When my friend, Leo Lopez, Vice President of Bremer Bank and Chair of the Board of Directors of Neighborhood House, invited me to paint at Neighborhood House’s annual gala, it incited excitement, apprehension and anticipation. Painting live in front of potential owners of the painting brings together all aspects of high risk: In very short order, the final product must be aesthetically significant, it must be universally engaging, and it must not suffer any failure in execution.
Making a complete painting in one hour is a daunting task. There are painters who have the “painting live” routine down pat -- they sketch the design out lightly on a blank canvas, and, at the critical moment, astound the viewer with the ability to conjure up a masterful work. Looking back at the very first time I was asked to do a one-hour-live auction contribution, the parties cited other artists that did this “performance.” Needless to say, it was with great hesitation that I accepted their invitation, with the caveat that I would not undertake this as a sideshow, but as a core expression of the values of the beneficiary organization and the advancement of art and culture. It is a fulfillment of my identity as an artist to give back to the community; to focus on creating value for the eventual donor/patron.
The general audience does not understand collectability of art. I purposely do not create a painting that is suitable as wall décor. I consciously produce a piece that is a provocation on the issues of our day. It is my understanding that the serious collector is there looking for a touchstone of truth to hang in their collection. My experience with those people who collect my art aggressively is that they are looking for a painting that challenges their understanding of the world. In a way, this focus increases the risk of failure in the moments of this event.
My response to the risk of making an extremely important and provocative piece in a constricted 90-minute time period is to rehearse, much like a dancer. The difference is that I rehearse to prepare for the innovation, rather than the rote execution. In the art community, I am recognized for the thousands of brush strokes that I utilize to create a feel of visual excitement, imagery and entrapment. Ninety minutes poses a real challenge to my signature style of work. My rehearsals have been reductive in practice. I find myself laughing at me with initially starting in my current style of execution and not being able to get below two and a half hours of fast and furious painting. It has been enlightening to create strategies to get me down to an hour and three quarters. As the day of the event approaches I feel the tension coursing through my entire being to focus myself into faithfully and truthfully executing an evolution of my style.
If I am successful, this is the very quality that a serious collector is searching for, because this piece becomes a milestone in the ongoing evolution of my unique style. There is some poetry in this way of working, in that the discriminating collector awash in the anonymous audience is very intimate to the process of art making. They are unique witnesses to the next step in my art. With that, I am grateful when they assign a monetary value that translates into greater good for the mission of Neighborhood House.
The gala event is October 4, 2018 at Neighborhood House. It is the mission of a Chicano artist to serve the community. Creating a painting for their fundraising gala is a great honor because Neighborhood House has been a portal for many diverse peoples, including the Latino diaspora, and a fixture on Saint Paul’s West Side for over 120 years.