Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A few misplaced years

I thought tonight I would throw in another chapter in the ongoing biography I have been writing.
In 1976 I decided I would return to my home state of Minnesota. I had met a beautiful young woman who lived there and I felt like I had received my training in painting and could return and begin a career there.
I moved to the South Minneapolis area and rented a cheap apartment with a friend. After a year or so I moved to an apartment in an old residence hotel from the 1920's called the Oak Grove Hotel. It was a great apartment, high up and overlooking the whole city, with French windows and a bedroom that made a good studio. I lived on very little, working part time in a nursing home and selling the occasional picture. This was the disco era and for me, like a lot of my generation it was party time. I did a lot of stupid things and went nowhere as an artist.

I remember being rejected by a gallery that told me I knew how to draw, but I couldn't paint, I looked at the art in the gallery and I remember being so perplexed as I thought it was all pretty weak and I couldn't understand why I couldn't get shown. In retrospect my paintings must have seemed pretty dark and formidably academic to the dealers then.

This was in the height of the duck art fad, I remember how depressing it was to see all of these pictures of ducks that were totally artless. The artists who were doing them looked at each others art and were oblivious to the history of art entirely. No one had any idea what I was up to, and no one valued what I did. I painted all the time and the years of work at my easel must have made me a more mature artist but I think I mostly spun my wheels. I show nothing from this era in my portfolio and there is a good reason for that. Still those years of pushing paint around did help to get my brushwork practiced I guess. Still they were my lost years.
Because I lived in the city, I had a hard time finding subject matter, I worked some from photos, I painted urban scenes and mostly I just made up the paintings, working in imitation of the Dutch painters of the 17th century that I so admired. Nothing could have been less commercial or less interesting to the Minneapolis art world.

Toward the end of this period in my life, I met a woman, Mary Rose who had a farm house out in the country along the St. Croix river, a beautiful area about an hour from Minneapolis. Her husband would give me a ride out there, I had no car, and they would let me stay in a spare room and paint on their land. She painted mostly wildlife, but we exchanged a lot of ideas and it was good to have another painter to talk shop with. She had a lot of talent and a good work ethic. We got along well and I enjoyed my time painting on her farm immensely. I began to return to doing more plein air work and I started making some better, and cheerier art. I got into a small gallery that sold a few paintings. That was a first for me. Although I had sold paintings myself, and done outdoor shows, it was really the first time I had been in a gallery that hung and even sold the occasional painting.

I let my apartment go and moved that summer into an out building called a granary, on the farm. It was an uninsulated board structure like a barn, upstairs in its loft area I put my furniture and I ran a cable out there from the house so I would have electricity. There were about a zillion pigeons living out there too. When I was moving in and Mary Rose was helping me, she started to sweep the place out, but I remember telling her, why bother? Unless you figure out a way to evict all of those pigeons, what difference will it make? As the summer passed, and the fall came I kept adding blankets to my bed. At night it was getting down into the teens and it was becoming obvious that I couldn't stay here much longer. Mary Roses husband bought a new car and gave me his old one, a Ford Pinto wagon.
I had been in Minnesota for six years now and it was obvious that I was never going to have an art career there. Very few artists could make it there, as there was almost no market, and what there was, was either for duck art or abstractionist work done by college professors who actually lived on a salary from teaching. I had a few hundred dollars in my pocket from the sale of a painting, and I decided I would return to Boston. It was 1983.
I got into that Pinto and started driving east. About Ohio, the rear main seal opened up and I started losing oil. I pulled into a gas station and the mechanic told me that to fix it was a big deal involving pulling the engine. There was no way I could do that, so I drove to a K mart and bought a case of oil. I kept putting oil in the top of the engine and losing it out the rear. I left a black line all the way from about Toledo to Boston, but I got there. I think I used about a quart every 100 miles.
Arriving in Boston I stayed briefly with my sister who lived there, and then with an old friend, Sam Rose. he got me a little painting commission, a picture of a young boy pulling a sled, for an older gay man who wouldn't pay me until I got the buttocks JUST right!

I moved from there into the spare bed room of a musician friend of mine who lived in a run down old apartment house in East Cambridge, in a neighborhood fill of body shops. I remember I was again running out of money, and with my last few dollars I bought at neighborhood convenience store, a can of ravioli, a loaf of bread, a pack of Pall Mall straights, and A LOTTERY TICKET.
I prayed over that lottery ticket, God if you want to help me here, this would be a good way to do it! I suppose a lot of preachers would frown on my praying over a lottery ticket, but not many of them ever had to. I would never do it again, nor had I ever before. I don'ordinarily buy lottery tickets, but this was nearly my last dollar so I took a chance.

My musician friend, an acoustic bass player was out playing a gig , and I was watching his TV, it was one of those old ones where the tube distorted the figures and made the people look like they were in a fun house mirror. The alien looking anchorman with his head squished like a hammerhead shark, read off the winning numbers as I looked down at my ticket, it hit! Not for a million, but I matched several numbers, I think I won about four hundred dollars.

More tomorrow night in the exciting saga of Stapleton Kearns, artist - foo, l and the escape from Charles Darwins plans for me.

I will be unable to answer comments for about two days, and the next post will load automatically ( I hope) I am not going to be able to get online for a few days. The blog should continue to appear though.


mariandioguardi.com said...

Hey Will,
Now we know why Stapleton "hates" ducks. Can't blame him! Mystery solved.

willek said...

So that explains why you HATE ducks. In my twenties, I was an avid duck hunter. So I know about the pictures and the artists who painted those ducks in those days. As I came to learn more about painting those pictures had less meaning for me. They were mostly absent of color and more like illustrations. The Paintings I love most from the genre were those by Eakins: "Starting Out After Rail", and his Scenes of rail shooting on the Delaware River Marshes. A.Lassel Ripley was a favorite for many years, hiswatercolors of grouse and woodcock were just great, but his scenes of shooting and fishing were simething I identified with. and, of course, Frank Benson's etchings and paintings were awesome. I have been trying to figure a way of breaking into this area without being repetitive or corny, but that is very difficult.

Leard= lard made from ear lobe fat.

Tim said...

Loving this! Thank god i found your blog mate! I did the lottery ticket last week. No money though, but I did get a commission later!

Diane Greene said...

I just read your whole blog. And the comments. WOW! Thanks so much for all the information!

Unknown said...

You hate ducks??????

by the way, I live in Jaffrey and am attending Stape's New Hampshire workshop, and have maybe one more spare room available for someone who wants a free place to stay. No ax murderers or abstract artists welcome of course. Accomodations do not include pigeons.
"kable" why my TV still works

john iorio said...

Now, i can really appreciate the sacrifices you have made to paint plein aiere...i am a few years younger, but did my share of mechanic work while painting....by the way, the pinto did have an excellent front- end design....sorry about your rear seal blow-out!

Susan Renee Lammers said...

Hi Deb! I would love a free place to stay in NH. I wanted to attend Stapleton's Winter Workshop! You can reach me at (207) 479-9553 Renee Lammers