Anatomy of A Commission - Show Me the Money

Kathy Park is a wonderful "soul", artist, writer and friend who lives in the San Luis Valley. She and her husband, Henry Wolbert, also an artist, live in the village of Juaroso- about an hour from me and we consider ourselves almost neighbors. Our paths crossed on Saturday, and as ever, the conversation focused on the "artist life". I asked her to write down a story she had shared so that I could post it here.
The best commission I ever took happened like this. A friend visited my studio and noticed a chunk of lignum vitae wood, a beautiful, dense, oily wood. It won't float it's so heavy. Generally it's used for sculpture mallets, not the sculpture itself. I picked it up and handed it to her so she could feel its heft. She was suitably impressed, and surprised me by saying, "I want whatever you carve out of this." She handed the wood back to me, reached in her purse, and pulled out a wad of cash. "Here's your down payment." We settled on a subject - a woman so strong and centered she'll never burn out - but she wasn't that interested in seeing even a sketch, much less a plaster model, which was unnerving to say the least. Periodically she'd hand me another wad of cash. It's what got Henry and me through a very lean time, in fact. She ended up loving the piece, (and paying a New York price for it) and it went into her office in a women's prison where she served as the chief medical officer, the main doctor. She told me it helped her every day, and a whole lot of other women too.
Sounds like a perfect commission, and I doubt I'll ever get one again so good. Even so, and even though you may not see it, I know in my gut that the sculpture suffers from a cloud of cash around it. Hard to explain, but the fact that it already "belonged" to someone else made me tight, anxious, and preoccupied, all very bad states of mind for an artist. I felt beholden, obligated. What if the sculpture didn't please her? What if I busted it in the process of carving it? So, although it's beautiful, it's also a little tight, a little conservative, a little stilted, not my best work.
Check out Kathy and Henry's, individual, as well as collaborative work at www.dreampowerartworks.com
The "cloud of cash" - neither good, or bad - but like the elephant in the center of the room, it can be hard to get around.
And below is the 2nd part of my 3 painting commission. This one has been given final approval; the painting I posted last week is needing some additional detail work and the third piece is waiting in the wings. So far I am on target for my deadline and I am looking forward to painting out on Saturday at the Alamosa ArtWALK.


Chuck Sale Photography said...

Beautiful story.

"She told me it helped her every day, and a whole lot of other women too."

Whatever Kathy received in cash, it sounds like it was more than equal to the value she delivered. Maybe tight and conservative was just right in this case. Progress is not always in the direction we think it will be.

I have studied under a number of accomplished oil painters, including you, Coni, and one of them--I think it was Charles Movalli--said that no painting is complete until it is sold.

Whoever said this, the point was not that money validates the work, but rather that the work is validated in the satisfaction of another (usually expressed in cash) if it is to rise above the level of glorified narcissism.

Men and women of integrity give value for value, no handouts. The cash paid for Kathy's work was an honor for the doctor to pay and an honor for the artist to receive, in my book.

Please convey my congratulations to Kathy. Clearly her work made a difference. Thank her for her beautiful account of how she did it and the doubts she experienced along the way. And thank you, Coni, for passing the story along.



Chuck Sale Photography said...


By the way, have I told you lately that your work is nothing short of exquisite.

There, I told you.


AngelCatPainter said...

What a project!! One painting at a time on commission seems like enough on one's plate...suite of three, more like a complete meal. Specially liking this one with the road sweeping past those rugged giants -- one in sun, one in shadow.

Personally I also like to do commissions and find that they generally open my mind to new directions and solutions... and end up happily.

Judith G.

eldon warren said...

We all have total faith in ya. Heck, you're nearly done!. Saw some nice work in the Boulder gallery a couple of days ago. You go girl!!