Now that my art exhibition “Life is Beautiful” is over, I am (naturally) reflecting on it. I had mentioned to the director of the gallery that I would like to spend time on site during my show. She thought it was an odd request. Why would an artist actually be IN the gallery during an exhibition (apart from at the opening)? People might somehow be ‘put off’. I didn’t pursue the subject. Happily, before the exhibition began she went overseas – and – while the cat is away, the mice will play!
And so…I ended up spending nearly three weeks at the gallery (along with Exhibition Manager, Melanie). Melanie attended to gallery business while I just talked to people. And guess what? They liked me being there. One delightful lady, who I very much enjoyed meeting, said with wonder, “I didn’t know that artists talked to people”.
Perhaps artists don’t talk to people but they SHOULD. Artists depend on galleries to represent them but (has anybody else noticed?) …galleries are closing down. Are they shutting up shop everywhere or just in Perth where I live? This is a trend which started after the global financial crisis and is ever-increasing in this city. Galleries are disappearing and artists are left high and dry. Artists need to step in to represent themselves – and actually meet and talk to people.
It was exhausting for me to talk every day and yet there was nothing I would rather have been doing. I am used to solitude – just sitting and drawing. What a change to have to drive “to work” in the mornings and not get home again until evening.
I developed a way to introduce myself: I would offer each visitor a chocolate when he or she entered the gallery. “Welcome to the gallery. Would you like a chocolate? I’m Julie and I’m the artist. If you have any questions while you are looking at the work please ask.” Invariably, most people DID ask (and some enjoyed the chocolates, too.) People wanted to know about techniques, the art materials themselves – and a lot of people wanted to know about maiko and geiko in Kyoto.
One of the most poignant interactions for me was when a lady brought in her aged aunt who has dementia. She gently led her aunt around the whole exhibition, explaining all the way. She said to me that though her aunt would not remember the experience, she would know that she had had a good day.
Because it was such a fulfilling experience for me to meet, greet, listen and discuss, there was no sense of ‘let down’ after the exhibition closed. Always in the past there has been a build up of momentum and expectation before a solo exhibition and then, equally, a sense of grief after it closed…a real period of blues. This time I feel a sense of completeness rather than the hollow feeling I used to have post-exhibition.
Perhaps galleries have felt it in their interest to keep artists and public separated. But this method is not serving anybody well. Artists must take the reins, rather than being mere ‘horses’ in gallery ‘stables’.
As for me, I am now without representation by a commercial gallery. What will I do next time I am ready to hold a solo exhibition? In two years from now I will have a substantial new body of work. Whatever and wherever it is, I will be at the controls.
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