Making Art in the Provinces
This one is a little different, more about a story I have shared with some of you, but maybe worth telling more broadly along with a new image collaboration with my FB friend, Emmanuel Derren, who like me, lives far from New York City. The year was 1976, I was a grad student at the U of Wisconsin, UW-Madison Art Department and working on a seminar project with my cohort and major professor Hal Lotterman to create an “artist’s survival manual”. I took on creating a chapter about gallery representation, writing letters and making calls to several New York City gallery owners to learn of their perspective and advice to young artists emerging from schools. Three owners were willing or able to take the time to talk with me, Ivan Karp, Louis Meisel and Leo Castelli. Mssrs. Karp and Meisel were very approachable and shared a common view that the most important thing for an artist seeking representation is to work hard, produce a solid body of work and to be willing to work with the gallery who is interested. My perception of their comments was and remains that the partnership requires flexibility and patience and persistence.
Castelli was also willing to take the call, and answered the set of questions I had prepared, though he was less approachable and gave me the sense that he had better things to do, which may well have been the case given the role his gallery and stable of artists held at that time. In fact, I was in awe that all three of these major influencers on the art scene would take the time to talk with an unknown. There was something that Castelli said when I asked about what he thought it meant to make “Great Art”, and whether it was possible to work outside New York City and be successful that stood out. His reply, and I quote:
“No, it is not possible to create Great Art in the provinces!”
I had a feeling that the bias toward having his artists live and work in The City was present from early on in the conversation, but this comment later in our discussion was still a shocking reality to me, and one that I carried with me for all these years as a significant statement. Clearly, Castelli was correct that for commercial success, at least in his stable, living in New York City was crucial at the time. The art energy in New York City is such a huge, palpable force that I think there are still strong implications for artists. However, we are in a new world where many of my Facebook artist connections are not only working in the provinces, but are global. I wonder what the historians will write 40 years from now about the “great artists” of this decade.
After all these intervening years, I wanted to have some fun with Castelli’s comments to me and found a designer online (Emmanuel) via Facebook and a FB ad. Emmanuel has worked with me to create the work here, in a role that is similar to that of other studios where the artist has a support team (think Warhol’s Factory, or Chihuly’s glass studio). Emmanuel lives in Greece at the moment, we are clearly representations of a new potential in global creative conversations and collaboration. I am not suggesting that this work is great, but I hope it is a fun parody and evocative as a question about whether one needs to live in New York City to advance a career. I have enjoyed the interaction at a distance with Emmanuel and think that the advent of social networking brings us to an interesting point in the history of art, the availability of anyone to connect with art in a rich set of ways and a globally accessible marketplace.
Choosing Lichtenstein for this derivative lies in his spending most of his time in Ohio until his first show at Castelli’s gallery, which sold out in advance of the opening. Shortly after that show, Lichtenstein moved to New York City and cemented his place in art history. Later in life, he split his time, working there and at a place in Southampton.
I created a painting at a scale of about 52 3/4″ H X 67 3/4 ” W, derived from a photo of my wife, Connie and myself, as the first thing off my easel in my new studio out here in the Washington State Province.
Jan Anders Nelson
Gig Harbor, Washington
November 19th, 2015