Back in September 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic, a friend drove me to Indiana to pick up as much of my old artwork as we could load into her pickup. It was my first trip out of town since the pandemic began, and I was nervous about the four hour drive, nervous about being in public places, even briefly and while masked, and nervous that I would bump into my ex as a good portion of my artistic history is still in the attic of the farmhouse I once co-owned with him. Instead the trip was a going backwards in a good way that I sorely needed.
When I got it home to Kentucky, it felt oddly satisfying and deeply settling to wrap the rescued artworks in plastic and store them in my shed. All winter long as walked by it, filling bird feeders and fetching dry wood for my ceremonial little fires I could feel their presence, and that was enough until I moved into a new art making space where I have been painting and drawing several times a week again, also a first since the pandemic hit.
One of the purposes of this new, shared art space is to sell artwork. However, anyone who knows me well knows I don’t give a **** about selling my artwork; that’s not the reason I made art (although I didn’t know it at the time) or make art now. I do it because it’s a way to tell stories, some of them secrets, without saying a word. Visualizing my memories and feelings is healing and empowering. It grounds me. Making art creates something concrete and real when my world feels shaky and nebulous. It makes me feel like I am doing something positive and constructive during difficult times. So I told the art-space-mates that I wouldn’t be putting anything out in the front room to sell.
Now, I live in a place “where art is alive” as the billboards boast and the water tower proclaims. But in truth, it is a place where art is meant to bring tourists in who will buy it. Old Town, the location of my new studio space, has several galleries and craft workshops, but it’s mostly a ghost town, only recently enlivened by a pizza place that sells beer and wine. This “artisan village” couldn’t support a coffee shop either, though there was one in 2016 that I frequented once or twice with Owen, and I still think of him and that cafe every time I pass the clothing boutique that has replaced it.
But, like I said, I had no intention of selling anything — until the blank walls began to bother me, and I thought about my mummified artworks baking in the summer heat, and I suddenly had a fierce need to display them. So yesterday morning I worked up a slight sweat by grabbing two packages of small pieces from the late 1990s along with the two panels illustrated here, and brought them to the art space after work.
Here’s my history, according to them.
It was quite a transition from graduate student to working artist/teacher. I had to downsize my studio space by three-quarters, moving it into a half-basement of a townhouse I rented with my second husband, whom I married in 1994. But one of the first professional things I did was join ARC Gallery in Chicago, “one of the oldest co-ops of its kind in the country”. It was my first experience with gallery representation, which likely formed my lack of affinity for traditional galleries with paid staff judging artists based on their ability to sell, charging 50% commission on artworks sold, and an institutional hierarchy that is clearly patriarchal and focused on consumerism and majority rules. At ARC in 1994 there was a president, treasurer and secretary, elected by the membership for short terms. We all had a full say in decision making, and practiced group consensus. Every member paid minimal dues and had a gallery job — mine was doing monthly PR and Saturday gallery sitting a couple times a month. It wasn’t perfect, I’ll admit. I remember being particularly jealous of members who had lawyers and doctors for husbands and didn’t have to support themselves and a family like I did while struggling as a frantic adjunct professor with little time or money to make art. But overall ARC became a great role model for another kind of arts organization that I have been trying and failing to sell to this artist community after brief stints as a co-director of an informal organization that was supposed to promote public mural projects, and a member of local arts council that seemed to become paralyzed by COVID-19 restrictions that I saw instead as opportunities for growth and change.
So I feel like celebrating the person I became because of the person I was in 1995 by posting this pic of me in my late 30s, looking like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, tired as hell from hanging my ARC solo show entitled “Women’s Work” in which I displayed the panels I depict here, two of the six 50 x 35″ or so panels I entitled “The Eves”. They were based on photographs of my youngest daughter and one of her friends, and I no longer recall if I took them or they did. I only know that their poses intrigued me from a feminist perspective, it was pleasing and empowering to work with them and display them, and I am even more impressed with myself now as I unwrap crusty bubble wrap, maybe for the first time since that show, as ancient shavings from industrious mice cascade onto the sales room floor.