I’ve taken a key step in my life as an artist – I’ve found a local printer, Black and White Photographics who were happy to walk an anxious and print illiterate artist through the process of converting original works to quality prints. This is a project I have been wanting to get off the ground for a long time, but struggling to find resources and information. I visited many different local printers and none of them knew anything about art prints or could refer me. The urgency was rather increased as someone wants to buy one of my oil paintings and I can’t let go of the original unless I have a high quality digital image of it, and I also want to put it into a better frame. A friend referred me to these folks over Facebook, and Rose took me to see them yesterday morning. I asked a lot of questions and was given a lot of information I hadn’t known about how it all works and how to deal with the reproduction side of selling art.
Then we got back into the van and I cried. It’s exciting but overwhelming! Even leaving my originals with the printer was stressful and strange. It’s so different from poetry and writing… with those, I can win an award or publish a work and I still have it! Usually I still even have the original handwritten version in my journals. But with art – you let it go. And my work is… well, it’s kind of pieces of my heart. Parts of my life story. They are incredibly precious to me. I’ve saved my art collection from several bouts of homelessness and other major crises, even from my own impulse to destroy them (most common when I’m feeling chronically suicidal). Holding onto them has been a kind of expression of… value. To me. That I think what I do has value. Even if I’m the only one. That we promise we won’t destroy each other’s work, even if we hate it or it scares us and we have to hide it from view. Creation has been part of our “those who don’t build must burn” approach to life, something integral that helps to keep us alive, keep our heart alive, document our story.
Other people’s reaction to my work is a whole different ball game. Selling it, different again! The printer told me my work was under priced and estimated a retail price at about double what I was asking. This is the work I was told several times was over priced and would sell easily if I would just drop it down. I stubbornly held onto it. I knew what it was worth to me, I caculated i’s value to me in paint – what would I be willing to bear parting with it for? Better paints, and enough for another few works… I’ve only let go of three original works (apart from those I’ve given as gifts, before I pulled my focus in tighter – more art, less craft, more personal, less generic) and in all cases I don’t have a copy or a quality photograph and it hurts. I stopped selling them and only made an exception for my best friend, knowing I’d be able to ask for it back to get a print done once I figured out how and where I could do that. In my last solo exhibition 2 years ago, I was told the works would not be offered for sale, which suited me… On the opening night, three different people were keen to buy the same ink painting. I took their details and promised to get back to them and never did. How could I? I knew every detail of that painting, where I was when she was born in my mind, what dreams I was having, what was going on in my life, where I sat to paint her, how I mixed the inks, chose the paper. She’s part of me. So I’ve slid quietly away from every offer since. I put up works of ‘backup work’ not finals, for sale in another group exhibit for people with a disability, priced them modestly, sold a couple, and again was told – I’m pricing too high. People would buy much more if they didn’t have to pay $40 for an original. Again I resisted the devaluing, calculated their worth to me in a kind of trade – I want another bottle of ink ($30, with postage), I want to buy a better quality brush ($60), and I’d part with the Blue Rose for a brush I guess, and that dog for a bottle of ink, but not less.
A number of people have contacted me over the last week about buying prints of their favourite work once I’ve arranged that. A few want the originals once I’m ready to part with them. I have two art exhibitions in the works I need to find a gallery or exhibit space for. (and time to arrange!) Rose is helping take on some of this side of things for/with me because I’m out of time and out of my depth. I need to get hold of a website designer to help me set up a beautiful online gallery. Rose has believed I would have a professional art career since she first met me. I’m just able to see it now, as I’m learning about the incredible diversity of arts practice, as I’m finding words like Community Artist and Hybrid Artist that fit what I’m feeling my way into… as always for me – I do things, moved by instinct and guided by values. After I’ve done them, I stop and reflect – what was that? What am I doing? What does it mean? And I have to find something to reflect upon, a language to think about it. Sometimes that takes many years!
So yesterday, I sat in the van, crying, and so exhilarated I could hardly think straight. We went on a trip to Victor Harbour through the mad stormy weather. (Rose drove) I was so crazy silly in the petrol shop the cashier burst out laughing and thanked me for brightening her day. When it hailed on us I was so flooded with joy, the sheer childlike pleasure I was laughing and crying out and felt like my heart would explode. My paints are calling to me and the night is calling to me and the storm is calling to me and my beach is calling to me.
We had a great day and I didn’t explode. We spent it with friends, playing games, eating good food, talking about our lives and families and the futures. Talking about Tamlorn and donors and how sad this path can be, how hard it can be. All day I tugged on people’s shirts in quiet moments to say, in bewildered joy – ‘someone wants to buy my art’!
Driving home late that night, through the squalls and gusts of wind and I’m impossible. I feel like a great, wild creature in me that has been chained has suddenly been freed, and it’s gambolling in bursts in every direction and snapping teeth at everything, it’s feet, the stars, the wind, so fiercely joyful and unbounded and un-contained it’s impossible to be anywhere near… and Rose and I talk about our split desires, how deeply she loves home at the moment, sinking roots into a stable home, planting trees. And I talk about how free I felt in the van, how alive I feel when I sleep somewhere I can feel the night and hear the rain. I am sad and torn and full of wild dreams. I dream up a mad studio for my back yard – a four poster bed, covered in canvas to keep off the rain, with an easel that swings over it for painting or poetry writing and a covered candle lantern for light the wind can’t blow into a bed fire, and netting to keep away the bugs… I can see myself in it some nights, out the back under the moon, the bed like a boat on the night sea, my speckled dog with me, and the wildness in me runs free and howls through my veins, such splendid joy. All the wild things in me turn their faces to the stars and howl, a cacophony of sound, a deep solidarity, a yearning and a coming home. No more the shadows. No more the whip and the bridle. Unchanged and unbroken. Free to be as they are.
I cannot contain such joy. I cannot bear it or hold it in. I am swept along by it, by the intense self awareness – “all things pray by being themselves” – my life no longer devoted to the breaking in of my wilds, to the conforming of my madness. My day people are finally the stewards of my night people, finally unpicking the locks and letting the whips lie still. Even just for a night. I am so alive. We are so alive it is unbearable. I cannot know it, and be unchanged. Everything sings to me. The night calls me home.