Monday, May 09, 2011

Pitfalls of Art Contests and Donation Requests

Pop Art Trompe (Beer Can) - 18" x 24" Oil on Canvas
Ken Davies
I have for over 3 decades been enamored of the work of artist Ken Davies since acquiring his book Artist At Work. This book was a godsend when I bought it at H.G. Daniels in downtown Los Angeles, CA, during my art school days at age 21. I was trying to hone my skills at realism, and was meeting all sorts of opposition from faculty at Art Center College of Design — from, in particular, the chairman of the Illustration Department, Phil Hayes, who was a proponent of New York-style conceptual, editorial art, which at the time was taking a 'lunge toward grunge' and non-objectivity. Davies' work represented to me the pinnacle of the kind of realism that moved my soul at that time in my life. 15 years later I added his first book Painting Sharp-Focus Realism to my collection (the painter and my cousin, the late Raymond Page owned the book in his personal library and gave it to me some time before his passing).

One of my favorite stories, which to me typifies the lure of artist contests and the calls for fundraiser donations, is the following, as told by Ken Davies in his 1976 book Artist At Work, and is the description that accompanies the painting above which, I should add, is highly atypical of his work.
For over twenty years, I've been a member of the Silvermine Guild of Artists. Back in the late ’50s, I submitted a painting to their big, annual exhibition and it promptly got rejected. I think it was the first time a painting of mine had ever been rejected, so I was particularly anxious to go to the opening and see what the "good" paintings looked like. One accepted piece consisted of several crushed, rusty tin cans attached to a piece of wood. In those days, that was not a typical work of art, and so I was properly shocked. I was also annoyed at my rejection.

Several weeks later, when The Guild asked its membership to donate a painting for a fund-raising art auction, my annoyance returned and I thought I would be clever and sarcastic with my donation. I decided to paint the worst non-objective painting I could think of and then to paint a very realistic crushed beer can, complete with shadow as though it were attached to the canvas. When the painting was finished, I was rather pleased with myself. I could hardly wait to submit my masterpiece and get my revenge. I delivered it with an evil glint in my eye, then went home to await their shocked reaction. When the day of the art auction arrived and the results were announced, I was completely appalled. Not only had my horrible painting been sold, but it had brought an outrageous amount of money!

I never did find out who bought it and have not seen it since. But I'd love to know where my "backfired revenge" painting is today."

I wonder if Ken Davies ever found out who bought this painting. The book this is from was written in 1978.


I got a nice note from Ken Davies telling me he still (as of the publish date of this blog entry) does not know what became of the painting. The story was such a popular one that it has been re-published in his new book Ken Davies: American Realist which can be purchased from his website.