Last summer I moved to the tiny town of Monmouth IL, rented a storefront, and began painting in full view of the public. I didn't imagine that I would develop a local art market-- I did it to connect with other people and get some local eyes on my work.
With that background, maybe this entry will make some kind of sense. This is a follow-up from my last post, here.]
To recap the Friday night open studio and Al Hull concert at the Rivoli...
Gosh, am I going to have to resort to bullet points? Maybe so!
+ In general this was an older entirely white working class crowd looking to have a good time. A few kids, but just a few. No teenagers. I heard one woman, I'd guess well in her 60s, ask the bouncer how she could get in the dressing room and flash her tits at Elvis. The bouncer responded by carding her before allowing her to enter the bar. She promptly declared him "a keeper". :)
+ An older fellow spotted my burbling coffee pot and complained 3x loudly about the lack of coffee cups. "Too bad there aren't any coffee cups here!" "Too bad you don't have any coffee cups!"
I told him "Hey, I'm not a restaurant!" He said "oh, ok!"
(I do serve individual gallery guests coffee, but my 4-cup coffeemaker would require a loaves and fishes miracle to deal with a real crowd.)
+ His wife told me I was "pretty" and "nice" and petted my hair and said she liked my hair very much, and then kissed my head. She then said she was going to bring me some of her art. And wanted to know if she could paint in my studio. :) Let me just say that this couple is in no way typical for the area and leave it at that. I would call the pair Monmouth Illinois local color.
+ Al Hull's brother, Billy Hull, was working as a bouncer and was set up right outside my studio back door making sure nobody snuck into the concert from the bar area. He shilled for me, and was a real hoot. He said he worked in radio in the past, which explained his easy energetic patter with guests. He had also done a lot of bouncing. He was well over six feet/275#, with a shaved/bald head. He worked security for mafia in Chicago and knows where Hoffa is buried. He told me but if I told you I'd have to kill you. He asked if I would paint him in his boxer shorts. I said drop your britches, you have no idea how tough it is to get male models.
Anyway, I learned from him how to talk to people around here! You have to start the conversation if you want there to be any, and make your greeting loud and cheery and informal. I've been doing it exactly wrong-- trying for nonintrusive and polite.
+ At some point since I opened the studio I decided ~not~ to hang just the easy more accessible work. I started out hanging mostly landscapes. Now I have scary paintings with nudes all over the place and I put Cain and fallen in the window, visible from the street.
I decided it was patronizing and cowardly to hide the difficult work from the public and also I realized that education and affluence don't really prepare a person to do the work of engaging with a difficult piece. The college staff and faculty feel the most comfortable actually coming in to my studio. It has been hard to get other locals to cross the threshold. But the college folk in my experience do not necessarily do better with the tougher work. It basically can't be predicted on any obvious basis.
+ People really slowed down and worked through the walls painting by painting. Wow! I was wondering how you get people around here to look at the art! Ordinarily, folks who stop by the studio seem so busy, they rip through 30 paintings like they are nothing. Rarely do they come to a full stop and rock back on their heels for a good looky-think. But since the concert folks had 20 min. or more to burn before the music began, they went slow and had a chance to take in what they were seeing. So what I need is a captive audience. ;)
People spent the longest time with this painting, and made no comments to me or each other.
eyes closed, oil on canvas, three panels, each 28 x 22"
dimensions installed variable
When I say they spent the longest on the triptych above-- many went to it first, made an ouchy/confused face, rocked back, stood in silence, moved on to other pieces, then came back for another round. I was SO honored.
And this painting was the crowd-pleaser.
Dorothy makes for Dante's wood, oil on canvas, 16 x 22"
People didn't necessarily spend all that long on this painting, but made happy comments to me and each other.
+ One guy tried to get me to say prices in order to tease me about them. "How about five bucks? Fifty cents?!" I don't play on that one. I jutted my jaw and went back to painting (I painted pretty much the entire time). He apologized and I nodded and smiled.
+ But what about Elvis? I photographed him but it looks more like a ghost sighting. Appropriate huh?
Al looked EXACTLY like the photos on his website gallery. He had a big voice and was a charmer. I did not know about half the music.
+ Al Hull's brother Billy who bounced and told me where Hoffa was buried also told me that he and Al started out as signpainters. And Al did pinstriping. Oh, the shame of my awful sign!
I did get the sign done but am not going to post a photo. There is another concert next Friday, and I will work on the sign between now and then. I do not think I will humiliate myself by putting my bad sign on the internet. Just know it said "art" and there was an awful arrow. I got all inspired by subway maps and it just did not work. I love subway maps.
+ Then Al/Elvis's mother(?) marched into my studio and told me "Al is an artist TOO!" I did not know what exactly to say, so I just smiled, but then she spun on her heel and left so it was ok. There are dynamics in show business families.
+ If I had stayed open late enough after the concert, I am sure I would have met Al/Elvis and not just his brother and mother. And maybe even gotten the prized photo of him standing next to my art. But he would have been out of his costume and wig by then, and I got really tired. It was a 14-hour day by the time I put the studio to bed and went home.
Next Friday night at the Rivoli a couple of metal bands are playing a Halloween concert.