You Deserve What You Tolerate: A Q&A
Today let's deep dive with 21 questions and their answers.
1. How did I get started (or introduced) in the arts?
My journey to the arts was very natural, and somewhat difficult (as such journeys are for many artists). I began exploring the arts as an outlet my freshman year of high school. I am a very openly LGBT identified person; I grew up in Greeley, CO which is pretty conservative and very small. School was a defining struggle in my life. I wasn't particularly athletic. I wasn't particularly good at traditional subjects like math or the sciences. Rather, I found my niche as an idea man. I joined an art club to escape bullying. I spent many lunches and gym classes in the art classroom. I failed many of my tests miserably, but found enjoyment doodling on them. I placed in my first regional art show in the 10th grade and won my first regional art show senior year.
2. What are my mediums?
I work primarily in acrylic, however, I'm notorious for inventing project-specific mediums. I enjoy the trial-and-error process. I find inspiration in the most mundane materials--fabric swatches, saw dust, dryer lint, etc. There is something to elevating the mundane and allowing it guide the creation process. There's a sensuality and richness to our daily lives which goes overlooked and underappreciated. I stretch most of my canvases because I tend to work very large. When creating site-specific work, off the shelf sizes usually won't do. I'm working on two twin projects right now which are both 100" x 65".
3. Why do I create artwork?
The simplest answer is I create artwork because I must. It is a compulsion and no matter where I have found myself in life, I must make things with my hands. There is this tremendous energy that flows through me, and I have to use it or I get stir crazy. I cannot stop making artwork. I've tried. I've taken long breaks from art-making, but I always come back to it. Creating a career of making art forced a serious amount of soul-searching. The long answer is I create art for other people. The work of the artist will never be done so long as people continue to seek new levels of understanding about themselves, the world around them, and their lives. I see the role of the artist as that of a conduit. We bring ideas into being with the purpose of gifting them to other people.
4. How do I feel about galleries and what role do they play in my life?
This is a question to be approached as both a business man and an artist. As a business man, I see galleries as an important piece of the art world puzzle, however, the role of the gallery is going to be forced to evolve as we step into the future. There are a number of galleries which are doing very well. I would say there are for more who are struggling in the same ways the artist struggles. I am excited to see the future of the gallery world. People talk a lot about "democratizing" the art world, and to some extent the Internet has made that more possible, but it's a vague notion and no one really has the answer. Every artist is vying for the opportunity to get in front of a wider audience, and if I had one wish, it would be to see greater elevation of unknown artists. There's a lot of magnificent work out there, but it's sitting in a studio, seen by very few. As an artist, I have yet to solve the gallery puzzle. I am unrepresented (at the time of writing) and seeking a home for my work, but I recognize it may take some time. I imagine it's a lot like dating, or any other relationship.
5. What is the greatest challenge in this industry?
I think we're all familiar with the normal challenges of the art world. The most pernicious challenge in the industry, which needs to be addressed urgently, is the under-representation of women and minorities in the arts. Venturing out on a limb here, I'd say it isn't until the 60's when we see a more diverse generation breaking into the mainstream art establishment. Whether it's an explicit or implicit bias, we need to tackle it collectively. There's enough room at the table for everyone.
6. What advice do I have for others who want to join the industry?
Come with thick skin and a good head on your shoulders. Say yes until you can finally say no. Work hard and find a routine which works for you. Most of all, be absolutely fearless and create because you must. There is magic in the arts, and you have to come to the canvas seeking magic, not money. If you are completely lit up by what you do, the money will follow. The right people will gravitate to your shine.
7. Do I attend other artists' exhibitions?
As often as humanly possible. I've become something of an art tourist, and have started taking trips with the sole purpose of seeing the museums and galleries in that place.
8. How often do I attend museums or other exhibitions?
In February alone, I went to five museums across the country and close to 20 exhibitions and studios. It's so, so important to be out there and see what others are working on.
9. What is one of my best art stories?
I was commissioned by a design firm to refresh some artwork for a local apartment community. The old work was a really lovely Southwest inspired portrait of a flirtatious horse, but it didn't fit with the new design scheme. I came up with this very abstract, kind of Cubist take on the old piece, and I did it in various colors of blue and aqua (one of the inspirations for this project was the Big Blue Bear downtown). I was so proud of this horse when it was finished. I make a habit of delivering all of my work to the client in person, and so I took the piece to the client and she said, "I hate it. I hate this horse. It's awful. It's a travesty." She continued on, justifying her "critique" of the work by saying, "You know, I'm not trying to hurt your feelings or anything. You should known I'm an artist as well so it's nothing against you, but it's just a travesty." I was absolutely floored. I smiled at her and said, "Thank you so, so much. Truly." I completely believe one of the primary purposes of artwork is to provoke a response (not merely a judgment). Insomuch as my work provoked this very strong reaction, I consider it effective. To this day, I receive more requests for horses than any other type of work. It makes me laugh.
10. How do you think the public regards artists?
I get the impression most people think we're moody, precious people toiling away in isolation; that we're all wasting away very slowly because we make no money and have no food. It amuses me.
11. What special career tactics have I developed?
I come from the marketing and event planning worlds. I sharpened my teeth in a rigorous sales environment and learned very quickly that I have to stay hungry if I'm going to succeed and make my ambitions a reality. I was helping to run day to day operations at a small business by 25. I started my first nonprofit at 26. I incorporated my own business at 27. I'd say my best tactic is being able to balance my business mind with my artist's mind. I'm always exploring new avenues to get work out there and I can't wait to see what happens at 28.
12. What keeps me sane?
I can't exist in isolation for too long. I find my eyes get stale if I inhale paint fumes too long. I keep a very social schedule, and I get away from my work often. If I'm not painting, I'm probably working out or traveling someplace. Constant exposure to novelty is so important. I climb in the summer, and I've summited 38 of Colorado's 14ers. Being away from the studio makes my experience in the studio so much more effective. And of course, a lot of yoga.
13. What is my philosophy for (1) work, (2) family, and (3) life?
1. I work hard today so I can work harder tomorrow.
2. Family first. Period.
3. You deserve what you tolerate.
14. What makes my approach different?
I don't really believe in inspiration at all. I believe in exploration. History is littered with exceptional people who maybe missed the train because they sat around waiting too long for the "lightning bolt" of inspiration. I have a studio rule: every day, make one thing with your hands. It doesn't have to be massive. It doesn't have to be involved. It could be a letter to a pen pal abroad. It could be a tiny thumbnail sketch, but building in that time to explore without constraints is just like working out your muscles. The more you do it, the more naturally you stumble on new ideas.
15. Have any artists awed me?
I am probably more obsessed with the working methods of my favorite artists than I am with their bodies of work. If you want to test someone's integrity, I think you should give them a blank canvas and see what they do with so much opportunity. There is something to be said for the all-encompassing immensity of a Rothko or a Still. At such a size, the work becomes immersive. Clyfford Still is perhaps my favorite visual artist (followed closely by Jay DeFeo). They both had incredible working methods and worked at a monumental scale. Knowing that DeFeo literally spent 5-8 years on any given piece is just mind-blowing, and you can see that reflected in the calibre of her work.
16. Where do I find inspiration?
Most of my "inspiration" comes from the natural world. We're a somewhat self-centered species and we look within far more than we look out on the vastness of the world and the universe. I am drawn to the patterns and textures of the natural world. I love the way the cosmos are so perfectly disorganized. I love the way the patterns on the wing of a butterfly are so variable. I love the sound of bird wings. Art is a sensory experience. It isn't just seen, it's heard and felt. Anything I create needs to encompass the richness of the natural world.
17. What does a typical day or week look like for me as an artist?
I start my days somewhat late--it's essential to get good sleep. The brain works out so many solutions while we sleep. I almost always get going during the day with a good workout, and then I head home and work through the afternoon into the night when things have quieted down. I dedicate one day a week to total rest when I do absolutely nothing. I dedicate two days a week to business operations like answering emails and going to openings. If it's a travel day you can find me in the back of an airplane with my sketchbook out and my headphones in. Music is absolutely essential to my creative process. I noticed several months ago that I tend to paint in time with music, and that was really interesting to me.
18. How do I prepare for a day in the studio making art?
First and foremost any day of making art starts the day before with a good night's rest. After that, I turn off my phone and cut off any significant distractions. I make lists of everything I need to do later so that I'm not preoccupied with other things. Then, I dig in. There's a lot of research which goes into my projects, and so I'm often neck deep in books or websites exploring the ideas I'm trying to convey. Some projects require extensive sketching, and I'll do 10 or 20 thumbnail sketches to get a feel for composition and form. Many of my projects are very vividly colored, so I'll do test sheets of color combinations and paint mixtures to see how they look and how they dry.
19. What do I do to get over creative blocks?
I keep multiple projects running at one time, so if a particular piece isn't resonating with me that day, I can easily work on something else. I'm not a particularly sentimental person, and if I'm sensing a prolonged friction with a piece, I know that the direction I'm going isn't working. I'll paint over any project and start again. I've done pieces as many as 8 or 9 times before I settle on something I can stand behind.
20. How many works of art do I create in a week, month, or year?
For purposes of this question, I'll only count finished works. In 2018, I created 38 finished pieces. So far in 2019, I've already completed 30 projects, and I'm working on four currently. By year's end, I anticipate finishing more than 100 original works of art. Some pieces take three months and some pieces take three days. I enjoy working on similar themes at the same time. If I'm in a good place with the process, I can produce work very quickly. Part of my personal goals include creating large collections for boutique properties, and so I develop processes which are scalable. My dream client wants 40 or 50 original pieces for a boutique hotel or office building.
21. Have I evolved as an artist?
Absolutely. That's one of the reasons I keep all of my sketchbooks. It's so interesting to see what themes have stayed in my work since I was 12 or 13, and what has changed. As I've made space for being an arts professional, part of that has been exploring quality, craftsmanship, and creating things with an eye for the future. I want people to grow and live with my artwork for years and years, so my pieces are always crafted with a nod to the future. I recently had a chance to see the first piece I sold to a client, and it put into perspective how far I've come with respect to those three areas. The work I'm producing now isn't necessarily radically different with respect to aesthetics, but it's night and day with respect to craftsmanship. I believe very strongly in keeping every client relationship, and I'm known for going back to early buyers and taking their pieces back to refinish and touch up their work to the standard I've established for my work now. Clyfford Still was a huge believer in having total license over his pieces, and he was known for doing the same thing--sometimes going as far as revising pieces he had done in the past. He believed very strongly that just as authors are allowed to revise their work, artists ought to be able to do that as well.