A long, long, long time ago, before I was a documentary filmmaker, I was an animator, and before that I was a painter — and I somehow made a living painting and selling paintings for a couple of years.
When I was completing my senior year of college, I decided that majoring in “Graphic Design” wasn’t very fulfilling. Against all advice, I decided to focus most of my energy in my last year of college on painting. I remember to this day my painting instructor telling me, “you realize that if you become a painter you are competing with other luxury items, like Ferrari dealerships and mink coat manufacturers, right?”
I didn’t fully understand what he meant, nor did I think that applied to me at a tender age of 23. After selling out shows in coffee shops and restaurants around my home town of Winston-Salem, NC – in 1997 I made the trek to New York City to try to “make it as a painter”. Once arriving there I realized my instructor was right.
When I was in North Carolina, people loved and purchased my paintings because, well… they loved and wanted to buy them. However, in New York City, professional painters are an extension of fashion —- and their success mattered not how good they were, or how pretty the work was, but instead how “trendy” it was.
I found all my fellow painting peers trying to emulate Andy Warhol or John Basquiat, without any sense of personal style or personal vision. They had it instilled in them that “they must paint like the painters before them in order to be successful”. You know what? They were right! Gallery owners loved to see painters who looked like all the other painters. They didn’t know how to handle or deal with a “new” style or vision.
Sadly, the gallery world in New York City is a stale and shallow world. It just recycles the same old stuff, because it’s safe and it sells. Newcomers aren’t welcome, especially newcomers with a fresh voice. (Sort of sounds like our political system, eh?)
I often wonder if technology didn’t grow as it has since the days of the “masters” like Picasso, Bacon, or whomever—if people like Spielberg and other big directors of film wouldn’t also be painters themselves.
You have to ask: “where are all the good painters anymore?” There was a time when painters were superstars, on the covers of magazines, selling out shows, and had the same type of popularity and influence as politicians or celebrities like Brad Pitt or Spielberg. If you ask me, those days are over. Now it’s graffiti artists who vandalize phone booths, and then end up in galleries. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I love me some “Banksy” as much as the next guy.
Today’s fine art world is pretty much dead. Also, you couple that with the fact that the economy is tanking, and people just don’t have disposable income to buy giant paintings to hang in their homes, especially when their homes themselves are being foreclosed upon. We live in a very different world today than it was even in 1997 when I was getting started.
Sept 11, 2001 didn’t help on that front either. After 9/11, the economy tanked and everyone was scrambling for survival, especially in New York City. The idea of trying to survive as a oil painter just seemed more and more absurd in a time where the world was turning upside down.
In short, 9/11 was such a wake-up call, and after that event unfolded out my window in Brooklyn I had set my sights on making a difference in the world in the largest way possible. It warms me to know that a dozen or more people have passionately hung my paintings in their homes, something that I created out of nothing — but it is also exciting to know that my documentary films have been seen by millions, and in the case of my first documentary, “Burzynski”, it has also saved some lives.
One day I will take up painting again, but if I do, it will be a massive effort — setting up shows in giant spaces, because why bother doing it if it can’t be seen?