Archives for category: gourd art

I used to be quite the guerilla marketer in the days before the internet and social media.  After selling a gourd for $20,000 several years ago, I approached anyone and everyone I could think of to carry a story on the sale.  I sent press releases to every newspaper and magazine under the sun, and press kits to everyone from Katie Couric to the Carol Duvall Show.  I discovered, days after it had been published, that the Wall Street Journal ran a small (and admittedly snarky) article on the sale, and several months after that, I received a letter from Carol Duvall, informing me that she wanted to do a segment on my work.  I was thrilled of course, but when her production team called to ask if they could interview me in July, in Palm Springs, for their fall season, I wasn’t quite as over the moon.

It’s 108 to 118 degrees in Palm Springs in the summer, but of course, I said yes.  I had to make four or five gourds in various stages of completion to make it look like I had created the work they focused on in one afternoon, and when the team finally showed up at my house, their equipment kept blowing the circuit breaker, so I had to turn off the air conditioning then act like it was as cool as a summer breeze on the Oregon coastline the rest of the day.  After all was said and done however, I think the production team did an outstanding job.

A few weeks ago, I started work on one of the first new gourds I have done in years.  I decided to photograph each stage of the process, then edited it to show how much work goes into creating a single piece of artwork.  I hope you enjoy the short video I did on it.

bigI didn’t start life as a Gourd Goddess.   To be honest, I didn’t even start life as Denise Meyers.  I was born Denise Condit, a fact I did not discover until I was 39 years old, and which is another story entirely. The point is,  I have been reaching for the stars since I could remember, always dreaming of a life much bigger than the one I grew up with, always wanting to stuff  everything I possibly could into a day, always keenly aware that I would not live forever, and if I didn’t grab every opportunity that came my way – even ones I had to invent myself – I might never get the chance to do it again.

When I was fifteen, our psychology class in high school was reading ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST,  which was being filmed, at the time, at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem where I lived.  I called the production office one day and asked if anyone from the production would speak to our class. Joel Douglas, the production manager (and Michael Douglas’ younger brother), agreed, and showed up two days later to discuss the film at length.  When he left that day, he invited me to come to the set anytime I wanted.  I went as often as my mother would allow, and was there the day they filmed Will Sampson pulling the sink out of the floor and tossing it through the window just before he escapes from the hospital. Icuckoosnest photographed the basketball scene through the fence one afternoon, ate lunch in the commissary in the general vicinity of Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas, had Scatman Crothers ask me if I smoked and if I did, could I light his cigarette for him, and was the reason Joel Douglas remembered to order sea sickness pills for the cast when they headed to Newport for the fishing sequence.  I got my first kiss in that insane asylum as well when Joel Douglas pounced on me in the production office one afternoon, something I did not expect, but which makes for a great story.  My first kiss was in an insane asylum on the set of an Oscar winning movie!

Years later, when I was in college and decided I wanted to work in the film business as a career, I wrote a letter to Michael Douglas, asking for a job.  His business manager wrote back, largely because Mt Saint Helens had just erupted, and stories of the ash covering the Pacific Northwest were all over the news, so I sent her a jar of that ash and a friendship was born.  She agreed to get me work if I moved to Los Angeles, and a few weeks later, with my Volkswagon bug packed to the gills, I headed south by myself for a job at the Willliam Morris Agency.   One day while I was waiting to use a pay phone at the gas station across the street from Warner Brothers Studios, I struck up a conversation with a man from Oregon who not only had just moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of a career in film, turns out he was from Salem, was a popular disc jockey at a radio station where I had interviewed – with him – for a job.  We became roommates a few weeks later,  are still great friends to this day.

meandrayTaking no for an answer has never been my strong suit.  I wanted to live at the beach, and found an apartment right on the water in Malibu that was part of a small complex owned by a bachelor who had more money than he knew what to do with.  We paid $850 a month for four years, and hung out with people like Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Sherilyn Wolter (Celia Quartermaine, on General Hospital), David Simkins (who wrote Adventures in Babysitting) and Ray Abruzzo, who would later go on to star as Little Carmine in The Sopranos.  I wanted to write screenplays, so I did, and after awhile, I wanted to get as far away from the film business as I could, because quite frankly,  as much as I love movies, I didn’t love writing, or the process of pouring my heart and soul into something that I found so intensely frustrating, and so incredibly unrewarding. Besides, everyone in Los Angeles is a screenwriter and I wasn’t good enough, at the time, to make much of an impact.

I went to work at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore for some perspective, and that’s where I saw gourd art for the first time.  When the woman who was making, and selling them, offered a class one fall, I asked my boyfriend at the time to sign me up as my birthday present.  I fell in love with gourds that weekend,  back when no one knew what a gourd was.  I had no idea Robert Rivera even existed at the time, and which I still think has benefited me greatly in terms of developing my own artistic style, because I had to teach myself everything I know now about gourds.  I had to learn to work with a surface that was curved in two directions, had to learn about tools and equipment, about photography, about applying to art shows, and then art galleries, how to write a contract, and what to say in a cover letter to a magazine editor.

oldgourdI was so naive about the art world that it never occurred to me there were rules, so I barged in where other artists “feared to tread”.  I saw a news brief in the back of Art of the West Magazine about an art show in wine country that featured some of the top Western and wildlife artists I’d been reading about, and so I decided to apply.  The gallery owner called me back and said she didn’t accept gourds because “they are a craft”, so I shot back that she obviously hadn’t seen mine, and I would appreciate it if she would at least take a look at my work before passing judgement.  I got into the show, and into the gallery and did extremely well at both.  I had my first, and only, sell out, a year later, at the San Dimas Art Festival, which is a funny story in itself, because after challenging anyone and everyone who said gourds weren’t a legitimate art form, I started getting into some of the best art shows in the country.  The day I delivered my work to the San Dimas art committee, I spent the entire rest of the day crying, I felt so out of my league.  The artists in the show were famous, at least among the Western art crowd, and I was embarrassed to have my pieces shown alongside theirs.  And by the end of the show, the only thing I had left to take home was a nice, big, fat check, and a tremendous amount of respect from my fellow artists.

piggycanvas1aA few years ago, I decided to test myself artistically to see what I was capable of.  I could design, woodburn, carve and paint a gourd with my eyes tied behind my back, but I felt horribly uncomfortable around canvas.  I liked the “cheat” of woodburning, and how fast acrylics dry, I was used to the curved surfaces of a gourd, and how to make allowances for imperfections in the gourds.  Painting on a flat surface felt foreign to me, but I wanted to see if I could paint things other than cougars and coyotes.  I am embarrassed to say that the first few weeks of this new experiment were horrible.  I hated oils, and canvas, and not working on something I could rest in my lap.  I missed my woodburning tool, and my Dremel, and thought most of what I was working on was dreadful.  I decided to take gourds in all different shapes, cut them into pieces, and reassemble them into works that were five and six feet tall, with contemporary themes.  I covered some with hundreds of flat backed beads, and painted others with copper and brass from powdered metals I found online.  I painted nursery rhymes, and Japanese geisha’s, and even found some bare wood frames that would allow me to expand the artwork beyond the edge of the canvas onto the frame itself.  I bought a hollow core door and woodburned a tiger on it that is two thirds the size of an actual tiger.  I was commissioned to create a piece for the executive producer of The Lord of the Rings with Frodo, Sam, and Golum, and painted a leopard in oil, on a three foot by five foot canvas, and just for the fun of it, reproduced an Ed Hardy painting from a Sailor Jerry’s campaign just to see if I could.

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And when I could see that the economy was turning on its ear, I decided to create “functional” artwork, that would allow a collector to justify the purchase, because the art had more than one function.  I turned to handbags like my life depended on it, then decorative boxes, then functional boxes,  day of the dead coffin boxes, boxes designed to look like vintage ads, or wine boxes with pin up girls on them, and recently began working my way back to gourd art again.  I am currently in the process of designing the largest and most elaborate gourd I have ever attempted, with every sort of creature I can think of to put on it, from hummingbirds to blue whales.  I expect this new piece to take at least four months to create, and when I am finished with it, I expect to sell it for more money than I have ever sold a single piece of artwork for, which is a pretty high bar considering that I’ve sold work for $22,500 in the past….

But that’s okay.

Because taking no for an answer just isn’t part of my internal make-up.  I may not have been born a Gourd Goddess.   But I will never stop reaching for the stars…..

wolf handbagI’ve made no secret of the fact that the last few years have been pretty rough.  I’ve had my ups and downs just like anyone else, but I’ve discovered they were minor setbacks at best compared to some of the challenges I’ve faced since 2009.  As a result,  I’ve learned how much more resilient I am than would have ever imagined.  I am braver, wiser, and more resourceful than I thought possible,  and after putting aside my art career to focus on saving my house and protecting my health, I’ve emerged from the past few years with an inspired and reinvigorated approach to art and writing that has resulted in a return to the gourd art I am best known for, a renewed passion for handbags and decorative box design, and the unwavering belief that my best years are ahead of me.

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I have four back to back art shows starting at the end of September and continuing through the end of October, a feat I have never attempted before.  I was accepted into the Armonk Outdoor Art Show in Armonk, New York (September 28 and 29) which I have been applying to for years without avail, plus I will also be exhibiting at An Occasion for the Arts in Williamsburg, Virginia (October 5 and 6), and the Lake Eden Arts Festival in Black Mountain, North Carolina (October 17, 18, 19 and 20).  I was told that several artists have applied to the Lake Eden Arts Festival since its inception and have never been accepted, while I got in on  my first try, which I have to admit, feels really nice.

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I was also invited to exhibit at the Smithsonian Craft2Wear Show in Washington, DC (October 25, 26 and 27), and was asked to bring my new wine boxes since the Gallo wine family will be in attendance, plus I am hard at work creating a line of decorative boxes and one of a kind humidors for men that will debut at this event as well.

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Five years ago, I was the top selling gourd artist in the country, with the sales of several $10,000 and $15,000 gourds to my credit. I am still  the only gourd artist to sell a single piece of gourd art for $22,500, but I gave up gourd art entirely the past few years when I went from my best year ever to my worst year ever, between 2008 and 2009.  I honestly thought that gourd art was over for me, since I had a basement full of gourds no one wanted, but not long ago I picked up a gourd and decided to start experimenting again, and the reaction to my first new piece in years was overwhelming,  11,000 people saw the dragonfly gourd I posted on facebook, and I sold that new piece, along with another, significantly more expensive work, at the Tryon Arts Center as part of their outstanding 2013 sculpture exhibit within just a few weeks of one another.  I am working on several new pieces for the Williamsburg show and hope to start getting into galleries and larger art shows with them again as well.

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Just a few days ago, I received my copy of the Page a Day Handbag calendar for 2014.  The publisher contacted me via email last summer and asked me to send photos of recent work, four of which made it into the calendar.  In fact, my handbags are the only ones in the entire calendar on a color background, and I am one of three handbag designers with more than one image on exhibit.  Most of the bags are from private collections and museums, and a large majority are vintage.  I was asked to submit photos for the 2015 calendar as well.

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My screenplay, LUCKY 13, about the Women’s Air Service Pilots,  was turned down by all five screenplay competitions I entered, however. the best of those competitions, the Nicholls Fellowship (offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), did say the script was among the top twenty percent of the over 7300 screenplay submissions they received.  So I did something that is generally frowned on in Hollywood; I sent copies of the script to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and included one of my best gourds in the submission to Steven Spielberg, who I understand is quite a fan of gourd art and artists.  It may never go anywhere, but you never know unless you try.

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Finally, I got tickets to The Daily Show in September, and am currently waiting for my confirmation to be a balloon handler again at this years Macy’s Parade.  I missed last years parade because of my broken ankle, but I promised my sponsor that if he could get me in again, I would come to the parade, even if I was on a stretcher!  And last, but by no means least, the 1969 Dodge Travco I have been working on for over 18 months is finally done and is currently on the auction block.  I taught myself about upholstery, laying carpet, and refinishing woodwork among a great many other things.  Check out the link on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJNvYfHnBmU&feature=youtu.be/

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