Sunday, September 20, 2009

The rudest visitor I ever had in my Gallery

The picnic, by James Tissot, image from

I taught a workshop today. From the time I rolled out this morning till I walked back in the door was twelve hours, most of it on my feet and thinking and talking. I am ruined. So tonight's post is mainly to avoid missing a day. Tonight I am going to tell you the story of the absolute worst visitor I ever had in my gallery . I did about fifteen years of retail galleries in Rockport, Massachusetts over the years, and in several different locations around the town . I must have seen hundreds of thousands of visitors. Most were the way people are, that is they walked in, looked at my paintings and then went on their way to the next store. Some were very friendly, a few were rude, and an even smaller number were horrid. But there was one visitor who eclipsed them all as the most singularly dreadful visitor I ever had. She was so nasty that she was in a league of her own, no one else has ever approached her in terms of venom or malice.

There was a guy who knelt to pet my old hound Trey, who lay in the middle of the gallery floor and greeted everyone with his tail, thumping it on the floor if they payed him any attention at all. He was a remarkable animal, a giant golden retriever, red, the color of an Irish setter and he weighed 130 pounds. This guy remarks as he pets Trey, I like your dog a whole lot more than I like your art man......

This woman was nastier than the pug faced and bald headed skeptic who gestured at one of my 8 by 10's with a very cheap cigar and dismissively asked if I would take ten dollars for it.

There was the woman who innocently tried to give me twenty five dollars for a twenty five hundred dollar painting. She knew a good deal when she saw one. Her husband just shook his head in disbelief. I tried not to be insulted, she just didn't know what paintings cost, and misread the tag.. No malice there.

But all of these were outdone by one dumpy and magnificently malevolent English woman who walked into my gallery one afternoon wearing all black clothes and dark sunglasses. As she walked around my gallery she looked at my paintings and said "I like art that is spiritual. My art is spiritual. This art is not!

I was at a loss for words, that doesn't happen too often to me. But THAT didn't earn her the title of nastiest. She left the gallery and I was more amazed than wounded that someone could be so unpleasant.
I was still smoking cigarettes in those days, and an hour or so later I was out on the sidewalk in front of my gallery under my big sign that said Stapleton Kearns Gallery, and she came walking around the corner towards me.

When she drew even with me she paused for a second, looked up at the sign and in a very English accent said" Stapleton Kearns, now there's a name that won't go down in art history, if you don't mind me saying" and then she walked on.

I will never know who she was and I remember thinking at the time that this woman was trying to injure me, an absolute stranger to her, for no reason other than I was an artist with a gallery and she probably resented that. She had what I came to to call artist two syndrome. I will tell you about that tomorrow night.


jeff said...

Stapleton, all I can say is, wow.
Some people are just nasty pieces of work.

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
–Mark Twain

DennyHollandStudio said...

Stape~ I admire your dedication to this blog, even after such a long day.

DennyHollandStudio said...

... I should have said, especially after such a long day!

Philip Koch said...

A wonderful story (in its exquisite awfulness). One of the reasons I figured an artist having their own gallery would be tough. This particular gallery visitor tries to make herself feel better by delivering cheap shot one-liners and then scurrying off. My wife is a therapist and would likely say of this woman Stape describes "Would you want to have to live your life in her head?'

Artists keep at it year after year despite setbacks, rejections, and outright insults such as Stape's story here, because they've caught ahold of a vivid dream.
But there's a price to pay for pursuing a dream. Those of us who are veterans perhaps just have a firmer hold on that dream... though I confess on days I'm feeling down I wonder if it isn't that the dream has more a hold on us.

Gregory Becker said...

That's when you look her right in the eye and say, "I never did mind the little things."
Or I may have just called her fat. I never launched that insult ever but I would have definitely been tempted.
In my experience the greatest insult to a woman is to her appearance and the greatest insult to a man is to his work.
I would have been tempted to even it up a bit.

JT Harding said...

spiritual - as in wicked Witch of the East?

Robert J. Simone said...

Nothing like a swift kick in the groin every now and then. I can relate. People like that fuel the passion. Makes us better, don't you think?

kev ferrara said...

I have had a similar encounter with an almost identical person (she was an upper crust New Yorker, not English).

Truly unhappy people exist in a constant snarling state of jealousy and bitterness. Their hatred is like a career, or an obsession... cultivated and practiced... the animating principle of their life.

Thus, when you meet the Bitter in Soul at random, no matter when or how, they are in quite good practice at being vile.

I have two philosophical bits about these kinds of people that keep me prepared to meet these types.

One is that the worst possible punishment I can think of for such a spiteful person is for them to go through life as themselves.

Which is to say, these people are already their own worst enemy and constant source of punishment. To leave them to themselves is to leave them at the mercy, literally, of the person they most hate in the world... perfect vengeance when you think about it... Without a shot being fired.

Secondly, I now point out to the more militantly unhappy types that they seem quite unhappy. I may say, "I'm sorry you're so unhappy" or "Its very sad that you're so unhappy." You'd be surprised how quickly these statements take nasty people off their game.

Sometimes the aggressor will deny their unhappiness, to which I reply "uh huh," with a wan, pitying smile. (I may have to repeat this part several times over the course of several denials.)

Sometimes they will demand that I give proof that they are unhappy. To which I reply, "Its just an observation. I'm very sensitive to tone, so that's what I listen for mostly."

If the response is "So you're not unhappy?" I reply, "I'm not the one shouting and saying nasty things to other people."

In my experience, eventually, the aggressor always leaves or quiets down, having found no company for their misery.


Jan Blencowe said...

JT Harding..."wicked witch of the East" LOL :-D You read my mind!!

The older I get the less seriously I take over the top people, whether they are nasty,or envious, or overly opinionated. The absurdity of their words and actions usually just makes me laugh at them (involuntarily sometimes). They truly are theior own worst enemy and punishment, as Kev mentioned.

The irony here is that this "woman in black" declares her work to be "spiritual" yet her words and actions are bereft of grace, gentleness or encouragement a few qualities I believe are inherently spiritual.

Stapleton, I'm glad enough years have passed that you can retell this story with a grin!

Unknown said...

Yikes, that is so mean, it almost sounds made up. That must have really shocked you that someone would be so venomous to a total stranger. She must have had really low self-esteem to belittle you like that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

She was nasty

Stapleton Kearns said...

Denny6: Thanks here I am again.Dedicated or stubborn.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip: This woman had snakes in her head.
Can you imagine marrying a woman and gradually having her evlovle into that? For better or worse, in sickness or in health,but that?

Unknown said...

We got to hear this story in person tonight again after the workshop, which has been super so far. We're all exhausted. We set up in the morning, and paint till the cows come home. Seriously. I am not kidding.
We are on an old farm, and next to the cow pasture. In the morning, they gather near us, and then wander off to the high pasture for the rest of the day. In the evening, they come back down.
We are learning lots, and I grabbed a few video outtakes of Stape doing the stand up comic routine during the demo. It is priceless.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I was at a loss for words. That is a good observation about work and men and appearance and women.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I wish I had a photo of her to illustrate the story.

Stapleton Kearns said...

She must indeed be truly unhap[py. I never got a word out, I was so thrown off and as soonas she released her attack she was off again. Strafing attack. Otherwise I would certainly have asked "you do know your butts on upside down?,right?"

Stapleton Kearns said...

Her whole presence was so malevolent that it was comic. I was never hurt by her, I was in amazement that anyone could be so nasty.
I was laughing about it as soon a she was out of sight, I had to call up a friend who had a gallery up the street to tell him about it.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I don't know. She was so out of the ordinary that all the usual diagnoses might not apply.I wonder if she wasn't really psychotic and not just mean.

billspaintingmn said...

Hang tuff. To belittle, is to be

Monica said...

Wow. That kind of ugliness takes great skill. It's not easy to make a bad impression with just 2 sentences, but this gal managed. Ick.