ARTICLE: The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art

 price art

Vincent Price: Bringing Art to the People

A large part of what drives the asinine blight of the contemporary establishment art world is a strange creed of status seeking. The current power brokers, through their strangleholds on government, the media, academia, and the arts, demonstrate that status is dependent on slavish conformity to their imposed hierarchies. Anyone not willing to submit to their dictates and priorities is outside the tribe, and therefore deserves only contempt and demonization.

Following the implied commands and encouragement from this would-be ruling class, the witch hunt and the lynch mob are becoming an increasingly common activity in our society. The news is full of stories of hateful hordes swarming to crush anyone who dissents from the precepts of our current corrupt establishment.

There’s nothing new about this educated New Class assault on those who aren’t properly awed in the presence of their betters. Modern era intellectuals used the term Middlebrow to deride “ordinary” people who enjoyed advanced cultural experiences.  How dare they go directly to art without relying on a superior priestly class to translate, and inform them how they are supposed to feel and respond?

There’s a big pile of snobbery effervescing at the core of the establishment art world. And now that the information age has made culture so accessible, the so-called elites have had to go full Doublethink to maintain their separate, and therefore in their minds elevated, caste status. The current domination of Conceptual art is a tool of oppression, meant to degrade standards and reinforce the control by establishment cronyism as the only arbiter of accomplishment.

It wasn’t always this way. And despite the concerted efforts to declare that history is over, and the current winners and losers will be frozen in place forever, the world continues to change. The story of the twenty first century will be about the destruction of centralized power. This toppling of mighty strongholds can be informed by visiting noble ideas and actions from the past.

Vincent Price could be seen as a kind of middlebrow icon. True, he was a wealthy celebrity, but he was a character actor known mainly for low budget horror movies. He even appeared on The Brady Bunch, for goodness sake. How gauche.

However, Price was also a passionate connoisseur and advocate of fine art. He wrote, “Art is excitement which if we can’t create ourselves, we can at least, through love of it, make available to others.”

Price also seemed to have a pretty salty visceral response to art as well. He  noted, “I’m extremely profane, unconsciously so, when I see something great for the first time; I don’t know why, but beauty and profanity are related to me in the same way. It may be that I want to think of art in the vernacular, but I have no control over what comes out of my mouth when my eyes take in great beauty…it might just be the reason I avoid going to museums with elderly ladies.”

When the department store Sears, that bedrock American success story of middleclass capitalism, wanted to expand into fine art, they asked Price to guide their efforts. In 1962, The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art was born.

The Sears archives describe the program in detail:

“…company executives observed that except for a few major cities, fine art was virtually inaccessible to the general public. Sears set out to end this isolation by merchandising art throughout the country, in a presentation from which pictures could be readily purchased to enrich American homes. Vincent Price was approached to take charge of this program. Price, although well-known by the public as an actor, was also known in the international art world as a collector, lecturer, former gallery-owner and connoisseur who spent a dozen years studying art at Yale, the University of London and other art centers abroad.

“Price was given complete authority to acquire any works he considered worthy of selection. He searched throughout the world for fine art to offer through Sears. He bought whole collections and even commissioned artists, including Salvador Dali, to do works specifically for this program…

“On October 6, 1962, the first exhibit and sale of ‘The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art’ took place in a Sears store in Denver, Colo. Original works of the great masters – Rembrandt, Chagall, Picasso, Whistler and more – as well as those of the best contemporary artists at the time were offered for sale in this first exhibit and throughout the program’s existence.

“Items ranged in selling price from $10 to $3,000. Sears customers could also purchase items on an installment plan for as little as $5 down and $5 a month. Each work in the program was guaranteed as an original work of quality, just as Sears offered quality guarantees on its lawnmowers and TVs. The program was an instant success. So many pictures were snatched up the first day that an emergency shipment had to be flown in lest the walls be bare the next day.

The program expanded in the weeks that followed, adding exhibits in 10 additional Sears stores including Hartford, Conn., Harrisburg, Penn., San Diego, Calif., Evansville, Ind., Madison, Wis., and Oklahoma City, Okla. After the successful exhibition and sale of these first 1,500 pieces, the program was expanded nationwide to all of Sears stores throughout the country, bringing original works of fine art to the American public in unprecedented quantity and quality…By 1971, when the program ended, more than 50,000 pieces of fine art passed through a constantly changing collection into American homes and offices.”

Sears-Page

Sears catalog page. Far out, man

The online magazine Toccoa Catholics produced an article on Vincent Price rich in biographical information on his love of art:

“Although his stage and film career brought Price fame and some fortune, it was only his career. His true love was always art, and began at a young age, lasting his whole life. He bought his first work of art from a local dealer in St. Louis when he was twelve and paid for it in installments. But it was a good buy: a Rembrandt etching.

“During his Hollywood days, Price ran an art gallery and eventually donated his collection to East Los Angeles College, which is now home to the Vincent Price Gallery. He dedicated himself to promoting a wider popular appreciation of art. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s he traveled all around the country giving lectures on art, wrote a syndicated column on art, and worked with Sears-Roebuck to acquire original art for purchase by the common men and women who shopped for power tools and washing machines.

“He was utterly unpretentious about a subject that is usually prone to pretentiousness. (‘I never could afford to buy what other people said I should like.’) He looked at art ‘wide-eyed and openmouthed,’ but his observations were astute. He said, for instance, that a sketch can capture what the camera cannot. Both are immediate, but the sketch ‘has so much more humanity’ because ‘life is quicker than the eye.’

“He was an avid collector and promoter of native and folk art, and defended these artists against their highbrow critics with a line worthy of Chesterton: ‘At least they haven’t lost the ability to see directly in their own directions.’

“When he looked at the work of great artists, he realized that God-given talent was one of the things that make it easy to believe in God. ‘I had always felt that art and religion were inextricably tied together…'”

Price was also an unapologetic partisan for American art. Informed by his appreciation of this country, he wrote of the “…the unquenchable thirst of our artists and people for cultural achievement.” He saw our native sense of invention as an asset that leads to discoveries: “It may be said that, in this land that lacked the facilities for formal training, the untutored artist was forced to devise a style, almost a shorthand of his own invention, to make up his personal language of art.” He did not agree with the tiresome leveling effect of global art world dogma, understanding how regional identity strengthens artistic character and  accomplishment:  “To those who say art is international, I must say yes, in its enjoyment, but it has always been highly nationalistic in its convictions, if not its inspiration.”

It’s interesting how a B movie portrayer of madmen and monsters communicates more love and respect for both art and his fellow citizens than creative class pretenders have for decades. Our existing cultural institutions may be irreparably tainted, but the positive and healthy ideas about art Price represented are not lost to us. We are having to start over, but that’s a great place  to be. The natural environment of the American is the frontier. The power of Remodernism is ordinary people acting as explorers and inventors and finding their individual vision. Vincent would approve.

 The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art Sales Training Film


COMMENTARY: The Art World Is Very Bad At Its Job

The Pop Star

Richard Bledsoe “The Pop Star” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

Art isn’t about attacking the present, as if disruption will clear the way for some imaginary utopia.

Art is also not about the reflexive homage to the past, only repeating the accomplishments of an earlier era.

Art is about the eternal.

Art isn’t a matter for intellectual analysis, its a matter of spiritual resonance. It’s about giving a current recognizable identity to the enduring forces of truth, beauty and order that underlie the universe. Each generation, each culture, must find its own way to say the same things.

The spontaneous urge for renewal that moved though the arts in the modern era starting in the late 1800s quickly became derailed into formulas, theories, and agendas. Art became isolated, losing the vital connection to communal life. Modern art, as it fragmented, became more simplistic, giving less to viewers in its own presence, and relying more on the viewer bringing in externally gained knowledge to appreciate it.

Serious visual art these days is limited to an academic mindset, an environment where people accept art is something to study for, dissect, explain. This level of technical focus is an interesting pursuit; I love that aspect of it myself.

However, ultimately the shop talk needed amongst artists is not the point of art. Outside that environment, and for the huge majority of human history, art was not a lesson to be learned. It was a powerful joy to be experienced, and didn’t need instructions on why it should be enjoyed. It was self-evident.

Outside the bubble of those highly engaged in the art world, the common response I get when I say I’m a painter is, “I don’t get art.” This is tragic, and a direct reflection on the failure of the art world to do its job correctly.

The people I’m talking to aren’t stupid or ignorant; they can recognize when something captures the spirit of art, and when it doesn’t. They are just afraid to say so, because for so many years the art world has been telling them they are wrong. The offerings of the art world leave them cold and unsatisfied. This is an instinctual matter. There are not enough words in the universe to justify a dead end, or breathe life into something that is just inert matter, if that self-evident spirit is not present.

Artists have a job to do, but for decades we’ve been giving our fellow humanity stones for bread, and talking about how beautiful the emperor’s new clothes are. This is not good enough for these challenging times. Art needs to get out of the cloister and rejoin the flow of life.

Many modern and contemporary artists, from the early 1900s until today, might seem powerful from our provincial viewpoint as educated art bubble dwellers. There is a vast sea of humanity that do not see equal merit.

I don’t blame the audience like many inside the art bubble do. I hold the artists accountable for falling short of creating art that is both compelling and universal.

As far as the confusion caused by modern and contemporary artists, much of it was a function of the times they were working in. But now that we have hindsight, we are responsible to find a better way forward. This is our moment in the vast continuum. We are responsible for the productions of our time, bringing the wisdom of the past into the opportunities of the future. The current elitist and decadent art world has failed utterly in this regard. We need to move past the wreckage they’ve caused.

Remodernism provides a model to incorporate traditions while discovering innovations. It will change the paradigm of how art is made and viewed. Freed from the manipulation of greedy ideologues, art can again be an act of inspiring transcendence.

The art world would really be as big as all of humanity, if we were doing it right.

ARTISTS: Jackson Pollock’s Arizona Connections

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Pollock: An artist of the West

January 28th 2015 would have been the 103rd birthday of artist Jackson Pollock. Pollock is considered one of the giants of the modern art world. One of his paintings is currently recognized as the third most expensive ever:  “No. 5, 1948” sold for $140 million in 2006. His signature drip style is instantly recognizable; he was the subject of an Academy Award winning biopic in 2000; his reputation as a surly and focused flinger of paint helped shaped the public’s conception of what an artist is like for decades.

But in many ways, Jackson Pollock represents where the art world went wrong, when the bitter fragmentation of Modernist thought gained visibility and momentum, further severing the appreciation of serious art from the general audience.

An awkward and immature individual without much conventional talent, Pollock did have passion and persistence. His original breakthrough paintings were blunt, primal depictions of archetypal imagery absorbed from Jungian therapy. But then Pollock was taken on by the radical critic Clement Greenberg. Greenberg projected his materialistic ideology onto Pollack’s intuitive art, and encouraged him to emphasize the formal aspects of his work, all the better to manifest Greenberg’s agenda.

An abrasive bully, Greenberg was the leading advocate of the banal reduction of painting to a mere substance on a surface, accompanied by scads of verbose dogma. It was under his influence Jackson arrived at the drip style that came to define and limit him at the same time.

The public scoffed at this abstract art, the elitists scoffed back, and the fractures in our society deepened. But in the middle of all this, there remains Pollock the man, the artist, who struggled and suffered, and took chances; for that he deserves respect. He was driven to create, and tried to find a way to transcend his limited skills.

The drip paintings were not random accidents; analysis shows how Pollock reworked his surfaces using brushes, adding glazes, making corrections, utilizing his judgment to enhance his creations. Even in his declining years Jackson continued to make art, moving away from the drip paintings, which he found to be an ultimately unrewarding stylistic dead end, and back towards the figurative, mythic work of his original explorations. Who knows what he would have created had he survived longer.

Pollock’s end in a drunken car crash is infamous, but less known are the stories of his origins. Everybody starts somewhere, and Arizona plays a significant role in Pollock’s early years.

In September of 1913, a young family set out in a wagon hired from a stable at the corner of Van Buren and Grand Avenue in downtown Phoenix. Roy Pollock was taking his wife Stella and his five sons to the new home he had bought for them, a 20-acre farm located about 6 miles east of the city, on the road to Tempe.

Paul Jackson Pollock, the youngest son, probably didn’t remember much of his life before this, in Cody, Wyoming; he wasn’t even 2 years old yet. But the future action painter and tragic art celebrity would spend a large part of his boyhood in the Valley of the Sun and other Arizona locations.

Roy Pollock’s farm on Sherman Street was simple; an adobe house, a barn, corral, and an outhouse. Roy planted alfalfa and many other vegetables, raised hogs, cows and chickens, and gained a reputation for producing some of the best crops and livestock in the Valley. His older sons helped out with the chores, but not Jackson. During these early years he was a sensitive child, who stayed close to the house and his mother; he was afraid of the wild desert landscape outside the borders of the irrigated farmland. Having tea parties and playing house with a little girl who lived nearby were among his favorite pursuits.

Despite his timid ways, Jackson did have his boyish adventures. He and the other kids would swim in the periodically flooded irrigation ditches. He’d hang out by the road waiting for the mailman’s car to go by; automobiles were a rarity then. He would ride into town with his father and see the Indians, Mexicans and Chinese in the marketplace, and visit Goldwater’s Department Store at the corner of First Street and Adams. Jackson idolized his oldest brother Charles, who was considered the artist of the family; Charles even received painting lessons from a neighbor.

In less happy events, Jackson managed to get his right index figure tip chopped off with an axe in a clumsy accident with another boy; the detached finger apparently got eaten by a rooster. Another time he was in a wagon wreck with his mother, when a bull charged and panicked their horse. Jackson had nightmares about the incident for the rest of his life.

Conditions were harsh in early Phoenix life. The family actually dragged their beds outside and slept for much of the year in their front yard, trying to deal with the intense heat. Stella Pollock was unhappy with the rustic lifestyle, and Roy had a hard time making money even with his skillful farming. So in May 1917 the family auctioned off their farm and belongings and moved on to California, where their situation continued to deteriorate.

Before long Roy had returned to Arizona without his family, supporting them long distance by working as a surveyor. Stella restlessly moved the family from town to town in California, never able to find a comfortable situation for her and the boys. In 1923 she moved the family back to Arizona, staying for a while at the Carr Ranch north of Globe and Miami. Eleven-year-old Jackson was no longer the fearful kid he had been before; he spent much of his free time hiking and hunting along the Salt River.

In 1924 the Pollock family, still without the father, left Arizona again, but later Jackson would return to live here one more time. In 1927 he got a job alongside his father working for a surveying crew on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Jackson at 15 was the youngest of the crew; he tried to fit in by drinking heavily along with the other men, the first signs of the terrible alcoholism which devastated his life. When summer was over he returned to high school in California and never lived in the state again.

When Jackson Pollock was at the height of his career as an abstract expressionist, he was called a cowboy throwing lariats of paint. His technique was compared to Native American sand paintings and tribal art. It’s hard to estimate how much his formative years in Arizona influenced the artist he became.

Recently I became aware of another unexpected facet of Pollock’s personality. When a photographer visited Pollock’s 1950’s New York home, now preserved as a museum, she noticed the kitchen was stocked with high end cookware for the era. Further research revealed Jackson and his wife artist Lee Krasner liked to cook, to host dinner parties, and they left behind an array of recipes. In addition there was documentation of various health foods and beverages Jackson used to combat his alcoholism, unfortunately without success.

The photographer, Robyn Lea, ended up collecting her detective work and anecdotes into a new book, In The Kitchen With Jackson Pollock, which is well beyond my budget. But there’s something I find moving about these nuances of character this knowledge reveals. For a little awhile at least, even during the throes of celebrity and myth making, there were moments of domesticity. Pollock and Krasner knew the humble pleasure of creating a good meal, and sharing it with friends.

Jackson Pollock, Jack the Dripper, drunken art rebel of the midcentury, was also a foodie who enjoyed baking.

This simple activity humanizes him more than anything else I’ve learned about him.

JacksonPollockCollage

A Jackson Pollock recipe that kind of resembles his paintings

An earlier version of this article was previously featured in The Western Free Press.

COMMENTARY: Art World Hype, Hypocrisy and Banksy

banksy-dreams_00349040

A typical Banksy witticism

Part of what I want this blog to do is highlight certain notable figures of the commercialized contemporary art world to a new audience.

I’d like to help educate all those good people who, up until now, have been uninterested, alienated, or even hostile to the efforts of today’s educated creative classes and their deep-pocketed supporters. From what I see, this potential audience of the disengaged is practically everyone in entire world.

What I want this newly attentive audience to appreciate is how correct they were to reject this garbage all along. This involves exposing the corruption festering away in the greedy and debased hearts of the institutions who have forced these toxins on an unwilling culture.

I also like to talk about inspirational figures and exciting new paths I see developing, but that’s for another post. I do see this as a time of renewal and opportunities. The future will be what we make of it, and I see a gathering of forces that ultimately will change the course of civilization. It’s part of what artists do; on an archetypal level we get the news before others, and help spread the word. Big changes are coming.

But the first step of recovery is to admit we have a problem, and the art world is a serious problem indeed.

Not many people are intrigued by the machinations of contemporary art. It’s understandable, because of the contemporary art world’s unwitting manifestation of not one, but two, Spinal Tap memes:

1. The popularity of contemporary art isn’t waning, it’s appeal is becoming more selective.

2. It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.

Which leads us to Banksy.

He (or she, or they, no one knows for sure) is an Important Artist Innovator of this Era, according to the establishment. What Banksy is infamous for is a series of anonymous graffiti works which feature all the scathing insight that a radicalized high school newspaper editorial cartoonist could muster, and the keen observational humor usually found in the greeting cards offered for sale at Kinko’s.

Observe:

banksy-napalm

Take that, fascists!

Bananas

You see, that’s funny, because they are not holding guns, but bananas instead.

Banksy has all the weight of the elites behind him because he gives expression to the doublethink contradictions they can’t admit to themselves. He fits in with the same unsustainable “Anarchists For Big Government” vibe that made the Occupy movement such a debacle.

The problem is yesterday’s anti-establishment is now the establishment itself. It likes the privileges that come with control of the media, academia, the arts and government. Big business is no fool, it’s toeing the party line now too. But the whole self-concept and self-aggrandizement of this counter-culture hinges on it being “counter,” and that is no longer the case. What’s an edgy rebel to do when your fellow travelers have Gramscied their way into cultural domination? How can you speak truth to power, when you ARE the power?

Since integrity is not a factor, it simply becomes a matter of marketing strategy.

When talking about Banksy with others in art community, a typical comment is “You’ve got to hand it to the guy, he gets lots of hype.” People have been hypnotized into thinking buzz equals significance.

Is that what is important about art, how well somebody advertises themselves? It’s what the art establishment would have you believe, because it plays into their control. To gain their assistance in the promotion of your art, you better conform to their priorities, share their views, and show the proper obsequence. This leads to the stifling of free expression, which in turn has led to the visual arts undergoing a crisis of relevance in our culture.

A summation of Banksy’s merit came in 2013. On the streets of New York City a surrogate street vendor set up a booth that offered genuine Banksy stencil and spray paint canvases for $60 each. These “originals” could have been worth a million through a gallery or auction house, but thousands people passed by the display without any interest at all. In the end there were 3 sales, including two pieces to a patron that demanded a discount off the already low price.

Once the truth came out, of course the works soared in value. The power of Name Brand Recognition kicked in to make these small purchases the equivalent of winning some weird lottery. Two of the canvases recent sold for $214,000.

So who got it right-the hordes of people walking by who saw nothing worth noticing, or the suckers who paid extravagant fees to possess a relic of someone’s networking skills?

Perhaps English media figure Charlie Brooker summed it up best: Banksy gained such art world stature because “…his work looks dazzlingly clever to idiots. And apparently that’ll do.”

STUDIO: Painting in Progress 2

Forked43

“A Tale of the Forked River” still laying in the basic elements

I don’t make my paintings from tracings, projections, or copying. Nor do I produce practice preparatory drawings. I work it all out on the canvas.

 Once the initial composition is drawn I remain committed to the original layout. Part of my intuitive painting process is to use that first take on the image as the foundation to build on, to bring out and make more explicit the rhythms and structure that were only loosely suggested at first.

Painting is a constant process of adjustment.  I work all over the surface of painting, trying to nudge the entire image to a certain level of resolution. Then it begins again, working all over, trying to advance whole image to greater amounts of focus. I start with the background and work forward, putting objects in front of other objects in the illusionary space I’m creating.

I always struggle with getting into too much detail too soon on certain intriguing passages. It can be problematic if one part gets too resolved ahead of the rest of the painting. As the rest of the painting gets worked, that impatient piece of it will change based on what’s surrounding it, and usually not for the better. A balanced, gradual approach works best.

This painting is still weeks away from completion.

Forked44

Incremental Progress

Earlier Installments:

Introduction: Creating a Canvas

Painting in Progress 1