We drove out on morning leaving Cass and Jarrah home – they thought missing school so they could see us off was worth it. As we drove off I could see them hugging each other tightly (probably a few tears too). It’s hard at that moment but I was destined to do this and nothing could stop it now.
We drove to Adelaide and the following morning we were taken to the airport by my sister Simone and her husband Colin. The first challenge was having to give up my big original artworks to luggage as they’re so precious but too big for hand luggage even in an Australia post cylinder. We hopped to Sydney (2 hours) and then got aboard an A380 airbus.
They’re huge and get off the ground as effortlessly and lightly as a feather. BIG engines. We were really on our way (14 hours)! Sequoia has the window seat for all flights and he has a great view of the wings. His ambition is to join the Australian Air Force and become an engineer or pilot and has been a cadet for almost 2 years.
He had a good look at the cockpit (the biggest of all passenger planes) on landing in LA. It was quite weird that we landed on the same date and about exactly the same time as we left Australia. Going back we lose 2 days.
Our first serious drive started on Monday and we headed west destined for the property of Darlene Neisess near Spokane. Took all day and it rained all day. We had been in Washington state for 3 days and it hadn’t stopped. Wet place day and night, how do people cope? They’re not fussed as they all know what to expect but at home we can go an entire year and barely get wet during the day so our Akubra’s were handy.
We saw the most amazing landscape. Real snow topped mountains covered with pine trees – the sort you see in movies and then suddenly open rolling plains covered in pivots (huge line of sprinklers which rotate) and then cereal crops in paddocks with no fences, a lot like the Adelaide hills.
They don’t run any stock and can crop twice a year on black clayey soil. Most machinery is much smaller than at home and quite a bit of older machinery, some dating back to the days when Gary’s grandfather farmed with the old Massey Harris.
Darlene was wonderful and drove us around the district for 3 days looking at galleries, using her not inconsiderable marketing and promotional skills introducing my art to new galleries, and seeing the sights. She also organised a private western dressage lesson – something on my bucket list, when she took us to meet her friend Michelle Binder Zolezzi who created ‘Relational Riding’.
She gave me her DVDs and a western riding lesson on not one but 3 different horses ranging from Darlenes appaloosa stallion Joey, to a semi retired arab rescue horse – a schoolmaster who could do every dressage movement and I rode in a curb bit and actually did a few wonderful extreme collections when I asked right, to a fabulous paint horse (another rescue horse) with loads of go and incredible lateral movements.
Michelle instructed me for about 2 hours as she showed me what each horse could do and how her principles and decades of education around the world in ancient classical dressage have led her to instructing and riding this way.I love coloured horses and I got to ride beaufully educated and sensitively soft horses, impeccably schooled to their current level of training.
There to much to tell you about but I’ve a new way of understanding riding and my horses body, movements and relationship with me. Michelle is an amazing horsewoman and educator and I cannot express how much I learnt and loved the time I spent with her at her fantastic indoor facilities AMAZING! She is on my new bucket list to get to Australia – we have too have her over.
New York – Week 2
The last blog comment I made about week 1 concluded with me raving about my western horsemanship riding lesson. Week 2 has been about getting places, some serious distances and seeing the most amazing galleries and the best art town I could ever imagine – Jackson in Wyoming. When we left Spokane and said our goodbyes to Darlene, the most generous of hosts, we headed south rather than our original plan of going north into Canada. The weather has played a crucial part in our plans as we are not to take our motorhome into those sorts of winter conditions and it was starting to sound like snow chain territory. Now, we can deal with drift of the red sand variety with great expertise and aplomb – but snow? NO idea and not a good time to learn the hard way about handling snow and ice, especially as we were not allowed to use snow chains on our motorhome. We would have loved to meet so many people up there but this decision will allow us more time to travel in other directions.
As we drove southeast the hills got bigger, and they became mountains – the Rocky Mountains. Thank goodness for the most amazing freeway system we’ve ever experienced as the road negotiated around the precipices and ravines. What started as water pouring out of cliff faces changed as we moved south to become scattered snow and then snow peaks, transforming as we continued into tree and snow covered mountains with pure white snow down to the roadside. The skies were clear and blue and the breeze was gentle but when we stopped to investigate this unique (to us) phenomenon it was icy cold and penetrating. Once Gary gets into drive mode he is VERY hard to stop. It’s an interesting phenomenon I like to call ‘tractor driving syndrome’. All broadacre farmers have this and essentially what it means is nothing will stop them putting in a 12 hr day driving. They won’t even stop for lunch (although Gary did because he needed a break from all the concentrating – being in a big paddock driving on your own all day/ night is quite different in that regard).
Sequoia and I talked him into stopping so we could check out our first snow.
My description will make some of you laugh, so – for starters the sun is warm but the air is freezing. And the snow isn’t melting much because its reflecting rather than absorbing the suns heat. When we touched it it was really soft and kind of fluffy and not like the ice out of a freezer. I thought it was dense and would press down on the grass but it sits gently on the grass underneath like fairy floss as its so light. I grabbed a handful and squeezed it and it compacted into a firm lump 1/2 its original size. It felt like a dry lump of cold dirt. More loamy than clayey (farmers will get that). I added to it and it stuck together and I could make it into a round ball really easily. I just made my first snowball!!! I had to make more for sure but first I had to do what every cartoon and movie had shown me to do since I was a kid – throw it at someone. Glad Sequoia was there – got him! Sequoia built a little snowman – his first ever and by the end of our 10 minutes play we realised the importance of gloves, our hands were freezing. By then Gary was keen to get moving again and we headed off. A few minutes later we departed the snow line and we happily commented on how lucky we were to experience that. Little did we know how much we would experience. That was Friday and its Friday again a week later and we are still driving past snow covered mountains. The Rockies are never ending!
First night was in Missoula and we decided it was good economics to stay in Walmart carparks. Walmart encourages this and tends to keep an eye on overnight campers so we are safe too. The next day we went into town to look at galleries and found a couple of great ones. Dana gallery especially as we met a couple of the artists there including Caleb Myer and the legendary Robert Moore who has amazing landscapes, some of which are huge, in so many galleries.
Our second night was on the edge of the Yellowstone national park at a place called Livingston and as it was going to be below freezing we booked into an RV park ‘Osens’ owned by Peter and Mindy at and used their power to keep our little home on wheels from freezing up and us too.
Bozeman contained a few lovely galleries and a wonderful ‘top end’ framing business. I found that researching framing has been almost as interesting as finding galleries which feel right for my art. Framing in the US is different to Australia, especially when it comes to the western arts scene. Frames are very heavy and can be quite elaborate, leather covered at times, or gilt and incredibly expensive. They have special corners made for their frames and built in which takes custom framing to a whole new level. The framing business there sounded more than prepared to deal with receiving my work from Australia, framing and sending it on.
Our destination ultimately was Jackson in Wyoming. I’ve been researching this place and its many galleries for months and now we get to walk around them. This is a real western arts town and its a place art collectors and tourists target for their fine art purchases. It also has a wonderful warm inviting feeling and a really cool old town look. They have sidewalks all of timber and it’s a great sound as you walk along them unlike the cold ‘click’ of concrete. If I’d had some jangly spurs on that would have created the ultimate sound. We spent all day looking at galleries and still did not get to see every one.
The galleries are magnificent to say the least. They have elevated ceilings, some carpet their walls. Strong wall colour, wooden floors, and stone is used a lot as pillars and feature walls. We found a gorgeous coffee house with wifi and Sequoia spent quite a lot of the day there, happy as any teenager could be. Gary and I got busy working our way around all the galleries. They varied from strongly traditional western to very contemporary western (including abstraction) and an incredible array of almost exclusively bronze sculpture, most of which was romantic traditional figures of cowboys and Indians from 6 inches to bigger than life size. Lots of horses, bears, antelope, moose and cattle creations all mixed up with the people. I started to think about the sculpture I could do too! They have huge commercial art foundries nearby but this is a very expensive creative pursuit indeed. Everything started in the thousands of dollars and went up to tens of thousands. They do ‘editions’ of less than twenty. Meeting and working with one of theses sculptors would be wonderful.
All the galleries Gary and I visited were warmly welcoming, everyone was really open and happy to share their knowledge. It was great to tell them about the purpose of this first trip, the funding received for it and the ultimate purpose – to become one of the exhibitors in a gallery or two. We found their generosity in time and advice to be far greater than expected and a few were interested in seeng my work, despite the fact that I’d simply walked off the street. Being Australian does help and to show them the quality of what I produce and share my story was exciting. Once they saw my work, their response was fantastic and as a result of that visit I have 2 galleries very interested, one who would like to take my work in the future and one which I will be submitting a portfolio to by email. Barbara at Horizon Fine Art Gallery is one fabulous lady and loves my work as long as I can manage the framing. Rick Armstrong of Rare Gallery was very welcoming, looked at my big original pastels and is keen to exhibit my work which is really exciting. He has said it’s not like anything else out there which for an artist is a huge compliment, and then to have their positive appreciation of my skills as an artist on top of that is truly exciting. He made my art trip so worthwhile in that moment!
We tried out the overnight truckstop option near Rawlings in Wyoming which was huge. Trucks everywhere and they tend to be of the 18 wheeled variety but very long. This is an interesting phenomenon as there are busy rail lines everywhere and it’s usually for shifting products in the Rockies like coal. Lots of mining, quarrying and oil and gas drilling in the whole region, yet there are trucks for everything else as much as in Australia. . We’ve been driving through mountains tipped with snow every day of this last week and the freeway goes generally through these massive valleys and plains between them. And in these places there is some agriculture and irrigation. The more southern Rockies are desert like. Very little foliage and no trees at all. They tend to be grey brown in colour and a mix of big rock and loose shale down the sides. Spectacularly big. We all look like ants on the tiny freeways between them.
Next is Denver where we had a great time looking at galleries there and talking to the owners. But I’ll leave that for my next blog! (Which should be much sooner as we will chase Internet access) for you that are Facebook friends, I have been periodically posting but it doesn’t give me computer wifi access which I need for blog posting. So I will be busy.
New York – Week 3
This is the week where we continue the travelling groove and I got a chance to drive too! From the Rawlings truckstop we headed for Boulder Colorado. There is a great western art museum there, and its filled with the private collection of the. .?family.
The museum was full of traditional paintings of the wilderness of the American west and of the days of cowboys and Indians and the opening of the American west with a collection of amazing train paintings, Seriously!
The history of the American west has been depicted in romanticised imagery right through the gallery. Beautiful portraits as well of significant Indian elders. There were also a couple of collections of humorous art (imagine Joliffes outback cartoon series) What was really surprising for me was the number if bronze sculptures. All depicting the same American west I just mentioned and each standing at least 12 inches tall and on bases. The treatment of the bronze is fascinating. Some are gloriously glossy and look like they’ve been fired with exquisite patch glazes, looking like the spots on a cats coat. Others are rougher textured, and a couple had loosely placed layers as these are initially sculpted out of a plasticine like product before they’re sent to the foundry to be cast. Cowboys, Indians, stagecoaches, and native animals are all depicted. Some finishes are almost white, some polished bronze and some have that green aged patina. A few were hand painted in great detail. Not something you see much of in Australia, but really common here.
Outside the museum was a sculpture park filled with lifesize or bigger people and animals. All were traditionally realistic except one – and it was the best thing on the place in my mind. A found object sculpture of a horse, using stuff found on farms. Bigger than life size, this horse was caught in a movement which was graceful and the various pieces of farm equipment (all steel or cast iron) fit together to give real character. I want to make one when I get home!
Once we had seen all the museum had to offer we wanted to get our teeth into some galleries, and Denver was the place for that so we headed there and parked in yet another well placed Walmart for the night. Only a matter of minutes after parking someone knocked on our door. We opened it to see a guy in a uniform who said he was security there and asked us if we could park in a designated RV camping section so he could better keep an eye on things. This Walmart had full time car park security! First one, and rather than thinking we were in a dodgy part of town we spent the next hour talking to Chris about the city, his ambitions and way of life, and he shared with us a heap of advice about getting around town. Chris really loves this place and he said the people are great and very respectful. And that’s just what we found too.
The next morning we caught Denver’s new fast rail into the city centre and used their free city circle bus to get around. We discovered Denver has a big contemporary arts culture and more than one art precinct. We decided that with our limited time it would be best to target galleries rather than artists studios (I think Denver deserves another visit of a few days to see all the arts there) this city has a great gallery scene. Absolutely beautiful custom built galleries (high walls, lots of natural light, big windows). The feel of these places is great and many are run with some artist involvement. A few were private and those directors were as great to talk to as all the previous ones we’ve met. These galleries have an eclectic mix of contemporary western, some traditional and bits of pure modern art. There are western galleries and contemporary galleries but the lines are blurry. They also use these galleries as function venues, a great way to market art and bring arts to everyone. Americans love art and enjoy collecting,
After most of the day in Denver we decided to hit the road AGAIN! So onwards to Glenwood Springs, not notable in our itinerary, but it had a laundromat. We drove all the next day to get to Salt Lake City and the following morning crossed huge salt pans and salt lakes on the freeway to get to my next Facebook friend, Karyn Shirley. After a night at the best RV park ever (made some new friends there and I have to tell you about the RVs. – they’re massive, beautifully decked out and it seems everyone has one! The Amish community creates the most beautiful interior decorative timber work and furniture for the RVs and are highly sought after)
We visited Karen for the afternoon and had a great time learning about western horsemanship from her. She is closely connected to some of Americas foremost western horsemen, Buck Brannan and Jeff and Katrina Sanders. Karyn is the complete horsewoman, diversely talented (jumping, cattle work, ranch work, instruction, horse breaking and re-education – the list goes on). Had a wonderful time learning about horse conformation for cow horses, and design, fitting and use of bosal and mekate. I was able to ride her horse and learn some great stuff about creating softness in a horses body and movement. I shared my work and we discussed ways to connect to the horse community. She had some great ideas which we look forward to implementing on our next trip.
We left Karens place late Saturday afternoon and I could see Gary was on a mission. He has been an American sports fan for years and on his bucket list was going to a national football league game to watch the San Francisco 49ers as he has followed them for years. We stopped one night on the road (Walmart again) and drove into San Francisco through ALL that traffic (up to 16 lanes at times one way) till we found Candlestick Park, the home of the 49ers and on that day pretty much every one else’s too! The place was intensely busy and crowded and we decided to book a night at an RV park right next to the grounds. Lucky us. It was booked out an hour later. Gary then went looking for someone selling tickets at the RV park and 5 min later had them. He and Sequoia headed off at about 11:30am and returned at 5:00pm. It was an incredible experience for them both as the fanfare, noise and pageantry are nothing like at home watching an AFL game, crowd noise was huge and they use big foghorns whenever there’s a successful try. I heard it from my home in the RV.
So while they were at the game I got busy watching Micelle Binder Zolezzi’s DVDs on relational riding, checking and updating facebook and working on an ink portrait of an appaloosa. I had sold this one at an exhibition a couple of months ago but as we’re heading to the appaloosa world show in Texas I thought it prudent to replace it.
Meanwhile, upon the men’s return, Sequoia had struck up a conversation with our new neighbours in their RV (arrived after the game) who were over from Germany. We spent the evening in lively discussion and have become good friends, with invitations both ways to stay. Georg and Anna Schlicht and their daughter Francesca. So now we will go to Bremen one day soon and take on the German equine art market as well!
Today is Monday so I’m all caught up on blogging, we have called in at the Apple head office, had a walk around the apple Infinite Loop (round the complex, we were not allowed to investigate the innards of the place, except for a products shop which Sequoia loved) and now we are travelling towards the Sequoia National Park which is on the bucket list too. Only problem is that it’s closed due to US government management issues. The citizens are pretty mad about what’s happening but little progress has been made in over 2 weeks. We are heading to an Indian reservation next to the park and are hoping to at least see some of these magnificent trees. Wish we could go to the most famous of all Sequoia trees, the General Sherman but we will see.
New York – Week 4
We had some serious driving to do to get to our next art centric destination – Scottsdale in Arizona and there were a number of places and things we really wanted to see along the way.
Our premier focus was to get to see huge Sequoia trees so we headed to camp Nelson and a state owned and managed Sequoia forest. We were after one tree on our first quest – the 6th largest Sequoia tree in the world. Called the ‘Stagg’ this Sequoia was 95 feet around the girth – around 31m and estimated to be 3000 years old. We walked a track in a forest of mixed trees to locate it and the track got smaller and the forest got denser so we didn’t see the tree until just before we got to it, even though it’s so huge. Looking up you can’t see the top and the trunks are covered in a thick furry bark, with all the foliage way way up there in a knarly collection near the top.
There are many types of Sequoias but only one that is this massive and the tree is really red barked too, standing out among the duller browns and greys of the other trunks. Sequoia worked his way up a big gap in the tree (you could walk through it!) and we took a great photo of ‘Sequoia in his Sequoia’. That was great but we wanted to see more so we kept driving and the roads became amazing narrow and windy which wound around incredibly steep mountains (don’t look over the edge – you can’t see the bottom) and found the ‘Forest of 100 Sequoias’. Sequoias have very shallow root systems and intertwine with each other to give each other stability. One massive old Sequoia had recently fallen over and we could climb all over it, a wonderful experience as it gives a whole new perspective of their immense scale. It had twin trunks and each was over 2m high. When the trunks hit the ground they shattered into lengths and were lying as they fell, too big to move easily and a wonderful demonstration of the cycle of life. The old roots standing twisted skeletons.
Our next destination was Las Vegas and it was great to book into a huge RV park right on the edge of what is known as the ‘Strip’ or as we would call it at home ‘ The Main Drag’ all the big casinos and events are along this boulevard which is about 3 miles long. We got dressed up (I insisted on heels – it’s a town with huge ‘presence’ and I wanted to be part of it and the sore feet at the end of the night were worth it). It was surprising though that the majority of people we saw were very ordinarily dressed tourist types with sand shoes. There were water and light displays, and we worked our way though a big outdoor public ‘pirate performance’, including 2 big sailing ships, lots of water, scantily clad singing wenches and bare chested sailors, treasure somewhere and I’m sure some exotic love affair as well! The crowd was huge and the performance was free.
We aimed for Caesars Palace as by then enough walking, food was on our mind. These ‘palaces’ are well named – huge buildings with vaulted and elaborately painted ceilings, massive statues, indoor waterfalls and pools – all in the Roman style (Caesars of course!). The shops are all exotic and expensive.
We were dawn upstairs (oh yeah – they even have spiral escalators!!) to an amazing gallery and met one of the highlights of this trip – the curator and manager Keen Nichols. We learnt about his approach to art appreciation as he educates and assists new collectors as well as established ones. He writes beautiful poetry in response to artworks which he connects to emotionally and intellectually and taught us how this process works and that all viewers respond this way to a piece in the gallery. He loved my work and pointed out the uniqueness of my style and technique. This feed back has happened a number of times and Keen pointed out the significance of that – that to have work which is stylistically recognisable without even checking for a name is a huge ‘hook’ and sure to succeed. This I love as it came from an independent expert who knows nothing about me and just judged the work.
We spent a couple of wonderful hours there and by he time we headed off to find tea it was after 9:30. Not that that’s a problem – tea is served until 11:00 at restaurants in the strip. We had a fabulous meal at Caesars and then at around 11:30 headed off back to the RV park. What a great night out. Millions of coloured lights, lots of water (forget about the desert, its not on the strip) and a great place to walk around. Even the almost full moon was visible, although few stars can be seen.
The following morning it was hit the road again time and we headed to the Hoover Dam. This is a great place to visit and during the course of the morning it got really busy so I’d suggest that many places are best visited fairly early to beat the late morning rush. They’ve built a massive bridge to direct freeway traffic but if you want to see the dam it’s a special experience. You drive down to it on narrow twisty roads and actually drive across it! We parked on the other side and walked around and back across the dam and took a tour inside it. This structure is massive. When you look over the edge to the outlet below (no spillway at this dam, water goes around through huge tunnels and through all turbines) there are tiny men and machines working down there. We did a tour to see some of the innards and despite its age (built tin the 1930?s during the depression) it looks fresh and new. The water is clear in the reservoir and its hard to believe all that water comes via the Colorado river which is not all that big and looks pretty muddy. The snow melts are where most of the water comes from. After a series of lean years they expect this to be a really big winter and the dam needs it. It looks only about 1/2 full.
Our travels got us finally to Scottsdale in Arizona and we took on the substantial task to see a lot of galleries. Gary and I spent the whole day looking around and speaking to gallery managers and owners and gazing upon even MORE bronze sculptures and loads of oil paintings. Some of the most high profile western art galleries in the country are located here and often have galleries in other art centric towns. The reason for this is that the US has quite distinct seasons from north to south and the collectors and tourists as well as wealthy retires (who may be both) spend the summer months in the north of the country which never gets all that hot, and then all head down to the south for the winter where it never gets too cold and doesn’t snow. Many of these migratory types have homes in both places and huge RVs to travel around in. We have met a number of these wonderful people now and they have a great life and are open and generous souls. I would expect a few of them to come and visit us one day. Particularly around the time of our famous ‘Farm Party’ which is in late April.
I digress. Back to the subject of galleries. The bit about migrating populations is the reason for bigger galleries to have 2 locations. One northern, the other southern as the seasons mean they have little business when the weather is harsh. They then move a lot of work from one location to the other to keep the galleries fresh and ensure new artwork is always coming in. The galleries never close though. They are aware that their business is all about being available for the viewers who will not necessarily buy on the first day, it might be months and numerous visits later.
Scottsdale has more contemporary galleries than Jackson in Wyoming and they are a bit more spread out but otherwise its a pretty similar scene. We found one gallery there who is very keen to show my work but needs it to be the smaller pastels I create. That’s fine by me as I’d enjoy producing more work which is about 2? x 3’6?. And I look forward to preparing to do business in the new year in preparation for showing this time next year in Scottsdale.
By the end of the day we had seen enough to say we were getting double vision – which is not to say our eyesight was deteriorating, but that there was a sense of repetitiveness as we were getting so familiar with the style of western art galleries. It seems to work like this……..
- Western art is the entire western 1/2 of the US
- They have a pride and strong interest in their western heritage which is what drives the traditional western arts scene (realistic paintings of scenery, cowboys, pilgrims, Indians,)
- There is a LOT of bronze realistic sculpture depicting all of the above.
- Framing is elaborate and big. The more traditional the work, the more elaborate the frame, with moulded not cut corners, guilding is popular. Contemporary work has simpler frames, but still quite large.
- Collectors are getting really interested in contemporary western art and this is equally popular. They are usually aided by art collection advisors.
- Appreciating art and collecting it is a big deal in the US.
- Most 2D work is oil on canvas, some watercolour, less pastel. Despite this there is a strong interest in work on paper, particularly pastel from galleries.
- Galleries have a very diverse collection generally and create numerous rooms in which to hang the work of a single artist, or a particular theme
- The galleries are quite simply gorgeous as they create a sense of luxury in their spaces. Wall colours are strong.
- Generally new artists are selected by a jury in larger galleries. Most galleries get at least 5 applications daily.
- Galleries are filled with the most wonderful, generous people.
- Galleries plan well ahead but are always looking for something completely new. Recognizability stylistically is essential.
- Gallery relationships are partnerships Generally good galleries don’t charge exhibit fee, they take 50% of sales.
- Price points are important.
- Some galleries create a profile for artist by putting together a book and publishing them.
- Some galleries handle framing.
- Some galleries use their venue as an event venue.
- Artists exhibit at a number of galleries. Sometimes its within the same town but in other art gallery communities this is not appropriate.
That’s a brief outline of the way the gallery system works within the Western arts Scene as I see it. There is SO much more to say but that’s a huge essay in itself, best left to the lecture circuit I recon!
We then hit the road AGAIN, and this time towards Arizona our 9th state. I’ll tell you all about it in the next blog.