A Cheerful Santa stretched over a billboard. Stalin rising from a coffin. A choir with Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Roman Abramovich, Albert Einstein, and Batman. A mosquito with a condom on his nose… What do these things have in common? All of them were created by Andrey Grodeev.
His exquisite satire and authentic drawing style made me very curious about this visual artist. I sent him an email and we scheduled a skype talk on December 8th. Both of us are originally from Russia, and we chatted in our native language.
Andrey currently lives and works in Bangkok, Thailand. His clients include Y&R NY, TBWA/RAAD Dubai, Ogilvy Frankfurt, LOWE Viethnam, LOWE Russia, Saatchi&Saatchi Russia, BBDO Columbia, Butter Berlin, GQ Russia, and Newsweek Russia. His work won multiple international awards. Yet, he is a very laid-back, approachable, and friendly guy.
He studied formal drawing and figurative work when he was a student on the Architecture faculty in his home town Khabarovsk. Nevertheless, most of his drawing and computer skills are self-taught. He cultivated his unique style by practicing drawing every night when he would come home from work.
Andrey has always been aspired to do creative and thought-provoking work, and he strived to surround himself with like-minded people. His ideas rarely found support in his home town. He often felt discouraged and misunderstood in his local community. However, as he started to post his work online, websites with his illustrations began to generate hundreds thousands of views in a trice. The internet gave him the right exposure and agencies and clients from all over the world began to offer him contracts. Now he charges thousands of dollars for each gig; yet, he still remembers the time when a hundred bucks felt like a lot of money…
Andrey said that he finally found his passion. He enjoys being an artist and has never regretted about not becoming an architect. Andrey said “It is a tragedy that young people in Russia have to go to college and stick to the chosen career at such young age. When you are seventeen, what have you seen in your life? How do you know what you like and what you want to do in your life? Usually, you are too green to make this kind of decision at that time, and if you want to change your course, you’ll be stigmatized as “a college dropout.” Andrey added, “I enjoy what I do, and I value my freedom. Now I want to see the world and find a place where I feel comfortable and inspired.”
When I found Kerstin’s work with white models and rainbow hair on the internet, my first thought was “Wow! This is amazing!” Then I wished I have thought of this idea myself. It was brilliant, beautiful and so well done!
Kerstin is a professional photographer from Berlin. I wrote her an email and we scheduled a Skype talk shortly after. Kerstin charmed me right away.
When Kerstin was a child, everyone was telling her that she was an artist. The artistic vision came naturally to her, and when it was a time to choose college, she picked The Folkwang University of the Arts, one of the best academies for creative folks in Europe. She also studied design in London and Los Angeles.
She started as a painter but when she discovered color photography, she never touched brushes and paints again. She was a rebellious student. Eventually, some professors promised to give her a good grade if she vowed to never touch a camera again. Fortunately, it didn’t happen, and Kerstin has now become an accomplished, internationally-recognized photographer.
Kerstin is one of those rare people who follow their passion. In exchange for such boldness, life lays down lucrative opportunities before people who listen to their guts. Thus, the same professors who criticized her work in the beginning offered her a job before she even graduated college! Since then, Kerstin had been swamped by exciting assignments including advertising gigs, editorial shoots, and international travel.
Speaking about international travel… Kerstin started a series of work called Self Service. She takes a picture of herself wherever she goes while she wears a Dirndl, a traditional October Fest dress. Kerstin joked about October Fest testing my knowledge of German traditions, “It is where half-Australia gets drunk every year in Munich.” Self Service series started as a picture of her in a diving suit and a Dirndl dress in her living room, more as a joke to invite some bavarian friends for a visit.
Then she took a picture with an Elvis impersonator as a joke for a travelmagazine, and the editors liked it so much that they printed it in the magazine. In fact, they were more excited about her picture in October Fest dress than the actual shots for the story. Now she has an ample collection of 75 pictures of Fräulein Zu Pan visiting remote places around the globe. Hopefully, we will see a full collection of her traveling photos in a book some day.
We also discussed a few business questions with Kerstin.
Kerstin has an agent who arranges work for her worldwide. As a truly creative person she admits, “I am not the biggest fan of the business side of my job. I don’t like to sell myself. I like to take pictures.”
I asked Kerstin about her creative process and whether she has a favorite work. She said, “I love and hate them (her photo projects) equally.” She added, “I am a person who tends to see everything in black and white, never grey.” Kerstin also mentioned that she doesn’t like compromises. She is aware that not everyone likes what she is doing: “What kind of nightmare would we live in if everyone had the same taste?”
I asked Kerstin if she ever panicked about the bad economy and potential lack of paid assignments." I know many creative professions are quite vulnerable when the market goes down", Kerstin said, “I had that when I was studying. I think you need to have a positive attitude and I think everything will lead its way. Everything will be fine. There will be times when one feels like shit and nothing will work out, but everything happens for a reason. I have been working for such a long time, and as freaky as it seems sometimes, things happen for a reason. There is no such thing as a mistake. You are just taking a step to another path that leads you somewhere else. I would say for everybody who is in a creative business, don’t panic, just be diligent and follow your gut and passion, and you will be all right. Sometimes, I also have to remind myself of that.”
On my birthday, November 4th, I received a long-awaited phone call. I had a delightful conversation with Susan Sales, a self-taught painter who began her art career more than 25 years ago with the creation of two hand-painted pillows. Now her works are in corporate and private collections around the world and have adorned the covers of numerous magazines including House Beautiful, DECOR and most recently the 2008 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.
I was introduced to Susan by Todd Guttman, an artist and my former co-worker at an advertising agency in Dallas. Susan was busy the last couple months getting ready for her show, Big Game, that recently opened at the Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art gallery in Santa Fe.
Her great sense of humor and her cheerful voice made me believe that she is maybe just a little bit older than me. Yet, she has over two decades of experience and can offer lots of helpful advice for aspiring visual artists.
Susan attributes a lot of her success to pure luck and being at the right place at the right time. However, as Donald Trump pointed out, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” I think it is true for everyone. Susan definitely worked hard to make it to the art world. She doesn’t have a formal art education, and it was hard to build connections with the art professionals and galleries. She started her artistic career at 38 years old as a fabric painter. She moved from LA to Santa Fe, a city with over 300 galleries at that time. She opened her first studio near the bakery, and the delicious smell of fresh bread attracted lots of folks as bees to flowers. People randomly popped up at her studio and she was happy to show them her work.
After consistent networking, sending her cards to the galleries and spreading the word about her work in the community, she was offered to exhibit her art at two galleries simultaneously. For example, one of her friends from interior design industry introduced her to a gallery owner. That gallery owner came back a year later and offered her a show. Eventually, Susan chose the gallery that gave her more freedom in creative expression.
After I hung up the phone, I suddenly saw a lot of parallels between Susan’s secrets of success and advices that Donald Trump shared in his book “Think Like a Champion.”
Thus, Donald Trump says “Stay Focused.” Susan mentioned when she moved to Santa Fe and opened her first art studio, she was extremely focused and treated her art as a new full-time job. However, it took her two years to get comfortable with the idea of becoming a full-time artist. She used to work in the real estate development industry during the day and was making art at night. When she moved to Santa Fe, she didn’t kill her days in the café drinking coffee and daydreaming. Instead, she stayed in the studio and experimented with paints. She discovered how to make smooth and shiny surfaces on the paintings, and it became her competitive advantage at that time. In addition, she pointed out that artists should never forget about the value of networking and self-promotion.
She said it is very important to love what you do and being passionate about it. That’s another piece of advice in Trump’s book – you should have a passion. Susan loves the process of working with paint and experimenting with various materials and patterns. We spend at least thirds of our lives working, and if we feel miserable at work, we feel that our lives are miserable too.
She recommends young artists to send their portfolio to the interior designers and to contact real estate developers. Drive around your town and look for rising apartment complexes and business real estate. Then call the developers and ask them about their interior design partners.
Susan said, “I was never shy about painting commissions. People don’t live in a gallery space.” Thus, you need to make your art available to them. Hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and luxury apartment complexes are the great venues to expose masses of people to your art on a consistent basis.
She mentioned that many corporate clients have a budget which is often fairly limited. If they pay too little, but still want the original artwork, you can choose less expensive medium, for example watercolors or gouache on paper. Sometimes, it makes sense to donate artwork to the church or another public institution. It creates goodwill, gives you a great exposure, and some tax benefits. Yet, when you donate the artwork, try to get money back to cover the cost of your materials.
She admitted that the art market nowadays is very different from when she started. It is harder to sell art today. However, you can keep your prices low as a starter, and this becomes your advantage. Many well-established artists struggle with sales now because their prices expected to go up.
If you are worried that there is too much competition among artists, below are the final words from Susan. “Do you know how many people are in the world? Don’t worry about it.” There are millions of people who need to fill out their homes with the artwork and you can always find your niche.
Ten years ago I read my first issue of Artchronika magazine. I was seventeen years old at that time. There was an article about “Silken Paradise” with a few fine paintings of animals in luxury interiors, palaces, and royal residences. I was captivated by the style, precision of details, rich colors, and, of course, the imagination of the artist who created that artwork.
When I moved to the USA four years ago, I left most of my books and magazines back in Russia including that Artchronika issue. Yet, a few months ago I asked my parents to send me that magazine. I looked up the name of the artist and his latest work online. I found Valery Yershov’s email address and after exchanging with a couple emails, we recently spoke on the phone. I discovered that he was also born in south of Russia – I am from Krasnodar and he is from Essentuki, Stavropolsky krai.
Valery came to the USA in the midst of Perestroyka. He was already a well-known and established artist who had exhibits all over the Europe. He was offered a contact in New York City and had a huge success in America at that time. In early 90-s art dealers were very interested in Russian art. Since then, there were some turbulent times, and Valery told me a few stories about ups and downs in his career. Yet, he has always been a painter and never traded painting for other jobs. His father was a landscape painter who introduced him to the art at early age. Valery received classic training from the Graphic Department of the Leningrad Pedogogical Institute, and I am so happy that his creativity wasn’t killed in the classrooms of a Soviet art institution.
After graduation he moved to Moscow. It was a fun time: many young artists were flocking in a semi-abandoned building, forming a wild, rebellious community. At that time, Valery was a roommate with Marat Gelman, who now owns Guelman's Contemporary Art Gallery and is one of the most famous and successful art dealers in Russia.
One of the highlights of Varely’s career was his participation in Pravda’s extravaganza. In mid 90-s, Valery was a member of Art-Party “Pravda,” a group of progressive Russian artists living in America, and made some provocative sculptures that generated a lot of buzz in the US. He mixed the dough with the clay and used it as a building material, and then painted over it. There were sofas with blankets, Jacuzzis and other objects covered with erotic pictures and sensual ornaments.
In addition, you can see some of Valery’s recent work in this video.
On my quest of finding the secrets of the most successful and best-selling artists, I couldn’t resist a temptation to discuss with Valery the contemporary art market, its major contributors, and players. I asked what advice he can give to the young aspiring artists starting their career nowadays. Here are a few advices he gave me:
1. Try to catch a new wave. Don’t look at well-established artists. Don’t repeat them. You may borrow the classy style but spice it up with reflections of the contemporary life. A good example would be figurative work by John Currin whose style reminds the work of Velasquez, yet is very modern and fresh. It leads me to the second Valery’s advice.
2. The time of a bare idea or a concept as a sole foundation of an artwork is gone. Technical skills and esthetics gained their value back. Try to create an art that is interesting to scrutinize: with multiple elements and lots of fine details.
3. Incorporate new media in your work: audio, video, and digital. Varery is now experimenting with 3D installations combining his oil paintings with 3D objects and digital multimedia.
I was thinking about our conversation. It is always hard to break through the dogma. Valery admitted that people generally want to buy already established art hoping that when they hang it on the wall, their friends will understand and appreciate their choice. I heard similar comments from the gallery owners when I scouted Dragon street gallery district in Dallas, TX a month earlier. An average American buyer doesn’t want to explain, justify or to be embarrassed by the choice of the artwork when friends and family members visit his or her house.
Therefore, a new artist should try to find people, who can connect with the artist’s fresh idea, and to recognize and help a rising star. As Wilhelm Uhde spotted out Henri Rousseau and Séraphine de Senlis a century ago, there should be art dealers, connoisseurs, and collectors who can escalate your success and multiply your net worth. Search and you shall find; ask, and you shall receive.
Peter Max, a legendary German-born American artist who worked with the Beatles and has painted for six U.S. Presidents, came to Austin, TX this weekend. He made a cover for the Austin Chronicle featuring ACL 2010 festival.
He had a personal art show at Russell Collection, a fine art gallery on West 6th street. I met him there Saturday evening.
Peter, who turns 73 years this month, was very approachable, yet looked a little bit tired. After a short conversation, I asked him what advice he can give to an aspiring artist who wants to achieve the same level of commercial success as he did.
He gave me a couple advices:
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you what to do and how to do it. Do what you want to do, create what feels right to you.
Surround yourself with the people who can help you. You can’t do everything by yourself. The circle is very important. I thought of a saying “If you want to fly with the eagles, don’t swim with the ducks.” Obvious but so true! Another reminder about the power of social connections…
Have you ever seen these scary movies in which the paintings become alive at night? They talk to each other, terrifying residents of the house. Or, have you seen street performers in Europe, disguised as statues, frightening the life out off wandering tourists?
I was inspired by this concept, and decided to turn to live some of my paintings. In our recent project with Dee Hill, Dallas-based photographer, we recreated the Violet Viola, my water-color artwork I completed years ago.
I always wanted to know why some artists had wide success and recognition while other talented people were left behind the curve, starving, or working unwanted jobs to meet their survival needs. No one art book or an autobiography I’ve read so far answered this question. Therefore, I began my journey of finding talented people I respect and admire and asking them to share their stories with me.
In this blog I am going to tell you about artists, gallery owners, art curators, museum directors and other art professionals and share their stories of failures and success.