Artist's Statement

Artists are particularly and uniquely unsuited to survive in the world. We are, as a rule, sensitive, introspective, vulnerable, questioning and thin-skinned. Many of us do not play well with others. We are notoriously poor business people (usually because we neither care about nor understand the world of finance) and spend our days and nights grappling with issues and ideas that most people regard at best as self-indulgent and incomprehensible, and at worst as downright subversive.

We can't help it. Art is, for me and most of the serious artists I know, a way of life. It's not just something we do. And I think it defines us in a way that goes far beyond the manner in which most people's careers define them.

I love the process of painting, of putting a blob of paint ('blob' is a highly technical painting term, and definitely not recommended for use by beginners) on a piece of canvas, manipulating it into another blob of paint and seeing what happens; I love the fact that it's unpredictable, that what worked yesterday may not - in fact, probably won't - work today; I love looking at and reacting to patterns of light and shadow on almost anything: a dead tree laying in tall grass, the graceful arch of an ochre dune against a blue sky, a woman's shoulder.

As artists, it behooves us to frequently examine why we paint or sculpt or draw or sketch or whatever. If we paint because we want to be rich and famous, or because we think it's relaxing, or because someone's sister-in-law heard that painting is great therapy and thanks to Grumbacher is off Prozac now, or because Uncle Harold, who never had a lesson in his life, watched that German guy on TV and now has happy paintings hanging in Motel 6s throughout the West, chances are we're painting for the wrong reasons.

Most good painters paint because they love to. Most great painters paint because they have to. It's almost too arduous to do for any other reasons. Dealing with and overcoming the obstacles we face in becoming good painters forces us to change and grow as people. Sometimes it's not pretty and sometimes it's not fun. We often have to confront ugly and unpleasant truths about ourselves along the way. Sometimes it's pure, unadulterated agony. But at other times it's incredible - exciting, surprising, liberating, fulfilling. Kind of like life.

I like being an artist. I like not having a job. I like waking up in the morning and not knowing exactly what the day holds for me. I like being my own boss. I especially like being in a position where no one tells me what do (in theory, anyway).

When I was just starting out as a painter, and not making any money, I spent a lot of time trying to convince people that painting was my job: my parents, when they wondered where they had gone wrong; friends, who would exchange knowing glances and murmur, “I always knew he was a little odd”; my first wife, who waited with growing impatience for me to get this painting thing‚ out of my system, and who finally gave up hope that I would ever utter the magic words, “I think I should go to work for your father.” Even complete strangers routinely questioned the validity (not to mention the sanity) of my decision to try to paint for a living. In retrospect, I don’t blame any of them for being suspect; I cringe when I look back at how dismal my prospects were at the time.

But as I’ve become more accustomed to the notion that one can indeed make a living from art, I’ve become equally determined not to think of it as a job. As something I have to do. It’s important for me to keep the fun in it. Because once it ceases to be fun, I’m going to be long gone and hard to find.

Speaking of making a living as a painter, it ain’t easy. There are as many reasons for this as there are stars in the sky (well, maybe not quite that many), but I had an experience almost 20 years ago that I believe gets to the heart of the matter.

I had set up my easel on a country road in Vermont, in front of a small, picturesque farm. My subject: dappled light on a derelict, old flatbed truck parked in a sea of weeds, with a decrepit barn behind it (I love broken-down stuff. Paging Dr. Freud).

While I was painting, a farmer (the owner of said farm) drove by on a tractor, hauling manure (draw your own conclusions). We nodded warily at one another, and he chugged by without a word. He subsequently drove past me at least a dozen times as I painted and never said a thing, although I did catch him glancing suspiciously at my painting once or twice as he passed by.

I finished, and was packing up to leave, when he drove up, shut off his tractor and asked to see the painting. He liked it (to our mutual surprise) and asked how much I wanted for it. I thought for a moment, and then quoted him a dirt-cheap price. After all, he’d been nice enough not to shoot me; and I figured that if I could leave with enough cash to fill the car with gas, buy lunch, and put a down payment on a couple of tubes of Cadmium Yellow Light, I’d be happy as a clam.

When he heard the price, the farmer looked at me like I’d just questioned the virtue of his only daughter. He snorted in disgust, hacked a slimy wad on the pavement and said, “Hell, I could buy a pig for that.” Then he started up his tractor and drove away.

That’s why it’s hard to make a living as a painter.

- Steve Allrich