I live in a big old house, the kind realtors call a “handyman’s special” but it has everything an artist could want: a north light studio and an enormous finished attic that runs the entire length of the house. I’ve lived there for almost half a century, so you can imagine all the artwork that’s stored up there. Last year, I decided to “get organized” (my paintings were all poking into one another, getting ruined) so I splurged and bought four metal painting storage racks on wheels on sale at Jerry’s Artarama, figuring they would cost a lot less than a carpenter and were more versatile. Now, the attic is nice and neat and you can actually walk around and see most of what’s up there. The racks are so well designed they move at the touch of a finger, perfect for showing my work to the hordes of buyers and galleristas I one day expect to be banging on my door!
Yesterday, my artist friend Rachel came over and I took her up to the attic. While suitably impressed with how orderly it was, all “racked” up, she spotted a stash of older work I hadn’t looked at in decades. It was like meeting old friends after a long absence. The problem was that they were too good, a bummer, better than most of what I am doing today. Some of the work was done 40 years ago, when I was still a “newcomer” to Stamford and able to see the social scene with a detached, satirical eye. Now that I am more involved in local politics, it’s harder to poke fun at suburban foibles and my work no longer has the same bite. Insiders can’t be outsiders. Going back even further, there are boxes of “art school work,” (dreadful, amateurish stuff) that I keep for sentimental reasons, or if one day, by some miracle, I get to be famous.
The whole purpose of organizing the attic was to set up a place to photograph my work. I have no idea what I have done over the years and, as I grow older, I feel it important to create an archive, even if no one ever looks at it. Throughout my life as an artist, my purpose was to create something of artistic or social value, not to make money; I never set out to sell my work and those of you who have ever tried to buy something from me know how difficult it is. I can never come up with a price; I usually ask people to tell me how much they are willing to spend (often considerably more than I had in mind.)
Meanwhile, one half of the attic is filled with art; the other half is storage and a photo studio. In addition to the stretched paintings in the racks, there are a couple of dozen large, rolled-up canvases I need to look at. Truthfully, I have no idea what’s on them, not having seen them in at least a decade. They might be good, or they might be dreadful; if the latter I can always cover them with a coat of gesso and start over. There are dozens of supermarket boxes filled with my dioramas of urban life stuffed under the eaves, the part of attic where you can’t stand up. I recently discovered two, eight-foot tall, free-standing cutouts, the remains of an exhibit I guest-curated at the Stamford Museum fifteen years ago called “Vulcan’s Forge;” I had forgotten about them.