How Personal is Your Collection?

I think some people are born collectors. As Gertrude Stein put it, “You can either buy clothes or buy pictures.”

Amen to that.

For me, it all started with a Ron Hicks painting I saw in his studio. This was some  25 years ago. I think I paid a whopping $500 for it.

At the time, I was living on beans and rice, getting around in a beater car but walking mostly. I didn’t have a cell phone or cable TV (yes, it was heaven). And, yeah, five hundred bucks was a lot of dough.

The Barbershop, Ron Hicks, 20x24, oil

I never regret buying art

I didn’t know Ron well at the time, but knew he was going to be great. Everything about him told me this: his fearless approach to painting, his desire to show the world not what he thought they wanted to see (i.e. what would sell), but what he wanted people to see, and see in a uniquely beautiful way. 

When people come to my house, they always pull up short in front of this painting and ask about it. I have a few friends whom I keep a close eye on when they stop by lest they sneak out with my Hicks–you know who you are. 

How do you know if someone’s going to be great? Actually, can you imagine how wealthy I’d be if I could figure that out?! So, short answer: no, I don’t think you can. But maybe there’s a sense of determination in that artist’s voice. Maybe there’s something that makes you think, this person will do anything to keep making art. When Ron created the barbershop painting, he was working a 9-5 job with PrimeStar and painting through the night. I’d never met anyone like him, so dedicated to his vision and voice. Amazing.

Hearing the artist's voice

David Grossmann approached me at the Coors Show about ten years ago, asking if I’d take a look at his work. I thought he was in high school and got a kick out of his determination (there it is again). I gave him my email and asked him to send me jpgs. When he finally emailed and I opened the files, I can honestly say my jaw hit the floor. Not only were the images beautifully executed, but there was something about each and every one that carried his painfully shy whisper of a voice. 

In the Snow and Shadow, David Grossmann, 18x24, oil

Artists struggle over voice, sometimes their whole career. And here was this young visionary, fresh out of art school, who put it all down in tiny, layered brushstrokes. I bought a painting on the spot, as soon as I saw his work in person. Then I picked up the phone and called a handful of gallerists I knew and told them to grab David while they still could. 

It's not about the money

Her Guardian, Quang Ho, watercolor

Quang Ho and I go way back, almost 30 years. Back then, Quang was working as an illustrator trying to transition into fine art and raising his younger siblings after his mother died (a story for another blog, for sure). We dated for a while until we finally realized we were better as friends. 

But I digress.

The story behind Her Guardian, is this. Quang had adopted a dog a few months before he and I met.

The big old shepherd-husky mix called Duke had come from California. When Duke’s owner, an elderly woman Quang had grown to love and respect, died, Quang wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her dog and so he drove Duke to his home in Colorado to live out his days.

Now, Quang wasn’t a dog person at the time. Couple this with the peculiar shepherd trait of dedicating themselves to one person and the fact that I was and am, through-and-through, a dog person and, well, it’s probably not hard to imagine that Duke bonded with me. When Quang and I split a couple years later, Duke jumped in my car and never looked back. He was my guardian for many years, tirelessly watching over me until the day he died. 

This painting, this little watercolor Quang did of Duke, is priceless.

The reality, however, is that if my collection went to auction tomorrow, Her Guardian would surely be “bought in,” passed over, left for the dust bin. No one would want it. And yet, every single day, this painting touches my heart and soul as it did the first time I saw it. (Thank you Quang for giving it to me on that day Duke and I drove off.) It hangs in the hallway between my boys’ rooms, Duke’s spirit, now, their guardian, too. 

Unexpected connections reveal ourselves to us

There is a term in writing, “ekphrastic,” which refers to “a poem of vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.” (Poetry Foundation)

Sharron Evans’ painting Awake is an ekphrastic poem.

Sharron is one of those artists whose work I responded to on such a deep level years before ever meeting her. When I finally did meet Sharron I was, honestly, a bit twitterpated. We became fast friends and at some point I mentioned a short story I had just finished. She asked to read it.

Awake, Sharron Evans, 24x24, acrylic

I don’t often share my fiction work; it’s purely something I do for my own entertainment–well, maybe it’s more than that–but I don’t share it lightly. (This must be how artists feel about sending their work out to the public, I think.)

Over that short story, Sharron and I emailed and talked for hours about the parallels between painting and writing and the will to create and so many other things. Then, that winter as my team was uncrating work for the Coors Show, they opened a box and pulled out a painting titled, Awake, by Sharron Evans. It quite literally took my breath away. When my Advisory Committee for the Coors Show heard the story, they bought the painting for me. Having this painting in my home is an honor like no other.

It's all personal

I suppose this is my long-winded way of saying that an artist has no idea what their work will mean to the collector. The collector, in turn, may never get to tell the artist what the work means to them. Because, really, even given the chance, words would probably fall short or feel too awkward to say aloud.

And maybe it doesn’t matter.

But, for those of you whose work resides in my home, I want you to know that you live in my heart; your work is more than paint or bronze or clay or paper. It breathes. It endures. It’s our connection. And somehow it’s also a separate, private conversation that is, at the same time, entirely universal.

Witness to the times

My dear friend Ron Hicks and I were talking today about the death of George Floyd, as we have been for days, and the demonstrations and riots and calls to defund the police and it all suddenly reminded me of the poem HARLEM, by Langston Hughes (1902-1967). You may recall the first line: What happens to a dream deferred? But it’s the final line of that poem that keeps playing through my head: …does it explode?

Read More

Ron Hicks, the Faces of Eve

Interview with Ron Hicks

June 15, 2018

In his latest body of work, “Faces of Eve,” loosely inspired by the biblical story of Eve, Ron Hicks delves into ancient architypes, exploring the emotions of betrayal, strength, loss of one’s homeland, fear, and love in a contemporary setting. He blends abstraction with realism—an honest evolution that may seem, if you know his work from past years, as a departure. It is not. This work represents years of thinking through the process of painting, moving from craftsman rendering what was in front of him to the sublime artist open and secure in his ability to take all he’s learned and allow his emotions to guide the way.