemblance to the musician, John Sebastian in the same era.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanx Dan;

I always thought I looked like Todd Rundgren when he was still playing with Nazz. I miss the 60's,if you can figure out a way to send me back I would leave tonight.........Stape