The Journey Begins
If you’ve read my previous posting, you’ll know a bit about my views on art and, inferentially, on the work of Floyd D. Tunson. This is not, of course, the whole story, but is anything ever the whole story? In this and subsequent posts, I hope to shed a beam of light on my journey representing Tunson and, in turn, be of help to anyone else considering a similar adventure. I know several men and women who, not artists themselves, keenly appreciate great art and sympathize with artists’ reluctance and emotional inability to toot their own horns. These folks simply want to help. Their motives are pure.
Sure, hundreds of books and articles are available with all kinds of advice about marketing strategies, copyrights, and so on. And, sure, much of this information is necessary and helpful to an artist’s rep. What these publications do not and cannot explain, however, is how to authentically represent an artist by reflecting him in the way you conduct the business of his work, by indulging all the eccentricities that he, like all human beings have and are entitled to. All I know is what I’ve experienced, so perspectives I share are simply how things have worked or not worked for me. So if you want to consider my experience to be advice, so be it.
Only you can decide if your journey with your artist is a fool’s errand or one of the richest, more meaningful challenges life can offer. Or both.
My journey began in the late 1970s when I visited Tunson’s studio for the first time and saw a collage that captured my heart. Old Man Comforts reminded me of the dignified gentlemen I had seen in the Missouri Ozarks, where I grew up. Like Mr. Williams, the elderly gentlemen I knew would never be seen in public in denim or khaki. Their suits were shiny with wear, but spotless. They, unlike many people today, differentiated between private and public domains. What one wore, said, or did in private was not necessarily appropriate public behavior. Now and again, I run into an elderly gentleman at Safeway who wears, I do not lie, his pajamas. On one hand, I think it’s refreshing that someone wants to be comfortable and doesn’t care anything about what anybody thinks. On the other hand, this casualness makes me respect Mr. Williams all the more for donning his public self when he took his daily walk in the Denver neighborhood where Tunson grew up.
Perhaps you can see why I had to buy this piece. It wasn’t only the subject matter I admired; it was the composition, the strategic placement of the pieces and the choice the artist made to include just enough details to make the imagery particular to Mr. Williams, but still universal.
This, then, was the beginning of my forty-year association with Floyd D. Tunson – Mr. Williams and his Old Man Comforts. After many subsequent studio visits, I continued to get a certain feeling about the work, all of it – painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture, watercolor – it was a feeling I have no words for, but I suppose mysterious, mystical, bold, surprising, puzzling, beautiful will have to do. It was the “Tunson touch.” I loved it all and knew that I had to learn more about it.
So, if you want to interpret my experience as advice, it is this: View as much of the artist’s work as you possibly can, and if you’re emotionally and intellectually captivated by everything you see, then that’s the reason to do all you can to help him or her achieve the critical recognition and the financial comfort you think that artist deserves.
A caveat, though: Viewing the work is not as easy as it sounds. In my case, it was and remains a mountain to climb. Tunson has four storage rooms filled floor to ceiling with large-scale paintings, sculpture, mixed media, and a miscellany of objects he might include in an art piece… sometime. Because there’s no space to walk in and slide out, say, a painting, dozens of pieces have to be laboriously removed before a given piece can be accessed. Even after forty years, there are a few pieces I have yet to view. Now, every time he has to pull out a piece way in the back, I totally understand his moans and groans.
Anyway, you get the idea: See as much of the artist’s work as possible and assume this could take multiple viewings. By all means, photograph each piece and write down the medium, dimensions, and year completed. You will need all this info for the inventory and for creating profiles for marketing the work. Be grateful you can use a phone camera for the photos. Until recent years, photographing Tunson’s work was an arduous task. I didn’t – couldn’t – even attempt to photograph it. He would set up his studio with the proper lighting and photograph each piece when it was completed. The result was film that had to be sent to a photo lab to be processed into slides. Then the slides had to be labeled and inserted into sleeves in a binder. This laborious and tedious documentation process is one task that wealthy artists would assign to a studio assistant. For several years, these slides were the only inventory format he or I used to keep track of his work. Eventually, I created a spreadsheet for this purpose. Before the advent of digital cameras and certainly the iphone, my inventory contained no visuals of the art. I made notes to identify the piece, weird little descriptors like “has a yellow curved shape in the lower right corner.” Eventually, I added digital images to the spreadsheet. Just last year, I transferred all the inventory images and information to a software called “artworkarchive.com.”
This process of familiarizing oneself with an artist’s work is messy, inchoate, and frustrating for the artist and the rep; however, every aspect of working with an artist is messy, inchoate, and frustrating. I have come to expect it, and I just deal with it, sometimes better than at other times.