Tag Archives: what is art

A rose is a rose is a… yeah, yeah, yeah

whats-in-a-nameWhen I stand back and look at a painting that I have just finished, three things go through my mind: #1 relief, #2 gratitude, #3 dread of having to come up with a name for it.

I would prefer not to name any of them. Unfortunately, I have to because well…I have to. Not only because people prefer it, but because I need to have a point of reference for inventory and such. I guess I could just number them, but again – people like them named.

So I am forced to come up with something. Once I thought about giving them people names, like this painting is Gerald and this one is Tina, but when I mentioned the idea to Vincent he rolled his eyes SO HARD that I knew immediately it was a bad idea. Then I thought about the names they give perfumes like Obsession or Eternity and tried to think how I could adapt that to my paintings. I guess a painting named Infinity might be thought provoking, but I find these kinds of names burden a painting by forcing the viewer to try to find “infinity” in a simple landscape. That just gives me a headache. Not to mention the pile of pretentiousness it dumps on my shoulders.

I always feel sorry for those folks who have to name the paint colors for Benjamin Moore. How many names can you come up with for green? Wouldn’t it be funny if they threw out trying to make the color names sound appealing and just named them what the colors looked like? Color #2786: Mud, color #1253: Greasy Paper Towel (an off-white), or color #7869: Urine.

Luckily, since I choose pretty subjects, I don’t have to avoid using names like Garbage Dump or Oil Refinery. In the end, I usually just stick to basic descriptive names that relate to the work itself, like Autumn Pasture. This kind of name is simple and lovely, but can get a bit repetitive – hence my struggles.

It is one of those problems in life that I will probably never solve, but am indeed lucky to have.

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Collecting Dust

collecting-dust
I can remember the first piece of original art I ever owned. I was in my early teens and one of my friends was taking a drawing course in school. She showed me a pencil drawing that she had done of – all things – death. It was the classic figure of the hooded skeleton with the sickle. It wasn’t so much that I loved the image itself. But I remember being captivated by the pencil work, the shading, and the look of the graphite on the paper. When I admired it, she offered it to me as a gift, and from then on I was hooked – not only on art in general but on owning original pieces.

Once you cross that line of having original art rather than prints and reproductions on your walls, you can never go back. And the nice thing is that there are all kinds of original affordable art pieces out there. Some of my favorite pieces in my collection are just simple student works that artistically are not all that outstanding, and that I bought for next to nothing. They just spoke to me for some reason. Art is personal that way. If I am going to hang something on my walls and have to look at it every day, I want it to mean something to me. Of course, a good collection like this can take a lifetime. But what a joy to walk through rooms full of meaning and memories rather than rooms full of stuff.

Many times people have hired me to help buy art for their homes. And while I point them and prod them, I never choose for them. They often say “which do you think is the prettiest?” or “which one works better?” and I always say “Pick the one that reaches out to you, and you can’t go wrong.” Art doesn’t have to match the drapes of course. But I’ll bet you this, if the art matches you it will match with your home automatically.

My biggest piece of advice on collecting art is to DO IT and to start early.

There is a big difference between owning a collection of art and owning things that merely collect dust…

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The “Experience” of a Lifetime

asparagus-experience…or maybe just a lunchtime.

When I was young, when you wanted a cup of coffee it generally came out of one of those big stainless steel urns, or the teardrop shaped glass decanters associated with industrial coffee makers. You know – the type you still see in diners and truck stops. And when you stopped at a farmers market, it was actually just a farmer selling a bunch of vegetables out of the back of his truck for a very good price. Getting a haircut meant just that – getting a guy to quickly trim up your hair and buzz your neck, a very quick process that took about 10 minutes tops and did not involve washing your hair or the subsequent purchase of “product.”

Alas, I now no longer need either barber or “product.” My point though is that – for better or worse – American businesses have done a fantastic job of turning the purchase of ordinary goods and services into “AN EXPERIENCE.” And because they have done it so well, people don’t seem to mind paying a little extra for something once thought to be absolutely mundane (I personally blame the French). Now a cup of coffee has to be a “great” cup of coffee with whipped milk and seven extra shots of espresso and extra foam and a leaf drawn in caramel on top of the whole thing… for $27. The farmers market is more like a jewelry store, with carefully pre-washed, pre-shelled butter beans in a glass case with many folks stopping by to admire them – yet unable to afford a purchase.

I would be a hypocrite if I did not acknowledge that, on some level, we do the same thing in our gallery. And rightfully so. Buying a piece of art should be a meaningful experience. It will be a part of the character of your home. It should involve thought, inspiration, and even emotion. The one thing I believe that you never should encounter when making an art purchase is salesmanship. The art should always sell itself.

And when it comes to spending the extra money for all those sometimes ridiculous little touches retailers use to lure us in… I would also be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that I am the biggest sucker of them all. I just love to buy asparagus that is tied up in a gingham ribbon instead of a rubber band or pears wrapped in tissue paper. Buying homemade dog treats, selecting what fragrance I want for my artisan herbal hand soap, or unwrapping a folded white oxford shirt just back from the cleaners gives me a feeling of contentment and well-being that I call the Martha Stewart Effect. And I don’t really mind being bald, but I do miss buying “product.”

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The Penis Panic

kevin-gillentine-artWhen I was in my twenties, and weighed 150 pounds, I went to a beach in France and got a sunburn on my ass. Many people in France go nude at the beach and so I thought “why not?” Being from a small town in Mississippi I had never been “exposed” to such an open and natural attitude towards nudity. I mean, the folks down at the Baptist church just didn’t spend weekends naked at the Sardis reservoir and spillway. Too bad for them. I did not by any means become a nudist because of that experience, but I remember it as a comment on the ridiculousness that can often surround the subject of nudity.

Having these hangups in daily life is one thing, but when it comes to freaking out about nudity in art, I lose patience. And nothing causes more swooning, more immature giggling, more righteous indignation, more blushing, more self consciousness, more complaining, and more noses out of joint than a male nude with an exposed penis.

It’s 2014 and penises have been the subject of art since art existed. So what is it about male nudity in particular that still sets people off? It’s funny how many more people will accept complete female nudity – even to the point of virtual pornography – without batting an eye, but full frontal male exposure can often bring out almost violent reactions. And obviously that is part of the reason many artists include the penis in their work – because even after thousands of years of human culture, it still has shock value.

Some of you may think that I am exaggerating about this, but I have been in the art business for 25 years, and I can tell you that even in the most benign and universally respected artwork, the male genitalia can always cause a commotion. Once I had a man walk out of the gallery over an antique print of the statue of David. Really? And it’s not like the walls of our gallery are covered with naked men. I’m not a penis peddler. It’s just that in an art gallery they do tend to turn up now and then.

For me, painting a nude is all about the simple yet complex grace of the human form – how vulnerability, confidence, innocence, provocativeness, strength, and frailty all can be represented at the same time in a piece of art just by showing the nude human body. I have so much demand for landscapes that I don’t often get the chance to do nudes, but I’m planning to do a whole exhibition of them at some time in the near future – dicks included… and I can already hear the whispering.

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Does My Art Make You Mad?

I was talking with a young artist friend of mine the other day and he opined that if art doesn’t upset you, make you angry, scare you, challenge your beliefs, or make a political statement, that he wasn’t sure it should be called art. After he made the statement he sort of looked at me sheepishly and said “I don’t mean to offend you or say your are not a real artist.” I just laughed. Ah youth!

I do large scale landscapes. They are the opposite of upsetting (at least I hope so). I have always made my living as an “artist” but have never had much interest in upsetting people. You see, I have had issues with panic and anxiety since I was 6 years old. The last thing I am interested in is stress. I love that people send me emails about sitting down at the end of the day and having a peaceful moment with one of my paintings.

I recently read a biography of Norman Rockwell. Apparently he never considered himself an artist. He always called himself an illustrator. Am I an artist? I don’t know. I know that making art is humbling and that it wasn’t until much later in life that I truly understood what it meant say that someone was “gifted.” It is a GIFT to have the ability to create something that is truly your own. And it is an even greater gift to be able to make a living while doing it. People don’t earn artistic talent any more than they earn being beautiful or having brown eyes, or having a really big… well, you get the point. Again I say I don’t know if I am a real artist or not. I’m just thankful to be whatever I am.

kevin gillentine

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