What Brand Are You?

Many years ago, when I looked over all the art I had been doing, I thought I might want to show a portfolio to a local gallery. Actually, a painter friend had recommended the gallery to me, thinking the owner might like my work. I gathered tight watercolor paintings painted from photographs; looser, more expressionistic acrylic paintings on paper; some of my book art, prints, and drawings, and made an appointment with the gallery. 

As I carried the work up the flight of stairs just off of a street in an upscale shopping district, I examined the work on the walls. It was pretty, well-crafted, and in a variety of styles. I could fit in, here, I thought. The owner was with a friend or client, and I waited until the other visitor left before I introduced myself. I showed her my work, propping it up here and there, walking between the different stacks. Another visitor appeared, but the owner seemed to want me to wait, actually to talk to me about writing (this was before I had gotten my writing degree). She kept me about an hour. Finally, she asked, "In which direction are you headed?"

I paused. I looked at the paintings, drawings, the different forms. "Well, I'm trying to get a feel for what would fit here," I answered. She pressed me. "I could pursue any of these directions," I managed to say. I liked experimenting and exploring. Which did she like? She never answered my question.

On the wall was a huge photo of a textured wall, mounted to look like a painting. I knew it was a photo because I had advised the photographer on a book she wanted to make. The owner loved this piece and spoke glowingly of the artist. It was nice, I agreed.

She got a phone call. I packed up and left, wondering why she could not answer my question.

But I understand now. She wanted a brand. What WAS I? What would I reliably make? If someone liked it, could she count on more? She wanted a body of work. Each piece looking like the next. That was when I realized that being a gallery artist was probably not for me.

A style is different. I didn't realize that until a friend who was familiar with my print and book work looked at a small watercolor and said it was obvious I had done it. How? I was baffled. She said it just looked like my hand. If that is so, why should a gallery want only one medium? Because labels make people feel better, more secure. Which is not the kind of art I want to make.


Velma Bolyard said…
exactly! well said.
Leslie said…
Alisa, I think there are a slew of artists out there who are going to be very grateful to you for this post, myself included.
Leslie Stewart
Anonymous said…
I do know what you mean by knowing an artist's hand, however.