One night my brain was telling me about all my failures of the last 40 years…… In particular all the relationships not pursued (professionally) and the ones that I allowed to deteriorate or to wither. These were mainly client relationships in my art career.
Going back at least to the farm I worked on from 1979-81, after which I began to paint full time, there were important gaps in my execution and strategy. I should have paid a lot more attention to client relationships and built more of a personal bond with them, especially between exhibitions. Artists who were good at this that I knew later were a lot more successful than me. It makes sense, and is perhaps a lot easier to do in these days of email lists and social media. What stopped me was mainly shyness, something I’d always had, perhaps from being always the outsider ;(I will return to this subject in a later post.)
For instance my first boss, a wonderful person, who helped me a lot and would have done more if I had allowed it. Some aspect of my shyness and awkwardness included pushing people away, partly unconsciously. Or the first serious gallery / dealer that I was involved with; I did end that relationship deliberately at the time, so as to be able to sell my work more widely. With this prestigious gallery I could only put a few (3-4) paintings into perhaps 2 group shows a year. When I was expecting a son in 1985 I needed to sell more work than that, so I left and was able to start organising more one man shows and also to show regularly on the street. I should have tried to stay in contact with both of them.
Later on there was another dealer, then in a small seaside town, but who later opened a proper gallery in my city, and he may not have heard of me for many years.
Another good opportunity that I was given was to exhibit in restaurants in Dublin, and in many cases I did not have to pay any commission on sales in them. One where I hung and sold my work for 7 years later won a Michelin star. A misunderstanding with one of the principals there led to a rift.
There were sales to some well known names internationally that were not properly followed up; in particular a very successful and famous writer who bought a lot of my work. No regrets for any one of them – perhaps at the time they seemed the right decision. But it is now clear that if I had been a better communicator this could have gone differently.
Bad decisions made? My own pig-headedness? Perhaps my artistic principles. I now see that my own roadmap for artistic development was at odds with clients’ expectations. In both cases these may be unconscious. Ultimately without these hiccups what I have since achieved in my painting may not have been possible. If I had achieved consistent commercial success I might have been trapped in a rut of pandering to that, and not continued with the restless experimenting which has been the constant theme of my development. I have seen others become trapped by the market into continuing to produce what people want and expect.
Without the protection of an understanding dealer or gallery it is always difficult for an artist to manoeuvre – it may be a cliche but the general public will always find the art world hard to understand.
From the start of my career I was aware of the line I was walking between customer expectations and my own aesthetic, which was hard won. I’m driven from within to do what I do, but I now KNOW that if I become a better communicator, or if I had been in the past – things could be very different.
I am definitely going to write more about how it is for creative artists from the inside, looking back on my earlier art career. It will not be negative or downbeat, because I had a lot of fun and many good experiences and above all I learned so much that is helping me now.