Ursula Visits Art Galleries

Today James and I drove up to Scottsdale to visit some art galleries, on the principle that hey, we’re local, I’m doing more originals, maybe we should see what’s out there, what’s selling, etc.

It took about two hours before our brains became thoroughly saturated, and the last place had an attendant that went after us like a used car salesman trying to sell us some art. I knew it was gonna be bad when the guy looked at James, who was wearing my Matisse T-shirt, and said “So, you like Matisse, huh? We’ve got…” And James, who doesn’t know Matisse from a Mexican jumping bean, and had simply been hunting for a clean shirt because I’ve been a slacker on laundry this weekend, got a hunted look and started to back away, until the man eventually cornered him among the Norman Rockwell prints.

But I saw a fair amount of art. Sturgeon’s Law is solidly in effect–90% of it was crap. A further 5% was technically adept but dull. There was one really stunning realist, who did Korean women with elaborate fabric robes, with this oil impasto thing on the brocade that worked superbly. And there was a really stunning surrealist who did impressive things with oil, producing plants which had an almost crumpled metal look, with edges that looked like sharpened foil, that was gorgeous. And there were a coupla okay things, some fairly okay things, and even one children’s artist who did tons of anthro stuff that was delightful to see.

There were also about six thousand paintings of cowboys, Indians, horses, pots, and canyons. None of them stick in my mind, at all. James called them the mental equivalent of Chinese food–you look and look and your brain is stuffed and an hour later you can’t remember a single one. Most of them were that American Impressionist stuff that presumably looks great in the hands of a master, or when the piece is reproduced as a postage stamp. In the flesh, however, they mostly just looked like giant color thumbnails. I kept looking around for the real painting. They were listed for many thousands of dollars. I’m glad to know that they are worth that, because if someone gave me one as a gift, I’d thank them, strip the frame, and put ’em out on a garage sale for 5$, and that would obviously be a financial mistake.

To be fair, there were a few really nice bits of Western Americana–a few giant, wild canvases of freaking horses with really strong design elements, and a coupla portraits of Indians that weren’t R.C.Gorman giant technicolor muumuus or saccrhine noble savages. Oddly enough, I saw no good paintings of cowboys. You’d think out of all those cowboys, there’d be one that was not profoundly, completely forgettable, but nope. Cowboys may actually be worse than dragons for done badly, done to death. (Now there’s a scary thought…)

One thing I did NOT see, that surprised me, was much wildlife art. Horses, bison, cows, one wolf, but hardly any realistic wildlife art at all. And that really was a surprise–I expected a lot of that. Peculiar. Lotsa landscapes. They were…meh. Many of them looked like backgrounds to a foreground that hadn’t gotten added in yet–they had no focal point, nowhere for the eye to settle. Not real impressive.

It was a little peculiar, really. While I went to a lot of galleries–some of these same ones, in fact!–with my Mom when I was a kid, I didn’t remember the art that well. And as an adult, I am mostly a browser of on-line work, and the occasional museum. I never go into actual physical galleries. So it was something of a shock to see paintings that were, y’know, IN A GALLERY, that were large, and cost thousands of dollars, and had glaring anatomical errors. And I don’t mean the “I’m an arrrrtist, so I can make the wrists longerr…” kind of errors but hyperrealistic art where the eyes are two-thirds up the head instead of halfway, so they look like a neanderthal. I actually reached out and measured with my fingers and went “Huh.”

Also lots of that American impressionist stuff, everywhere, far outnumbering realism. And that surprised me, too. I don’t know why.

Obviously nothing much like what I do, unless I want to start channelling Bev Doolittle. I dunno. Maybe when my brain finishes playing with abstract and fabric, it’ll figure out something commercial I can paint, like homicidal cactus fairies or something. But it was educational, anyhow.

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