Thursday, April 15, 2010

CraftBoston Debrief

I just got back from the CraftBoston show over the weekend. I was very impressed with the quality of the show. The vast majority of artists also participated in the most competitive juried shows in the country, including the Smithsonian and Philadelphia Museum shows. Unfortunately, the majority of people I talked with (but certainly not all) were disappointed with sales. As a wall art artist I almost feel like the entertainment between jewelery and clothing booths (where the majority of sales occur). After two really poor show sales (Paradise City - Marlborough was only slightly better than the goose egg laid at this one) I have to wonder if these shows are the best venue for my work. The truth is that I really don't think it is, but I'm not sure what the alternative is either. The shows offer a massive amount of exposure that I can't get any other way and I can only hope that the exposure pays off at some point. With larger work on the higher end and nothing inexpensive for sale, one has to expect that people have to think about it and that sales will happen down the road. I don't really find the lack of sales depressing, rather, I find it confusing. I wonder if the Boston area isn't the right place for my work, are the people too conservative? (I seemed to get a better response at the Northampton shows that have much more of a NY audience). Is it the economy? (Some people are selling alright so I can't blame everything on the economy). Some artists talk about the changing demographics with an aging population that has enough stuff already. Whatever it is, I am sure wall art is a tougher sell right now, maybe for the indefinite future.

CraftBoston Booth Shot

Although it is extremely hard to be objective about your own work, I think I'm producing the best art I have ever made and I still get a good response from enough people to make me think that I'm not completely off-base (aside from one women who wanted to know if my work was flooring), so all I know to do is to keep on going (I was delighted to learn that a glass artist couple actually voted for my booth for the Artist Choice Award, given the quality of work at this show, just getting one vote is a huge accomplishment.) Maybe I'll get into the other top shows (I've already applied for the Philadelphia museum show for the fall) and get better exposure (and maybe, just maybe, sales). My hope is to eventually get out of the show circuit, either though gallery representation and/or a network of commissions and collectors but that kind of wish is the holy grail of the arts community, attained by only a select few though some mysterious alchemy that combines hard work, luck, talent, drive, marketing and more work. These shows are painfully expensive, exhausting, and stressful. It is a hard way to make a living even if you are making a living from it. My fear is that the show circuit is a never ending loop that you enter with a plan to leave but can't get out once it starts to work for you. Some jewelery artists I've talked with do more than twenty shows a year.

Besides the exposure, these shows are a great opportunity to meet other artists and see their great work. Of the wood artists, I was particularly drawn to the intriguing sculptures of Bruce Chapin. His work is mysterious, thought provoking, and very soulful; seemingly generated from the unimpeded subconscious. I suspect Carl Jung would have a field day with it but it is probably more interesting to just leave them for wonderment.

The Philosopher

Billy Day Tart

Several of his pieces had doors that open to some other object inside. This is the only one that I was able to get a decent image of. Some are more evocative of a human form on the outside or more evocative of a soulful form on the inside.

Moon Boy Dreaming

unknown title

Gripped Beyond

I also got to meet Bart Niswonger whose work I had seen at Gallery NAGA a few weeks earlier.

In addition to the cast urethane cabinet that I wrote about for that show, I really like what he did with this wavy ash cabinet. Unfigured ash can be a boring choice for fine furniture but by adding the waves he has essentially created figured lumber and by adding the color he has found a great way to highlight the grain.
Here is a close-up. It is a technique that is both spectacular and distinctive.
I also met Bonnie Birshoff of the J.M. Syron and Bishoff duo and was very impressed by their tamo and polymer clay veneered cabinet.
This was my first encounter with tamo. It is a Japanese ash that can have spectacular figure similar to the highest quality quilted maple. Of course, I immediately wondered how I could get a hold of some of this as solid lumber, rather than veneer, but a quick Internet search indicates that money would have to be no object. Veneer like this could cost more than $7/sq foot so a board, 1 inch thick, if you could find it in the US (and I really doubt it) would likely cost more than $50/board ft. To get it I'm sure you would have to go to a Japanese mill and outbid the veneer buyers. I might as well stick with my local hardwoods, still, this is amazing stuff.

tamo close-up
In talking with other artists at shows, I find it amazing that anybody ever figures out how to make a living doing this. A lot of very talented people with top quality work are struggling. Still, I think there must be a way to make it work. Unfortunately, beyond winning ArtPrize, I'm at a bit of a loss for ideas.

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