Thursday, November 17, 2011

David Cerny: My Art is a Side Effect of Nuclear Radiation

David Cerny is a talented and provocative sculptor from Czech Republic. His sculptures can be seen in many locations in Prague as well as outside Czech Republic.  I particularly like his Metalmorphosis fountain – a rotating giant head at the Whitehall Technology Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

Being intrigued by his work, I scheduled a Skype talk with David in October. I asked David about his creative path and why he decided to become an artist. David attributed his creativity to the side effects of radiation treatment he received in early childhood. David also told me that his mother was killed in a Bolshevik camp and he was born premature at only five months. His mother was exposed to nuclear radiation during pregnancy and when he was born he was chemically treated as well. David said, “Growing up as orphan… I was basically unwanted child and used by Communists for experiments. They used some chemicals. I don’t know what it was. The Russians were using really hard staff… and [some parts] of my brain became more active.”

At the same time, David warned me that he is “usually lying, so it really depends on what kind of lie you want to hear.” When I Googled David’s biography, there were indeed numerous articles saying that David often fabricates his own biography.

I am not a biographer, historian or an investigator, and my purpose was not to validate all facts of David’s past, but to get to know him in person and learn from him. I realized that David’s work as well as his persona provide great material for journalists and the media. His work is provocative yet clever; it delivers a clear message that resonates with many. For example, look at his Klaus and Knizak sculpture at the Futura Gallery in Prague: two huge bare naked butts inviting an observer to climb the ladder and stick his/her head in the butthole. Inside there is a video of two Czech politicians feeding each other slop to a soundtrack of 'We are the Champions.' Most of David’s art is very political, and if you trust his self-told biography, it is very personal as well. An embryo trapped in a sewer, dark babies with the giant blank heads climbing the tower; men broken into pieces are only three of the many sculptures that reflect a difficult childhood and lots of pain. Reflecting on the Metamorphosis sculpture, David said, “This is how I fell; it is a mental self-portrait.” Also, when the times were especially gloomy and hard, I asked him what kept him going, he said, “Dissatisfaction and rage.” That anger and dissatisfaction helped him to shape a unique persona: shrewd, bold, and provocative. Therefore, my dear aspiring artists, here is a tip for you: if you would like to be favored by the media and generate a lot of buzz, create a marketable and enticing personality and/ or instigate the audience with your art.

My second major lesson from David is to become business smart. David mentioned over the course of our hour-long conversation that sales skills are extremely important if one wants to make it to the art world. He witnessed over ten empty-gallery “exhibits” or “one microscopic dot in the corner” positioned as “art” and sold over the last ten years or so. Thus, business skills and an ability to sell your art are crucial for success.

I noticed that many David’s sculptures are very technical and complex. Some of them employ motion. David told me he studied electronics before he studied art, and an engineering skill set came very handy in executing his creative ideas and supervising his projects. He also lived and studied in the USA in mid 90s, and we had a nice chat about the American landscape and art programs in New York. 

David agreed it could be challenging to acquire big art commissions if you are not in the epicenter of the art market. For example, there are fewer opportunities for an artist in Prague than in New York City. Nevertheless, David has already established his reputation and is well-known internationally. Therefore, investors and media find on the internet in spite of him living in Czech Republic.

I asked David to tell me a little bit more about his early career and how he had acquired commissions when he was only starting. He said investors always found him and he wasn’t chasing the deal. David also told me about his commission process, “You have the investor, you have the budget, and of course, the best inspiration is a deadline.”

At the end of our conversation, David surprised me again and told me about his favorite ice cream flavor. Guess what it was? A beer ice cream, proudly brewed and frozen in Czech Republic. Why not? An original artist has an original taste. I wish David good luck in his further projects and I hope one day he will visit Dallas or I can meet him over a bowl of beer ice cream in Prague.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Charles Phu: The Creative Genius Behind the Okhta Center

Okhta Centre
This time I am going to deviate from my usual gamut of fine art, performance art, and photography and share a story based on an insightful interview with a highly creative and talented architect Charles Phu. I was introduced to Charles by my sister who met Charles in London, UK and I spoke with him via Skype for about an hour.

Charles’ projects vary from opera houses to museums to trade centers. Some of his famous designs include King Abdulla Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; China World Trade Center Tower III (330m) in Beijing, China; Saint Petersburg Modern Art Museum and Opera House; Beijing Financial Street; and, of course, the highest soon-to-be-built skyscraper in Europe, Okhta Centre (including the 403-meter high tower and concert hall) in St Petersburg, Russia, for which he was the Chief Design Architect.

Charles Phu
Okhta Centre was a big deal in Russia. St. Petersburg is considered the ‘cultural capital’ of Russia. The city preserves the historical feel and normally does not even allow changing old roof tiles if the change does not match the ‘historic requirement.’ A proposal to build an enormously high contemporary skyscraper in the center of St. Petersburg evoked a big controversy. There was a lawsuit, a wave of protesters, opposition from Russian celebrities, lots of media buzz, and finally, government intervention. Even comedians picked up on the Okhta Centre project controversy – I vividly remember watching an episode of Prozektor Paris Hilton, a prime-time comedy program on a major Russian TV channel that revolved around Okhta Centre project. Finally, in December 2010 Okhta Centre was suggested to move further from St. Petersburg‘s historical center, and this projects is still in the process of negotiation.
Okhta Centre Concert Hall
Yet, let’s step back from Charles’ current achievements and learn about how he made it to the world of design and architecture. Charles was born in Taiwan forty something years ago. He came from a very artistic and musical family: his father was a tenor and a Western pop music singer; his mom was an accomplished ballerina who performed for the President of Taiwan and other big politicians and officials; finally, all his three sisters learned to sing and play numerous musical instruments. Charles was expected to become a musician too and he even took a few piano lessons, but he never envisioned music becoming his future career. Nevertheless, Charles developed deep appreciation for music, especially opera. Driven by his passion for opera, he later designed beautiful opera houses all over the world. In addition, Charles created opera and ballet stage sets, lighting, and costumes for several prestigious opera houses.
St Petersburg Modern Art Museum
When Charles was approaching college age, he took a National General Exam (that reveals one’s talents and career inclinations similar to an American aptitude test) and was advised to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering. Charles enrolled in the top engineering school in Taiwan, the National Cheng Kung University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Structure and Civil Engineering with honors in 1992.
China World Trade Centre
While in college in Taiwan, he began to fall in love with architecture. He was also captivated by 3D objects, and he finally set his mind on pursuing a graduate degree abroad. Charles has always dreamed to live and work in Europe, but it seemed more realistic to continue his education in North America. He applied to several high-ranking schools in the USA, and was admitted to quite a few of them, including Harvard. Yet, Charles realized Harvard’s tuition was too high for him at that time. Therefore, he decided to play it safe, and he enrolled in the Masters of Architecture program at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). He later fulfilled his dream to study at Harvard and while at Harvard, he completed a residency program with a well-known architect in Massachusetts, Charles Rose.  
Beijing Finance Street Offices and Theatre
I asked him how he was not afraid to take financial risks: college tuition in the USA can be quite expensive and there is no guarantee he would earn his money back in a timely manner. Charles said, indeed, it was one of his concerns but luckily he was offered financial assistance from UT Austin after he demonstrated his academic excellence and hard work.

Equipped with top-tier college degrees, Charles began his professional career. He worked for architectural firms in Boston and in San-Francisco for several years. He felt he acquired enough experience to start his own business, and he moved to Hong Kong, China to start his own company. Coincidentally Charles was offered a position at RMJM Asia in Hong Kong as Chief Designer and after completing a few prominent projects in China and India. Charles moved to London to continue growing his own business and also to continue working on projects with RMJM. “UK was my dream land…London is so culturally rich and very open-minded,” Charles told me.  
State Tax Bureau
After reviewing Charles’ story, I realized that all his big dreams and aspirations eventually manifested in his life. Thus, he wanted to experience the academic environment of Harvard and the unique context of the university and its people, and he eventually completed a post-graduate study and residency in Architecture and Archaeology there. He was captivated by opera and instead of becoming an opera singer, he became involved in opera and ballet stage set design. He wanted to live and work in London, and he is currently living his dream in his dream city.  Yet, Charles told me he didn’t have a dream of becoming an architecture designer. He just followed his heart and passion, followed his interests and that is how he discovered a profession that made him successful.
Zhuhai Museum
Charles had given a few advice to aspiring creative people.

1. Work really hard. By working hard Charles means spend more time than an average person on what you are doing; learn as much as you can about your profession. Charles said he missed a lot of opportunities to have fun while he worked and studied, but it was a conscious sacrifice.
2. Be open-minded. Be open to anything. Learn to be a good listener and learn from the experts. Absorb as a sponge the wisdom of others.
3. At the same time, be authentic. Charles said he stopped reading architecture magazines since his mid-twenties because he didn’t want to get too much influence. Charles gains his inspiration from observing people, learning about the history and even sometimes looking at ugly buildings. 
4. Finally, don’t pound on the door or push too hard when you don’t get the results you are looking for. Maybe, it is not the right time yet or you are not ready yet. The door will eventually open and you will meet the right people when you are guided by your passion. Just keep doing what you love doing, and the success will follow.

At the end, Charles added, “Culture and humanity is usually the key for a good design and anything we do today. I think it's a pity that it is what's missing in most of things around us nowadays. I always believe in that.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Greg Piazza: Finding the Right Niche for Your Art

Greg is an accountant by trade and a visual artist at heart. He doesn’t sit in the corner and wait “to be discovered.” Instead, he creates his own opportunities. He found a niche for his art in the arena of the contemporary design art. Greg also focuses on pricing his art whereas it is obtainable for young professionals and budding collectors alike: “I focus on high-end furniture retail stores as conduits for my art ... They can sell art as a whole package. They can assist a buyer with a room design and provide great options to meaningful art."

When I asked him about representation in the galleries, he said “I don’t really focus too much on being in the traditional galleries, I think the majority of my buyers do not frequent these establishments."

The first store that represented Greg’s art was Haven in Dallas. Greg told me, “One day I quit my job and that day I had one of my pieces in my car. I said to myself, ‘Look, I am going out there today and I am going to make good money off the art.’ And I just went over there, walked in the door, talked to them and I said, I noticed you guys don’t have any art work. Why not?’ And the guy said ‘We’ve never met an artist whose work we liked.’ I said, ‘I have a piece in my car. Would like to see it?’ and I showed it to him. He said, ‘I love this. Can you make 10 in the next week?’ And that was it, I made them ten pieces, and I think they sold 8 out of 10 pieces. I went through three different series with them.”

Greg’s story suggests that artists shouldn’t be afraid to knock on the doors and do some legwork. Greg told me, “I just approach stores and leave it up to them. They know their product and their customers better than anybody else. If they think it will work, I am happy to put my art in there. If they don’t think it will work, I don’t try to argue with them. Just say “Thank you and if you ever have somebody who is looking for something special, let me know.”

As for the further self-promotion, Greg said, “It seems like the word of mouth is your best friend out there. Once you get into a few good places, it’s really easy to expand your network and say, I show in these three high-end retailers and you have a lot of credibility.”

Greg’s art and photography are currently represented by the Jones Walker Home storeLofty Concepts, Nest Dallas, and Parnian in Scottsdale, Arizona. He also runs an online gallery called 7 NINE. Greg co-founded Gallery 7 NINE with his friend, Jonathan Giles. Both artists were born in 1979, and they decided to name the gallery after their year of birth. Greg’s original acrylic pieces currently range between $800 and $14,000; oil paintings are between $500 and 5,000; and prints go from $100 to $500. Greg also works with two art consulting firms who sell his art to hotels. Greg’s experience suggests that artists can have opportunities outside of the traditional gallery channels if they are willing to think outside the box.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Frankie Garcia and FGIII Art

Frankie Garcia and Ekaterina Konovalova

Frankie Garcia III is a Dallas-based artist, creative advisor, arts advocate, and founder of FGIIIArt. He founded FGIIIArt to be an umbrella organization that instills unity within the Dallas art community and provides opportunities that strengthen and empower the individual artists in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In addition, Frankie organizes and curates art exhibitions at RISING Gallery as their creative advisor.

RISING Gallery Crew
Frankie shared with me, “I’ve worked with so many different artists for so long now, that my eye for talent has been refined… I started to use the term “creative adviser” because I do a number of things... First and foremost, I’m a painter. Second, I curate art shows and exhibitions. Third, from a project/design perspective, I’m excellent at creating color palettes for various projects, I can visualize the project and build on a budget, I’m able to distribute the work, I’m able to round up the artists, I relate to the artists and get them excited and enthused and I create incentives for both the artists and the client. From a marketing perspective, I utilize my resources to the full and collaborate when needed but, more importantly, I continually stay in the art mix. I personally participate in art related fundraisers by sitting on committees and donating artwork. I also, support our arts by attending art shows and exhibitions and assist with spreading the word to my clients and art enthusiasts in my circle. This is kind of my niche but it all stems from being an artist.”
Frankie's Art "Lavender Rose"

Frankie has always been interested in visual arts. He loved drawing as a kid. He drew on everything and when he ran out of paper in the house, his mom cut up paper shopping bags to supply him with something to release his artistic expression. Frankie says, “I’ve always had a builders mind. I collected piles of wood and I would go to a neighbor (he was a carpenter) and would ask for a box of nails. I didn’t use a measure tape – I would just build it... I made my mom shelves, tables, chairs, etc... Then I started making art: frames, canvases, utilizing various materials.” In his younger years, Frankie was enrolled in the TAG program, TAG stands for Talented and Gifted, where he learned many practical skills that he now uses in his art career.

Frankie's Art
Talking about his art career. As a self-taught artist, he didn’t believe that his art would sell early on. He worked a handful of odd jobs before he dove into art full-time. He was involved in carpentry, roofing, building, landscaping, and worked at a car body shop among other things. In 1996, he was married at age of twenty and took a job as a printer, at Millet The Printer, working sometimes triple shifts to provide for his family. He would create art after work into the late hours of the night. At that time, he had a friend who was working at a small retail furniture store and she insisted on exhibiting Frankie’s art in the showroom. Two of his paintings were soon sold for $200 a piece. Frankie was really excited over his first art sale, “I was 20 years old when I started creating art to sell.”

Two years later, he met Gary Jackson who curated Frankie’s first solo exhibition. The show was called “One Red Dot,” and they sold 23 pieces out of 32. Frankie reflected on that experience, “It was kind of a weird thing. That’s when I realized I want to do this full time. I quit my day job.”

He was doing well selling art for a couple years, but then things slowed down, and Frankie sought out employment at Rutherford's Designs, an interior design firm. Frankie learned a lot about design, balance, placement and perspective from the very talented group of designers at Rutherford’s. On occasion, Frankie had the privilege to work with Robert Rutherford directly and Mr. Rutherford taught him how to relate to high net-worth clients. “Our playground was Highland Park/Park Cities... most of the times our clients didn’t have a budget,” recalled Frankie.

Frankie's Art at the Marriott Hotel Dallas
Frankie’s ability to understand color, acquired at the printing shop, played a pivotal role in his future success in the interior design and art business. Frankie told me, “I’m GREAT with color and I know color. You can show me one shade of color and tell me ‘I love this shade,’ I’ll look at tons of other shades and review lots of variations from that shade… But, when I get to painting your space or canvas I’ll always hit it on the head and give you what you need for your space or project. Your color or color palette has been embedded in my brain and I’ll remember those shades forever.”

While working for the interior design firm, he began to create paintings for his clients’ homes and spaces. “Sometimes clients didn’t like what I personally painted but they liked my design style and my presentation, so I would continue to assist with other aspects of the project and began to collaborate, hire and commission friends and other artists. And that’s how all of this “artist unification/collaboration” thing started… I’d work with other artists and they’d ask me to work with them…” Since then, Frankie has been responsible for organizing numerous projects, events, exhibitions, fund-raisers and group shows including OFF THE GRID, ART+Advocacy, an art auction benefiting Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, and Artists Against AIDS art auction among others.
Frankie believes that “We creatively find a way to make a white canvas pretty. I’ve always said this, ‘If you are an artist, you should creatively be able to tackle anything in any aspect of life, if you want to.’ Cause, it is all white canvas, and it is just what we make out of it. From an artist perspective, it is all out there for our taking. We are fortunate to be in this country and have a freedom to choose to be artists. There are a lot of countries where you can’t make this choice.” 

Frankie's Art "Well Versed"
His biggest advice to young artists who ‘want to make it to the art world’ is be friends with technology. Create your website, blogsite and Facebook page; update them regularly. Reach out to people. Frankie says “Create your own path, just like you create your own art piece.” To illustrate the power of networking and social media, Frankie told me a quick story: “I just met with someone who said “Frankie, I tried to meet you for a year.” I asked him “What took you so long?” And he said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Just send me a message on Facebook, and I’ll respond to it.” But people don’t do it! If you want to meet somebody, Google that person, and send a Facebook friend request with a message “My name is so and so, and I am a local artist. I would like to meet for coffee, I’d like to sit and talk. I enjoy your work, I enjoy what you do, I enjoy the gallery – whatever it is. And when you sit in front of this person, who knows what they could bring to the table.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Andrey Bartenev: He’s Got the Balls. The Balls of Art...

Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow artists, photographers and just creative people! I am thrilled to share an interview with an artist whose work I admire and deeply respect. Andrey Bartenev is a unique gemstone on the world’s scene of performance art. Andrey was one of the pioneer artists in Post Soviet Russia and he quickly expanded to Western world, performing in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Austria, France, and USA. His ideas, looks, and performances are always provocative and mind-blowing. He is also one of the best-spoken people in the arena of art, who constantly invents new words and verbal constructions.

In spite of his celebrity status and huge success, Andrey spent over an hour of his time answering my questions via Skype. I discussed with Andrey his early career and evolution of his work. Andrey also gave me some advice on how to succeed in the art world. It was a pleasure to get to know Andrey Bartenev and business partner Alexander Khromov.
Andrey was born in Norilsk, an industrial city in north Russia. The city is covered with snow for about 250–270 days a year with temperature dropping occasionally to −72 °F. Andrey said he “lived in a contrast between black sky and white snow; everything seemed exaggerated: black polar night and blazing stars; the snow hills looked like sand dunes.” These natural phenomena influenced his psychology and perception of the world.  Andrey developed “sensitivity under the radar of the forces of nature” as he felt how paltry a man could be before the severity of nature.

At age fifteen, his family moved to Krasnodar (the south of Russia). Everything seemed to be so petty, and Andrey missed the majestic vastness of Norilsk. He also had another unpleasant revelation: ethnic enmity. Thus, in spite of extreme cold in Norilsk, social climate was warm and amicable. In contrast, Krasnodar was very hostile. Andrey said, “I was very naïve, and Krasnodar was my contrast shower. I experienced nationalism for the first time when I discovered that people can beat each other’s faces only because they come from different ethnic backgrounds.” Andrey also noticed that people in Krasnodar were obsessed with the material side of life, and they were fixated on a subject of money. Sure enough, as a native citizen of Krasnodar, I asked Andrey lots of questions about financing his projects and self-promotion… :)

In Soviet Russia, all college graduates were assigned to a job according to their major for a few years. It may sound like a blessing unless you are sent somewhere in Siberia working in a mining camp. Luckily for Andrey, his job was in Sochi, a nice sea resort town near Krasnodar. Andrey enjoyed the view of the Black Sea and fresh fruits while he worked there as a theater director. Yet, Andrey didn’t stay in Sochi for a long time, and six months later he moved to Moscow.

Andrey became famous for many things, but most of all for his outrageous outfits. In the best traditions of Leigh Bowery, Andrey could wrap himself in a flamboyant fabric from eyes to toes and show up like this at a serious analytical TV program.  I asked Andrey when his provocative style was born. He told me that even in Soviet Russia he wore bright green mohair pants with a label “Chicago,” a dark blue woolen coat, green socks, and a pink tie. All this beauty was adorned with Andrey’s ginger bob hairstyle. Even now it sounds a little bit radical; in Soviet time you could be arrested by the police if you wear such outfits outside circus.

Andrey’s art evolved over the years. From performance art and papier-mâché moving sculptures in 1990s he transitioned into 3D sculptures and teaching at the institutions in Western Europe and USA. Andrey commented on this transition as “My inner inquisitiveness and curiosity no longer wanted papier-mâché, my soul was tired, and in 2000 I began to experiment with sound, light and sculptures.”

I asked Andrey how he was able to finance his projects. Thus, in the early 90s Andrey was selling his graphic works and invested the money in making props for his early performances. Many of his friends and relatives helped him as volunteers. Then, in 1993 through 1996 Andrey and the work group Bartenev Art Productions including Natasha Sharumova, Igor Rudnik and Alexander Khromov brought his performances to the night clubs. Night clubs was a new phenomenon for post-Soviet Russia, and Andrey’s psychedelic performances fit well with house music and rave culture. In mid 1990-s, it was a great way to keep performance production going. Andrey and his team no longer perform at night clubs. He now accepts commissions from established art institutions, participates in art shows and biennales, partners with show business stars, works with movie directors, and creates performances for Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in NYC among others. 

Andrey gave me a few tips how to succeed as an artist: 

●    You should always develop your talent, constantly innovate and reinvent your style
●    It is very important to be in a creative atmosphere; surround yourself with like-minded people
●    Find your audience. If you feel that your art does not attract enough attention, find that verge where your work meets the right audience.
●    Do not averse to volunteer opportunities. Thus, “if your fellow artists ask you to help them twist the ropes, agree to twist their ropes.” You will energize each other and give a birth to new creative ideas and inspiration.
●    Financial doors have a tendency to close: try all possible ways to get financing for your projects.
●    Attend all kinds of seminars and workshops. “When you are immersed in a context of new programming, your mind might recognize completely unexpected things”
●    Finally, and most importantly, “you have to be incredibly smiling and remarkably genial person. Also, be literate, read a lot of poetry and invent new words and theories because the new era of artist-poets is approaching.”  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

William Brui: I Work For Eternity

William Brui, USSR born Jewish artist based in Normandy, France. His works can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), The Museum of Contemporary Art (NYC), Guggenheim Museum (NYC), The Museum of Contemporary Art in Paris (Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris), The Center of Georges-Pompidou (Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, Paris), The National Library of France (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), The Russian State Museum (St. Petersburg), and in numerous private collections.

I owe my introduction to William to my sister. My sister called me the other day and said she met an interesting artist with memorable twirled whiskers at a social event in London. He later invited her to the Sotheby’s art auction - he was selling one of his paintings that week. William returned to his residence in Normandy (a region of France) shortly after the auction.

I dialed William’s number not knowing what to expect. What if he has a French maid who’ll answer ‘Bonjour Madame’ while I have only Russian and English in stock? Thank God, William picked up the phone and greeted me in Russian. I spoke with William three times that week, and every time he showed me a different facet of his complex personality.
William grew up in an interesting family; their home was a hub for gathering of the most progressive people of that time: scientists, musicians, poets, writers, and other great people. Little William absorbed the wisdom of his mature counterparts, and pondered on the meaning of solitude, oneness with God, and other mysteries of life.

William discovered a talent of a visual artist and his creative vision early in childhood. At the same time, as many artistically gifted people, he had a hard time in a grade school. His grades were low due to dyslexia. He was a slow reader, and he could read the same book over and over again. One day his mom lost her patience watching him struggling with a book and exclaimed “You look in a book and see a fig” which is a common expression in Russian that means reading a book and missing the point. William did not understand his mom; he thought that he literally had to find that ‘mysterious fig’ in every book he read from then on. Obviously, there was no ‘fig’ in novels of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, but William was persistent to discover one. It forced him to read each book thoroughly and often reread it several times which led him to developing strong skills of critical analysis.

William began to demonstrate his artwork to adults since he was eight. At thirteen he sold his first artwork. At fifteen he became an apprentice at an engraver’s workshop, and soon participated in a group art exhibit in Leningrad (former St. Petersburg) for several consecutive years. He left Russia at age 24 and immigrated to Israel. While in Israel, he was interviewed by a journalist from the New York Times.

The article in the New York Times in 1971 made him famous overnight. William told me that he never sought out people’s attention; instead, he said “people always found me.”After that remarkable article, one of the major museums in New York bought a few of his paintings. William recites that transaction as the following, “They called me and asked to show some of my work. I brought a few of my paintings. They asked me ‘Would you like to sell them?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to.’ That’s it – so simple and unpretentious as if one just bought a bag of apples on a farmers market.

William lived in Russia, Israel, USA, and France at different stages of his life. Yet, most of his years he spent in Paris and later, in Normandy, France.

He moved to France from Israel because he “wanted to go to London, but had enough money only for a ticket to Paris.” He was in his mid-twenties, married, with two children. It was a difficult time for him and his family: very little money, uncertainty, and a new cultural environment. In addition, he never formally studied French – he had to pick up language by hearing other people’s speech. In spite of the challenge, William soon adapted to a new situation. He accidentally acquired wealthy clients (such as Madame Rothschild and her friends) by exhibiting his paintings in a local café. He also met an influential couple in the world of art and fashion: Alexander Liberman, Vogue's Art Director, and his wife, Tatiana Yacovleff du Plessix Liberman. They became William’s patrons and connected him with French elite.

William emphasized in our conversation that he never sought out fame, nor did he ever look for clients on his own. Word of mouth and referrals brought commissions to him, including an order from the Paris City Hall Administration. An architect who built a public school in 33 Rue Miollis district was a fan of William’s art. Government allowed spending 1% of the total cost on the décor of a building, and William was happy to leave his mark in Paris and paint a mural on the school wall. The school principal often invited William to explain the mural and share his vision with the students in the beginning of an academic year.

When I asked William about his price negotiation process with his clients, he told me a funny story when he accidentally spilled “I do not work for money, I work for eternity.” He intended to say his paintings were priceless but, due to the language barrier, it turned into this pompous statement that in fact, did help him sell his work for a better price.

When I asked what kind of advice William could give to young artists, he recommended studying thoroughly art movements, genres and styles, and then “try to forget everything as if you are a white sheet of paper. That’s when an inspiration, a Divine Force will enter your body and penetrate your art.”

Right now, William Brui is in his sixties, lives happily with his young wife in his estate in Normandy and continues to paint and exhibit his artwork in Europe and Russia.

William had massive ups and downs in his life and he shared some of these stories with me. The format of my blog does not permit me to publish all of them. The bottom line is William considers himself a fatalist and attributes ‘lucky incidents’ as well as down times to the Fate and God’s Will. William believes that if one destined to be successful and famous, so it will be. What I have learned so far, is that what one believes becomes one’s reality.

I know most of my American readers and myself are more comfortable with the idea of being in charge of one’s own destiny and reality, creating opportunities and attracting the right people and circumstances into their life by focusing their attention on the desired outcome. My purpose is not to object William’s point of view, but to reflect on what he thinks helped him to arrive to the current point in his life. I am convinced he is an eccentric and provocative gentleman with a deep artistic vision and philosophy. He is also kind and genial in treating people with respect and consideration. I am grateful I had a chance to get to know him and learn about his life and artistic career.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Emil Cerullo: A Mysterious Mister “E” behind the E Gallery Studios

Emil Cerullo didn’t go to art school. Emil Cerullo didn’t plan to become a gallery owner. Instead, Emil Cerullo was a successful entrepreneur in the medical business: he owned four diagnostic imaging centers in Texas and managed about 140 employees several years ago.

With high rates of obesity in the US, Emil saw a lucrative opportunity in providing services to people recovering from lap-band surgery. Emil consulted with physicians and learned that the risks for patient’s health were minimal, the surgery was already in the process of FDA testing, and it was a matter of time before someone would snap up the opportunity of offering the first lap-band surgery and post-surgical care in the USA. In addition, since the surgery and recovery take only one day, it could be done at a surgery center and not necessarily at a hospital. Emil bought air time for a radio show on CBS radio to promote this new business. That’s how he met JD Miller who was selling radio air time at that time.

His collaboration with JD Miller grew into a strong friendship. JD Miller became Emil’s mentor in the arena of hosting a radio show and in the arena of art (see my post about JD’s art). Emil often saw JD working on his three-dimensional oil paintings. Five years ago, one evening JD suggested that Emil should experiment with paints as a way to release stress. JD liked Emil’s spontaneity in painting and encouraged him produce more artwork. Sic, Emil became a visual artist in his early forties. Emil and JD partnered in Reflection Fine Art gallery in Dallas, TX. In six months, Emil painted 25 oil pieces and sold 18 at his first show. Yet, he was skeptical about his first artistic success, “I’ve been successful in business and friends came that had money: attorneys, accountants and people who were clients of mine… I felt like they gave me a gratuitous like, ‘I’ll buy your painting; I’ll buy your painting.’ At that point I wasn’t sure if I could do it.”

However, at his second show he had a brand new customer who made Emil believe in a worth of his art. “We had catered the event and there was a young guy who was a bartender and he really liked my art.” During the second show, “The bartender kid came back, and he said “I really want to buy this painting.” I felt like this is the first person I had actually sold a painting to that couldn’t afford it but was moved by it.”

Emil has created a lot of artwork that touched people’s emotional string. For example, the painting “War” emerged from Emil’s attempts to repaint a canvas a few times, made one of the gallery visitors cry. Even though it is an abstract work of art, that gentlemen who was so moved by the painting exclaimed “I was there! That’s war!” It turned out he fought in Afghanistan years before, and the artwork reminded him of the dusty, bloody battlefield.

There was another story that taught Emil to appreciate his art. In the beginning of his artistic career, Emil sold one of his paintings that took him about 30 minutes to make for $3,500.00. Emil felt he almost robbed the client, while his buyer turned to him and said “I robbed you, Son.” Indeed, that artwork became very popular and Emil reproduced the high-end prints of it five times.

Emil and JD Miller ended their partnership at Reflection Gallery several years ago and now each of them manages his own gallery. JD co-owns Samuel Lynne Galleries with Philip Romano, and Emil Cerullo owns E Gallery Studios. E Gallery Studios is a working studio for local artists, a creative space for art events, and, of course, an exhibition space. Emil’s beautiful wife, Wendy helps him to run the gallery.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

JD Miller: a Reflection of Pura Vida

Pura vida means Pure Life. JD Miller taught me the meaning of this expression when I visited him at his studio at Samuel Lynne Galleries about a week ago.

JD Miller is a reflectionist artist, a musician, and a co-owner of a successful contemporary art gallery in Dallas, TX. JD was a professional musician and worked on the radio when fifteen years ago he discovered his painting talent. “I decided that I will work, save and do whatever it takes to become a professional artist. I was painting 30 to 50 paintings per month when I started.” JD’s first art show happened at his house: he sold about 60 paintings that night. “I knew I was on the right path.” Later he was discovered by Janice Meyers who owned Florence Art Gallery in Dallas, TX.

When Janice retired to spend more time with her kids, JD founded his own Reflection Fine Art gallery. “About seven years ago I quit my job, cashed in my 401 K, refinanced my home -basically gambled everything I own on starting my own gallery. And it worked out. I did that for four years and I met Phil Romano who owns restaurants and we formed a partnership about three years ago to open this place, Samuel Lynne Galleries.” JD and Philip named the gallery after their kids: Samuel is Philip’s son and Jaime Lynne is JD’s daughter.

JD’s art went 80 times up in value in the last fifteen years. Thus, he sold his first paintings for $50-250, while now the same artwork worth between $15,000 and $20,000. JD is determined to rise to the top of the art world, and he clearly understands the value of promotion and building a brand. Thus, when I came to his studio, he was working on a bunch of small paintings – promotional gifts for producers of TV and radio programs. JD believes that the more that is published and written about you, the more you are collected by major collectors and museums, the more notoriety you acquire as an artist. A combination of all these things raises the value of your art. “That’s why as a gallery, we don’t buy advertising per se. We rarely purchase an ad. What we do is we invest our money into PR. We have a PR company in Dallas, TX and we have a national company based out of Las Vegas that handles our national and international PR. That’s what we invest in.”

JD confessed, “I’ve never painted to sell. I paint what I love. Don’t worry about it. I found, fortunately, that if I like it, the other people tend to like it too.” I know some artists are obsessed with perfectionism, and I asked JD how often he destroys his work. “I’ve painted close to 2500 paintings now and I had probably ten that absolutely didn’t work.”

“For my philosophy, I coined a term ‘Reflectionism.’ Being a reflectionist, first of all, is to recognize the Law of Attraction. I’ve lived that my whole life and I didn’t know what to call it until I saw the movie The Secret. That movie did a really good job, in my opinion, explaining what is like the Law of Gravity – you may not believe in the Law of Gravity, but guess what: you throw something in the air, it’s going to fall on the ground. And you may not believe in the Law of Attraction, but in my opinion it’s there, it exists just like the Law of Gravity. Essentially, what you put out in the Universe is what is reflected back. Myself and the other artists I work with that follow this philosophy, we choose to put out really high vibration energy: love, joy, happiness, beautiful things. And then what happens when you do that, the Universe reflects back beautiful, joyous things. And so what we do is record that. And I do it as a painter – I do it in three dimensional oils which is a technique that I’ve developed, but it can be done with anything. You can do it with music, you can do it with dance… I was in the music business for nine years and my music partner lives in LA. He and I are actually started an idea of reflectionist movement. His name is Chris Brickler. He does it in music, and I do it in art.”

JD Miller believes that the reflectionism idea is very relevant today. “There is a lot of negativity in the world today. I am not a believer of putting negative art out there. I’ve seen a lot of that in the last fifty years, and I want to put out beautiful things and associate myself with beautiful things. That’s my goal is to continue down that path and spread the word about reflectionism.” JD said, “Once I knew that this is my destiny, I didn’t rest until I was doing this. And there have been some challenging years, but it’s really paid off. The last few years have done very, very well. So I am very fortunate doing this and following my dream.”

Monday, May 30, 2011

Blakely Dadson: I Make My Own Money

Remember the scene from the movie Coming to America with Eddie Murphy “And, baby, when I tell ya the boy has got his own money, I mean the boy has got his own MONEY!” and the father shook the money bill with a portrait of Eddie Murphy’s character. I bet every one of us at some point thought how awesome it could be to make your own money. Well, Blakely Dadson went beyond wishful thinking and DID MAKE HIS OWN MONEY that he later exchanged for US dollars.
The story goes like this; Blakely was a graduate Fine Arts student at TCU, a private college in Fort Worth, Texas back in 2004. He just got engaged to his sweetheart and began to think about financial responsibilities that family life entails. At that time he was working on a painting of big heads of Native Americans on a panoramic canvas and just watched a documentary on printing new money. All these things came together as cooperative components and transformed into the money idea. Blakely says, “I didn’t have any money, really. I was a student, just supporting myself. I liked an idea of when I made something it was translatable into the means of supporting myself and my family… That show happened in the spring and we were able to move to New York with my wife.” The money paintings were sold for about $5,000 to 7,000 a piece at that time.  

Now Blakely is represented by two galleries: Chambers @ 916 (Portland, OR) and The Public Trust (Dallas, TX). His prices range between $2,000 and $14,000 per piece. He currently lives in Portland, OR with his lovely wife and does art full-time.

I asked Blakely how he entered the galleries and what advice he can give to artists who are looking for a gallery representation.

His first gallery partnership happened when he still was in a grad school. Gallery owners toured students’ studios. Talley Dunn, a co-founder of Dunn & Brown Contemporary (a prestigious gallery in Dallas, TX) offered to represent him at her gallery in Dallas. Later, when Blakely moved to Oregon, it took him almost a year to find a gallery that was a good fit with his art. His representation in Texas changed recently: the Public Trust gallery offered him a better exposure and he moved from Dunn & Brown Contemporary to the Public Trust.  

Blakely advices to get familiar with preferred format and submission instructions before you send your portfolio to a gallery. Blakely said, “Submitting something without asking how they want it to be submitted will just get your staff put in a pile.” It sounds like a no-brainer, but it is amazing how many people fail to do that. Every gallery is different, and the review committee wouldn’t even look at your work if it is not in a right format.

Second advice is to get an artist wing-man. Often, an exhibiting artist who has an established relationship with a gallery owner recommends a new artist with fresh ideas and a selling potential and helps to get his fellow artists’ foot in a door.

And finally, don’t underestimate a power of networking. Networking, networking, and networking!
Even if you don’t like the art exhibited in local galleries, it is still beneficial to visit art show openings and to mingle with gallery owners, curators, artists and other art professionals in your area.