Wayne Michael Reich

Writing ∙ Photography ∙ Art


Month: August 2011

Collected in Seattle Part 3 of 2 (A Bagel for your thoughts.)

“You won’t regret the men you never killed, but you will regret the women you passed up.” – Bernard Cornwell 

Hello Blogiteers!

Good morning! You’re just in time for some breakfast. Now for those of you just straggling in from a late night, here is a recap of the past 24 hours:

I was showing my Art at a vanity gallery in Seattle, where both it and I were aggressively collected by a striking Linda Fiorentino look-alike. During said show, I was witness to the verbal castration of a faux Jim Morrison whose douche-bag mode was fortunately [for me] stuck in full throttle, and I tested my multitasking skills while driving back to my newest patron’s place.

Overall opinion? Best Art Show Ever. I swear on the happy little grave of Bob Ross.

Now, I am aware that there has been a huge gap of time in between this blog and my last magnum opus, and I do apologize. I’ve just been exceedingly busy what with life and all, and honestly- there might have been a fair amount of laziness on my part.

Ooops. My bad. To make for up it, I return you to the morning after, and the conclusion of my tale. After waking up and showering, I headed downstairs and beheld an amazing sight. Well… two, actually: the first was “Astrid” wearing a just short enough bathrobe, and the second was a home made breakfast, just like the ones you saw as a kid on the side of the Count Chocula box. Or Boo- Berry if that’s your thing… it’s ok, I won’t judge.

Awesome was the sight that I beheld coming down those stairs: Eggs. Tea. Bacon. Cereal. Danish. Sausage. Milk. Sliced Fruit. OJ. Cheese. Mango Juice. Strudel. Coffee.

And two, yes, TWO,  kinds of Toast, along with English Muffins and Croissants. It was like I had died and gone to Heaven’s *IHOP.

[International House Of Pancakes, for the uninitiated- I recommend the Migas, they are so OMFG yummy.]

Cut me some slack, ok? I was single, in my early twenties, and “Breakfast” for me usually consisted of a Coke and a Pop Tart. Odd that I became Diabetic when I turned thirty, isn’t it? After the night I had experienced, seeing what was essentially an urban myth for me come to life on that table literally blew my mind. That breakfast, along with the eventual conversation I was about to be served, was the catalyst for my eventually becoming a serious Artist.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, I was somewhat on my way, but I had absolutely no clue what I was doing in regards to building a serious career- I was making it up as I went. Without any advice on how to be an artist other than what I had been able to glean from books, my path had seen both wondrous glory and crushing humiliation.

By way of example, after accepting payment of $1100.00 for a private commission, I had unknowingly waived full usage rights to one of my most popular artistic designs, by signing a one-sided contract which while arguably unethical… was sadly quite legal. Fortunately, I was able to reassert my rights to ownership of said Image, but only after a very arduous and stressful negotiation process lasting almost a year and a half- during which I discovered that my former client had made a profit just shy of $25,000.00 off my work, a very expensive learning curve, which I am proud to say has never been repeated.

With that painful lesson in mind, one of my future life-goals is to form a Mentor Gallery where experienced Artists could and would, lend their knowledge and expertise to young creatives who are just starting out.

Ideally, art theory and technique would be taught as mainstays, but the “ropes” of being a professional Artist would also be addressed- the vagaries of contract law, how to present and market one’s work, along with forging truly professional long term relationships with both Agents and Galleries.

You know…. the really sexy part about being an Artist?

Fortunately, someone else in PHX seems to share the same vision as I do, but has actually managed to make their vision a concrete reality, and her name is Shannon Youso. Shannon is the President and co-founder along with her brother Dustin, of The Bergamot Institute, [http://bergamotinstitute.org/] which is a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit arts organization based in PHX, AZ.

From Bergamot’s Mission statement: “The Bergamot Institute exists to support the creative work of local artists of all ages by providing work space and supplies to those who would otherwise not have access to such, and by cultivating an environment of productivity and inspiration through events, shows, and collaborative projects, while connecting the local community to the art and environment we uphold.”

The Artbitch can totally get behind this concept 100%, and so should you, as state funding for the Arts keeps getting cut, and art programs for kids keep falling by the wayside. Every donation you make to Bergamot is tax-deductable, and it all helps, whether it’s a pallet of art supplies, volunteering your time, or contributing whatever money you can to help keep viable this very important community resource.

Think of the children. Are you just going to sit there and not help the children? I didn’t think so… you big softies, you. Moving on… we return to the breakfast table and an unforeseen discussion begins regarding my artistic future. Considering that the night before I had sold* seven paintings, and had one heckuva nightcap, it would be fair to say that my Ego was pretty much un-freaking touchable at that point.

[*She called in on the way back to her place- know your anatomy kids, it’s truly the key to selling your Art.]

Some time ago, a very close friend told me that attempts to ding my Ego were akin to throwing Ping-Pong balls at a Sherman Tank. At best, all you possibly might manage to do is scratch the paint. Not surprisingly, he may have a valid point. I can be, and have been, a cynical, egotistical, self-righteous son of a bitch at times.

I will admit to possessing these major flaws of character. Happily, in fact. But I have gotten better at keeping them in check as I’ve gotten older. For example, it’s been ages since I referred to myself in the third person, and even longer since a human sacrifice was demanded in my name. But in regards to my perceived public persona, it serves as a defense of sorts whose origins go back to when I was an underweight art dork in High School.

Summing up: self-protection. The Artbitch cannot be touched, and the Artbitch gets away with a lot. You really have no idea. Oh, I know… you think you do, but you are miles away from where the reality actually lies. When encountering the unfamiliar or strange, I generally like to keep a metaphorical arm’s length between me and whatever I am currently dealing with.

The Artbitch persona is a very effective tool in this regard.

I can’t honestly say I dislike this state of being, it’s almost liberating at times. Think of it as an extended exercise in group schadenfreude. Or to use a more accurate analogy, it’s like I own the world’s biggest set of Evil Lego- it’s dangerous to just open the box, but still tons of fun to play with, nonetheless.

While it can also bite back fairly hard, I usually break even on most days, so there is a balance of sorts.
Due to certain life experiences, I’m naturally wary when I meet new people, and the most common phrases that have been used to describe me seem to vary between “hyper”, “arrogant”, “egotistical” and my new personal favorite as of late: “intense”. I can see why this is. I’m somewhat focused when I’m passionate about something, and grudgingly, I will admit that sometimes my energy can be a little too much to take.

The running joke is that like mold, I will eventually grow on you, given enough time and exposure. Failing that, I’ll just keep hammering away until I grind you down.

What can I say, except… I obviously need some sort of hobby to eat up my free time.

Sorry. I appear to have gone slightly off target yet again. I do apologize. Back to Breakfast. As I start stuffing my face like a starving dog under a banquet table, “Astrid” grabs her cup of coffee, sits down, and gives me a look that could only be described as piercing.

And she says nothing… for almost five minutes. While staring at me intensely.

Urk. This cannot possibly be a good thing, right? Granted, I was wearing a floral print towel, but…. finally the tension is broken as she says; “Well… someone looks happy this morning. Um…. DUH?

I just had the most amazing night of my life thus far, am currently eating a mythical breakfast, and at the risk of being somewhat crude, the seating position that I had chosen offered me the best opportunity to look straight down “Astrid’s” … um…. face. Yes… we’ll run with that, I think. I was looking at her face.

Definitely looking at her face.

It’s a good thing that I’m naturally subtle to begin with, especially since I was just sitting there, gob-smacked, and grinning like a schmuck.  Note to self: when the very striking and charitable lady asks you a question, you actually give a very intelligent answer in response. BTW… did I happen to mention that I’m also an idiot?

Good, because that information is gonna come in real handy in about a minute or so.

Wittily, I fire back; “Well, that’s only because someone gave a good night.” Another note to self: do not break arm patting self on the back. “Astrid” smiles, sets down her coffee, and maintaining her rather direct stare, says;

“So… you had a GREAT night, thank you very much- sold some Art, and judging by the rate you’re packing away that bacon, have apparently never eaten any pork in your life.”

 Slowly, I put down my 29th piece of cancer-strip yumminess.

“The immediate question I have for you is when this weekend is over, and you go back to your tiny little apartment and your… let’s for the sake of argument, refer to it as a “job”- what will you do then?”

Noting my slightly puzzled look,  she notes: “Ahh. NO idea whatsoever, I see. Can I assume the overall plan is to work at a place you hate, with a boss you hate, doing a job you hate for the rest of your life?”

Weakly, I may have uttered something about my then-current gig being “transitional”, and how it was only a minor rut in my metaphorical journey of self awareness..

“Astrid” doesn’t buy it: “UmHmm. Why don’t I believe you? Oh, that’s right. You’re a terrible liar.“

I attempt to rationalize my then-current situation, but she sweetly cuts me off:

“Look, I’m not saying that you should know where you’re going, but you should at least have an idea of where you’d like to eventually be. Granted, you’re still kind of raw in the talent department, but you’ve got drive, which is one of the reasons why you’re standing here, slowly decimating the pork surplus of Seattle.

I consider myself a pretty good judge of potential- and all that art you saw last night before we started…”

Smirking, I inquisitively raise an eyebrow… (blushing as she says) “Um… you know… anyway, that, all of that- was purchased before anyone knew who they were, and what they were capable of, including themselves. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, but I don’t believe for a second that you’re as happy as you say you are.”
Ok, that might have been true, but still… ouch?

“You don’t have to “suffer” for your Art, nor do you have to slave away in some hovel, unappreciated and undiscovered, either. You’re better than this, and deep down… you know it.” She takes a sip of her coffee, and as she reaches for an apple slice, says: “Our mutual Fairy Godmother tipped you off about me last night, didn’t he?” As I lift my strip of previously abandoned bacon, I shake my head “no”- and feign surprise at her query.

Note to self (again): either take some damn acting lessons, or learn how to lie competently. UmHmm. Sure. I don’t know what he told you, but I’m not the artsy version of the Plaster-casters, or some co-dependent artist groupie. If I really don’t like your Art, and more importantly- you, you’re not coming home with me, and you are certainly not staying for breakfast.

She continues: “I collect what Art I find meaningful, and I f**k those whom I find fascinating. You pique my interest, and not for the reasons you might think.” Once again, I raise an eyebrow inquisitively... (shaking her head) “Don’t get me wrong, you are cute in a charmingly awkward kind of way, but that’s not the reason I picked you up, nor is it because that at the time we first met I was being optically molested by a Neanderthal wearing plastic cow-skin pants, and you were the slightly better option.”

[Well, that’s one good theory of mine right out the window.]

“Granted, he was a raging jackass next to you, but I liked your work, and your genuine excitement at my interest in it, impressed me even more. You were actually talking to me, unlike Sir Swagger, who didn’t really seem to know or care… where my eyes were located.

As I said before, I consider myself a pretty good judge of potential, and I believe you’re pretty close to actually developing some.”

That seemed a tad… shall we say harsh? Granted, I’m no Peter Lindbergh, but even still… yee-ouch. However, she did make me breakfast, and let’s not forget the night before when she… you know what? We should just move on.

“You want to be an Artist? Than be a damn Artist. I don’t care what your family thinks, I don’t care what your friends think, all that matters is what you think. Your life, your rules, your way. Stop trying to please everyone, the exception being yourself- you’re the one that actually counts.”

Oh yes… I liked this lady’s style. However. I did raise the point that while her pep talk was stirring, it was hardly the safest move, and I was in no position to go jumping off any old cliff on the basis of what I “wanted” to be. As a way of defending my self-righteous POV, I pointed out that when I was much younger, I, at one time, had wanted to be all of the following:

Commander of Moon Base Alpha, The Demon from Kiss, Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Evel Knieval, Steve “Bionic Man” Austin, Dar Robinson, (Google Him!) Batman, Han Solo, Pele, a Criminologist, Indiana Jones, a stand-up comedian, Captain America, the A-Team’s “Face”, Jim Phelps, Van Helsing, Dracula (who says I couldn’t be both?), James Tiberius Kirk, and a member of Voltron.

But only if I was a cool part- preferably the head or the hand that shoots those giant missiles. Either or- I’m really not that picky. Unfortunately, my impassioned argument fell on deaf ears as far as “Astrid” was concerned, and she summed up her feelings with a simple phrase: “Bulls***t- you’re just scared.” Um… Duh? I had good reason to be- slowly starving to death is something I generally try to avoid, being that the creative Arts aren’t exactly a sure route to a well stocked cupboard- not by a long shot.

Being an Artist is sometimes like being a Porn Star: there’s high risk, low reward, and the odds are fairly good that your parents will be too embarrassed to tell other people what you actually do for a living.
To this day, mine usually tell everyone that I’m in “sales”. It also takes a lot of inner strength, and quite frankly- most peeps ain’t got it.

Artists aren’t wired like the rest of our fellow primates, and we tend to “see” things differently. This ability can be both a help and a hindrance, depending on the circumstances that we may find ourselves in, and to be committed to this path takes fortitude and determination, while also accepting that your gift may never bear fruit that will prove useful to you. However, if you’re strong enough, it’s one hell of a ride.

And it isn’t boring, either. Granted, I don’t make tons of Benjamin’s, but I get paid to do what I love, and that’s not a bad tradeoff, as far as I’m concerned. Taking the first step on the path however, required me to actually take some initiative- which at that time, I was seemingly unable to do.

This paralysis was due to the bane of all Artists: fear of failure. Ironic was this, since technically at that time I was well on my way to becoming a failure, and in retrospect, really couldn’t have fallen any further down the career ladder. Granted, rock bottom does have a basement, but even worse than that, I was stuck in place with no idea how to move forward or upward.

Until Seattle, that is.

Looking around at “Astrid’s” rather voluminous collection of works ranging from Paintings to Video Art by some seriously heavy hitters of Art, it dawns that rather than just being a nice side gig to earn some extra money every now and then, I just might be able to turn my talent into an actual career. To accomplish that however, I needed to actually create a strategic game plan, and that’s where I really lucked out in regards to hooking it up with “Astrid”.

She already had one prepped for me. This was shaping up to be one heckuva of a morning, let me tell you. Sitting me down, she whips out a yellow legal pad and starts schooling me in the second most important aspect of being an Artist- the business side.

Was that a collective groan I heard among you?
Borrrrinnngggg! You say, and I won’t argue the point- I HATE the business side, too. Having to micromanage every spent dollar, dealing with unethical and usually uninteresting people, plus- there’s also the marketing, promotion, show planning, gallery vetting and other various sundries to fold in as well.

Hardly the stuff of adventure, but it IS very important, and I cannot stress this enough. Most Artists as a rule, have no head (or stomach) for business, and that’s where us Creatives usually get screwed like an altar boy sleeping over at a snowed-in seminary. But not this Artbitch, especially after the debacle I mentioned earlier in this narrative. I’m all about getting paid- I create freely, I don’t give freely, much to the annoyance of some in this barely functioning scene.

They won’t work for free. Why the f**k should I? My detractors, faced with the reality that I can run circles around them while standing still, usually like to fall back on their biased observation that I have (GASP!) an inherently commercial style to my work. 

Personally, I’m not upset with their limited opinion, since most of my critics tend to hide in the anonymous shadows of the Internet while hissing at me from under their bed. The opinions of persons I don’t know, like, fear, or most importantly, respect- truly cut zero ice with me, and as they are impotent in creativity and lack the ability to affect my career, I can usually ignore them.

Unless of course, it would be more fun to screw with them- sending out the occasional bitch-slap for my own dark amusement, as it were.

So, what does “commercial” mean exactly? The Definition of Commercial:

1. Of or relating to commerce: a commercial loan; a commercial attaché.

2. Engaged in commerce: a commercial trucker.         

3. Involved in work that is intended for the mass market: a commercial artist.

4. Having profit as a chief aim: a commercial book, not a scholarly tome.

By my definition, it translates as: successful. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I sell my Art for money, nor am I embarrassed  that some of my work is purposefully designed to sell. It’s called business, boys and girls, and that’s how the world works.

So deal with it already. And no, I don’t want to hear how money completely “taints the purity” of the creative process either. Like a dog that humps your leg, it only does so if you let it, so get off the soap box.
As I have said in the past, if you want to remain an undiscovered genius, more power to you, I hope you enjoy your Top Ramen.

However, if you truly want to make a living off your Art, I’m afraid you’ll have to swallow your art school pride and come over to the Dark Side. It’ll be okay.  We have Ding Dongs, and our dental plan absolutely rocks.

Speaking of the Dark Side, I was feeling completely overwhelmed by “Astrid’s” half-dressed business seminar, as she covered topics I had never even thought of- finding out I could declare a portion of my book addiction was a revelation, along with the added spice of it being just plain freaking sweet.

Despite feeling lost, I was paying attention, however. Knowledge is power- the more you know, the better armed you’ll be, and I prefer to be armed to the teeth. Every now and then when I’m in a meeting with some soulless grey suit who’s trying (literally) to take what’s mine via legal chicanery, it’s ever so much fun to see the smug look on their face get sandblasted off when it turns out that I actually know what they’re trying to pull.

[Tip: Having a lawyer to balance the scales also doesn’t hurt.]

Just because you’re creative and artsy, that doesn’t mean you have to be naive- it also does not preclude you from making an effort at being savvy regarding your future. To accomplish this, I have personally adopted the following rules, inspired by Nikki Siixx of Motley Crue whose own version references the music business, the other side of the creative coin.

There is no “Art Scene” without Art- they need us more than we need them.

Learn your Rights. Stand up for them. And if necessary, jam them down throats.

Do it yourself. Keep it yourself. And keep your leverage.

It’s yours for the making, not theirs for the taking.

Business is War. Bring all your weapons, and brandish them without mercy .

Wow. That’s some pretty heartless stuff right there. Well, actually it isn’t- it’s reality, it’s business, and you need to accept it. To be honest, I also once held the raw belief that all my works would be Masterpieces of the Soul, until the day someone paid me an obscene amount of money to paint a Transformers mural in their house. I didn’t wind up trading in my ethics, nor did this windfall alter my artistic vision in regards to the Art I produced.

Let me explain it another way- to quote Sir Paul Mc Cartney : “Somebody said to me, ‘But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.’ That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, ‘Now, let’s write a swimming pool.'”

Did the fact that they wrote product specifically to generate income diminish their talent or artistic vision? Of course not, because they were still the freaking Beatles.

They understood that at the end of the day, bills need to get paid, no matter what- so sometimes you do the commercial to fund the creative, and that’s one of the lessons I learned that day- the other being that when a very attractive brunette is sitting half-naked directly in front of you, your focus does tend to go waaay up.

If my college classes had been set up like this, I would have graduated with a Master’s Degree in Fractal Astrophysics, rather than the Associate of Arts I currently possess. But thanks to, or despite- the visual aids, “Astrid’s” twelve page legal pad lesson made a lasting impression, and was the main catalyst in my decision to jump off the metaphorical cliff and become a professional Artist.

So after a brief and enjoyable recess, we proceeded to the gallery where I picked up my check, and waltzed around the inevitable questions about “Astrid” foisted upon me by my Honorary Fairy Godmother. A true gentleman never talks. He apparently does write, however. Ooops. My bad. Again.

[Side Note: I was also enlightened by my “Fairy Godmother” that the size of the morning after breakfast you received was directly proportional to how well you… um… you know. I’m sure if I had to do it today, I’d be lucky to score a bagel.]

That week I spent in Seattle was the first pivotal moment that literally changed my life, the second being my near death experience in July of 2009 [More on this in my next blog.] and I am truly grateful for it. Who knows what path I would have walked if it hadn’t been for her? My mind boggles at the thought.

 It’s been several years since I’ve run into “Astrid”, the last time being some five or six years ago in Los Angeles at a friend’s gallery show, and she looked good. Real good. Dorian Gray kind of good. Had not aged a bit, is what I’m saying here.

In her wake trailed her newest find, a 20 year old sculptor from Wyoming, and he was all shades of puppy dog love in her presence. It was actually kind of adorable, to be honest. After recognizing each other, we briefly chatted about past and hopefully future glories, and I was formally introduced to her newest acquisition, of whom I then took stock.

Cuter than me. In better shape than I was then. Tall, dark and handsome. With excellent teeth. And really, really nice. You know… your basic nightmare. Thankfully, there was some salve for my Ego, gleaned from my brief conversation with “Astrid”.

He was younger.

He was cuter.

He was even a considerably better Artist… but he only got a bagel.

“What is better than wisdom? Woman. And what is better than a good woman? Nothing.”- Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales)