Archives for posts with tag: Contemporary Art

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.

LOTRtroutcontemporary1sailorjerrysIMG_0600bluejayevan_elvishighres#B1A6heytigerlargegeishapaintingpin up girl wine boxdodcoffinleopardhandbagflowerbox

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…..

I don’t get contemporary art, and after watching a recent episode of 60 Minutes, I don’t think I ever will.  Morley Safer visited Art Basel in Miami as a follow-up to a segment he’d done on contemporary art twenty years ago, and as he wandered through exhibitions that included blue plastic casts of bathroom fixtures, a set of vintage lawn chairs (where I come from they call that patio furniture, not art)  and the gigantic skeleton of a dead dog lying on its back, I thought, I don’t get this either.  It almost seems like the more outlandish an idea is, the more committed some overpaid, over-educated, intellectually superior art snob is determined to convince you that the pile of crap you are looking at has great significance in the advancement of human culture, and if you don’t agree, then YOU are an idiot.

I will confess to a certain level of genius on the part of artists and gallery owners to slap some fancy words about “what it all means” on a plaque beside a can of cigarette butts and some used condoms that some cleaning lady at a gallery in London LOST HER JOB over after sweeping it all into a dustbin because the “installation” had just sold for some ridiculous amount of money, but seriously?  How can anyone actually buy into this garbage?

I wanted to scream when a gallery owner describing a new piece by a Korean artist to the Guggenheim’s head curator spoke solemnly and with great intensity about the “sadness” of  this artist’s work, and how it captured the tragic paradigm of our own tangled lives. This “tragic paradigm” was an IV stand draped in a tangled extension cord with a couple of plastic leis tossed over it, and looked like it took all of twenty minutes to assemble, including the trip to the Dollar Store for $6 worth of supplies.

This isn’t the first time I’ve blown a gasket over the contemporary art market either.  Not by a long shot.  I had to give up my subscription to  Art News Magazine several years ago because I used to throw it across the room every month.  First, there was an article on a French artist who bought terra-cotta pots from Home Depot and spray painted them gold (they sold for HUGE sums of money),  a guy who spent years tiling very square inch of his home, and then several more tearing all the tile back out again to protest  consumerism (at least, I think that was what his art  was supposed to “represent”).  There was the trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art several years ago for a Vasily Kandinsky exhibit that, inexplicably started with an artist I’d never heard of before.  Her work was benign enough to begin with, but I eventually found myself in a darkened room, lit only by a single light bulb, staring at  row upon row of dead birds and mice in crocheted outfits.  The accompanying wall text explained that this was artist, Annette Messager’s “homage to women’s work”.  Messager found dead birds and mice in her Parisian neighborhood,  took them home where she bathed them, made clothes for them, then put them in a baby carriage and walked them through the streets of Paris with them, and “when they were bad, she would punish them”.

I create art with my hands, my heart and the images in my head and I am really, really good at what I do.  I also can’t get arrested as an artist, and yet some crazy French broad can get an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with dead sparrows in a crocheted scarf, and the Tate Gallery in Liverpool proudly exhibits a can of artist excrement that cost them $30,000 because its one of the few that didn’t blow up after being sealed.   This artist got the idea to take a crap in a can and sell it for the cost of what an equal amount of gold would cost at the time, and while I must admit to a grudging respect for the moxy it took to dream up such a scam, I just can’t get my head around the fact that someone bought a can of poop on purpose and then triumphantly splashed the purchase all over the pages of an art magazine.

I don’t get the art, I don’t get the artists and I don’t get the multibillionaires who spend fortunes on stuff I wouldn’t have in my house on a bet.  Eli Broad bought a “premiere” piece for a small fortune of what looked like someone running down an alley.  I couldn’t tell if it was charcoal, or pencil or acrylic, but I do know it was really REALLY ugly, and if that is what passes for “premiere” art these days, then he can have it.

I went to an exhibition at the Temporary Contemporary in Los Angeles a few years ago because several artists I had only heard about were in a group display.  I’d never seen work by Kiki Smith, Red Grooms and Brice Marden, and while I am still not in the least bit impressed by any of them, it was a woman whose name I chose not to remember who sent me fleeing from the building in a complete fury.  Her “installation” involved a giant block of chocolate with the edges chewed off, a heap of Crisco that had started to melt, and at the other end of the room, a glass case filled with chocolate lipsticks.  A video interview with the “artist” accompanied the work, so I decided to find out what I was missing.   This very lovely, very soft-spoken, VERY well-connected young woman spoke about her passion for sculpture and the great masters like Rodin and Michelangelo.  She said she wanted to “emulate” their style and so she thought, and thought, and thought, and realized that she could approximate the greats BY CHEWING THE EDGES OFF A BLOCK OF CHOCOLATE AND REGURGITATING CRISCO BY THE MOUTHFUL then forming the chocolate and Crisco into a consumer product as an indictment of female vanity.  Are you kidding me?

Not to be outdone, I went home and decided to cut and reassemble several gourds in different shapes and sizes, “paste” them back together with glue and dowel rods and Bondo, then paint them or cover them with glass beads and you know what I got?

Those are phallic.

Maybe I should have draped some tangled extension cords over them, spray painted the whole thing gold and crocheted sweaters for them to wear.