The Evolution of My Art OpinionNovember 1, 2015
(Please forgive me for talking so much about myself)
In 1972, my art career in Santa Fe began at a snail’s stride. My wife and I and two young daughters slept on the floor while we plastered the walls in our new gallery.
One problem was that more than half my life had been spent flying fighters in the Air Force. I was an artistic lowbrow with no college and no business acumen. Art was an entirely new focus, and I didn’t even own a painting.
So I borrowed a few and advertised them full-page color in the most prestigious magazines of the day, Apollo and Connoisseur. I was hoping the big collectors who didn’t know me would think I was an expert.
Fortunately, we happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right product. And I say product because to me an artist was a manufacturer and the painting she produced was little more than a commodity. Seemed reasonable to me. What’s the difference between General Motors making a Chevrolet and Roseta Santiago making a painting?
Good female painters were rare, and I didn’t understand why the art market was dominated by male artists. Seemed to me like they should be out mending the fence, or something.
In 1975, we acquired a great painting by Nicolai Fechin for $7,500, and sold it two weeks later for $15,000. That was 100% profit in fourteen days, or 2,600% profit, amortized over a year. I was loving the art business, but I still had so much to learn. I didn’t know the difference between abstract art and modern art, or even if there was a difference.
Abstract art uses a visual language of shape, form, color, and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.
Wassily Kandinsky – Ugh! You can have that guy. I couldn’t even understand the definition of what he was doing. His work found no home in my affections.
Modern art … is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.
Well, that was a little better, but the beauty of Pablo Picasso’s “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” was way beyond the reach of my imagination, and the look of that thing rippled over me in a way that I had not known since some guy tried to sell me an Andy Warhol tin can painting. I avoided dealers who dealt in that kind of art for fear they’d turn their vocabulary loose on me.
In 1988, we sold our gallery and I signed a five year no-compete clause with the new owner. That moved me away from the business. Almost immediately I went from knowing nearly everyone in the western art scene, to not knowing anyone.
While I was out on the art periphery I couldn’t help but notice what was happening. The Fechin painting that we sold a few years earlier for $15,000, hammered at auction for $1,200,000.
Today, when I walk into Santa Fe galleries, like Blue Rain, Matteucci, or MEI, I am amazed at the quality of what I see. I would like to buy nearly everything that’s hanging on the walls.
Years ago I learned how the manufacture of Chevrolets is different from what a painter does, and why the value of an artist’s work should not be determined by the man hours expended. With so many lady painters becoming prominent today, it is obvious that talent is not decided by the arrangement of chromosomes.
After a few years being out of the business I felt isolated and longed to get back into camaraderie that surrounds the artists and what they do. I was still learning and wanted to participate. So, in 2007, I commissioned Roseta Santiago to paint the cover of my Historic American Indian Dolls book. Everyone loved it.
With good art appreciating like it is today, maybe I’ll start saving my money and buy another one of her paintings. I hate this feeling of being born forty years too soon.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1970, I built an art gallery in Santa Fe that my wife and I ran for seventeen years. Since then, my energies have been directed toward excavation of a large Indian pueblo and writing books about art and exploration. I hope you enjoy my blog!