Friday, November 09, 2007

Flashback Friday: Gallery Assistant

Flashback seemed like a pretty good theme to continue, so here you go.

While I was home for the summer during college working on a BFA, my dad convinced me that I should try to get a studio at the Torpedo Factory Arts Center in Alexandria, VA. As an engineer, I think he wasn't really sure what I might do with a fine arts degree, saw plenty of artists making a living at TFAC, so why not me?

So, I visited studios and talked with artists about what they did there, how they got their studios (a jury selection) and how I, as an art student, might work toward getting a studio. Universally, they suggested I become a gallery assistant. I managed to make friends with another assistant, Jackie, and she gave my name to one of the artists, and I was in!

I worked there on weekends for different artists for over 10 years, and never once tried to get a studio. One of the points that the artists prided themselves on was that their work was not for hire, or commercially based. For example, a photographer who was paid to do a commercial shoot could not, by their tenets, display images that were from that shoot, no matter how beautiful. It was art for arts' sake.

My bent turned out to be graphic design, or working commercially, for hire. I enjoyed being around artists and still maintain a few friendships with folks I knew there. It's been almost three years since I worked there last.

The artist that I assisted for the longest time was evicted from her studio in 2005. Shortly after I stopped working for her, in fact. Toward the end, I was the only one opening her studio to the public and making sales for her. She had stopped coming to her studio during open hours and just worked on her art at night, when nobody else was around. She grew to hate dealing with the public and their intolerable questions. These actions were noncompliant with TFAC basic rules.

Her art was abstract prints, imbued with vibrant colors and enhanced with bright pastels. Even I would wince when some tourist from the heartland (insert twang) asked, "couldn't you have used a ruler to make any of those lines?" or my favorite, "my child could've painted that!"

I would really try hard to be her muse, phoning her weekly and giving her inspiring words about her work, and how the people really weren't that bad. It was a fine line to walk, because if I made a suggestion that was too concrete (that smacked of a commission) she would shut down and refuse to listen. I did my best to just stroke her ego and let her know which of her color combinations I loved best.

Two of her pieces are in my home, in Dash's room. She would hate that. Despite the bright colors and inticing geometric or biomorphically abstract shapes, she did NOT want her work to be considered suitable for children. Or really, even suitable for a living room. She actively did not want to know the final resting place of any of her prints.

I guess I understood where she was coming from. As an artist, would you really want someone coming to your studio, viewing the culmination of your life's work and saying, "hm, that doesn't really go with my couch..."?

That's what she had signed up for, but ultimately became disenchanted with it. The lesson here? Um, mental illness and fine artists are friends?


  1. great post :)

    as an aside, i remember one sunday morning when i took BC, nearly 3, to the torpedo factory. it was early morning, so most of the artists were not around. but we were just wandering, and we saw one artist working. we stood quietly, watching her from a distance. she invited us in and allowed BC to decorate a small piece of canvas. i still have that canvas with the simple line on it, and i have never forgotten her kindness.

  2. This really was a great post! And you killed the dismount, too; the last line is spot-on.


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