Tuesday, May 27, 2008


"Café Le Select" 1996 

Many years back, I went to a vernissage at a gallery on the Quai des Grands Augustins. Ron Bowen, a longtime friend, was exhibiting his new work. Ron’s paintings, hyper-serene and paradoxically stark large scale works, are masterfully painted in his smooth photo-realistic style.

The owner of the gallery, a tailored-suited gay Eurasian, not only recollected having met me at a dinner party a year before, but also remembered my Paris postcards.  "You should show your work here," he said convincingly.

"That would be great,"  I responded. I would have pulled out photos of my new work on the spot had it not been a fellow artist’s opening:  bad manners. He saw my hesitation.
"Make an appointment with my director, Chris, " he suggested.  "He’s too busy to talk to you tonight."  I walked around and looked at Ron’s new work. My favorite was a bathtub soapdish surrounded by pale green tiles. His bathroom really IS that clean, I thought. I congratulated him and then left in a very good mood.
It took me a while to get a hold of Chris. All the time I was thrilled at the prospect of showing my new work in this great location. He finally agreed to see me. When I arrived at the gallery, Chris was engaged in a serious conversation with another young man. I introduced myself.

He asked me if I wouldn’t mind waiting.  There was a new exhibition so I pretended to look intently at the large super abstract canvases for what seemed to be an awfully long time. After 45 minutes or so I approached the two men and said that if they were too busy...  Chris sighed and stood up to look at my book loaded with recent images of Paris. He opened it to my painting "Le Select," a Montparnasse café renowned for its history of serving degenerate artists and writers from Modigliani to present.   It had been Hemingway’s drinking hole as well.
I had included Ernest at one of the tables, though he was more known to belly up
to the bar. As was Henry Miller. It was a good painting also. I modestly saw a touch of "Le Moulin de la Galette" in it.
"Oh," he groaned, "this stuff is for the tourists," and closed the book. "Why don’t you try la Place du Tertre?"
As it turned out, Chris and I had many mutual friends. Fortunately. we were never invited to dinner parties at the same time.
Everyone knew that I was in rage over his remark.  Le Select ended up in the collection of Emily Lodge. Yes, "Lodge" as in "Henry Cabot."   Every time I see her and her husband Bobby they remark about how much they enjoy it.
Chris and I are on good terms now.  He’s had his own gallery near the Bastille for about 10 years. I saw him coming out of my corner café Le Progres last week. He said the second course was bland. I laughed. Chris has a style of his own.
But now that I’m back painting in the street, I ask myself, why did the remark "It’s for the tourists" pierce my heart so?
And why does the word tourist connote garbage?
Doesn’t anybody travel anymore?
Are we all xenophobic?
For those who define tourists as a person that is easy to take advantage of, shame on you.
Thirty years ago, I traveled 6 months in India.
The Hindus believe one who travels is a spirit seeking wisdom.
Nonetheless La Place du Tertre behind the basilica Sacré Coeur is and has
been, for over a century a charming square where painters sell their works
to  "travelers."  It’s a perfect market situation for the millions who visit Montmartre every year hoping to buy "real art" at a reasonable price,  and to see the artist that
made it to boot. A win-win situation. I think a lot of the work is terrible, but so do the so called artists themselves. They don’t care. If it sells they’re happy.

The other side of the coin -- let's call it 'heads' --  is the passionate artist who creates with all his heart and soul and never sells.  And doesn’t care. The world doesn’t understand him, but he never thought it did.

I hate not to sell, and suffer almost as much when I have a vernissage and
they don’t even look.  And when they do look, it’s not that easy either. Because they are looking at me. Even though the works differ, they are all a part of me. My soul’s DNA.

Painting while the whole world is watching is a humbling endeavor. I’m saying, "Okay. You can watch while I make this painting, make mistakes, change my mind, explore,. You can watch. Yes, I can tell you where the nearest Metro is, or how you can find your way to the Moulin Rouge. Just don’t ask me, "Where do we find the square with all the
Because I don’t know.

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