The Independent Artist Podcast

A Vessel for Meaning/ Benjamin Frey

December 19, 2022 Douglas Sigwarth/ Will Armstrong/Benjamin Frey Season 2 Episode 24
The Independent Artist Podcast
A Vessel for Meaning/ Benjamin Frey
Show Notes Transcript

"As artists, we have a story we tell ourselves. We have something we want to express and if we're lucky, what we've created is a vessel for meaning..............each person who comes up to the object, the image we create, they are going to bring their own image, their own background to it. And that's as true as any story we tell."  Benjamin Frey

Benjamin Frey grew up in a family of creatives. When he met Roderick Slayer, Ben discovered the impact mentorship would have on his artistic journey. He joined an art commune that the group called The Academy.  Wanderlust has sent Ben on various life adventures including a time in Paris and selling his work on the streets of New York. The constant in his life has been pursuing his artistic vision with relentless passion. After years of chasing his own career, Ben was invited to join the board of the National Association of Independent Artists (NAIA), which he currently serves as the Board Chair. He is inspired to be part of an organization that vigorously works to support and mentor artists similar to how he made his start. Tune in for his fascinating stories. 

Visual artists Douglas Sigwarth and Will Armstrong co-host and discuss topics affecting working artists. Each episode is a deep dive into a conversation with a guest artist who shares their unique experiences as a professional independent artist.

PLEASE RATE US AND REVIEW US.......... and SUBSCRIBE to the pod on your favorite streaming app.

VENMO/ username @independentartistpodcast or through PAYPAL.ME by clicking on this link

Email us at with conversation topics, your feedback, or sponsorship inquiries.

Mailing List

The National Association of Independent Artists (NAIA).

Music  "Walking" by Oliver Lear
Business inquiries at


Support the show

welcome to the independent artist podcast sponsored by the National Association of Independent Artists also
sponsored by zapplication I'm will Armstrong and I'm a mixed media artist I'm Douglas sigworth glassblower join
our conversations with professional working artists Roadshow Warriors welcome to the podcast
we got a kind of a special show this week we'll do I'll tell everyone about it it's like a it's a Christmas party here Douglas I don't have any eggnog but
I've got my coffee and to be honest I feel like my coffee this morning is more like uh penicillin to Stave off the
herpes of the day it's it's less than that it's not as sellable got a little disease going through your house do you
no no no disease just uh the day is more like the disease the morning I see this
the sunrise is the disease well why I say it's special today is because we
wanted to kind of bookend the year we started the year off talking to our good friend Benjamin fry from the did you
just say some information I called him Benjamin I'm being very formal here Benjamin anything
all right but he's going to be with us for the Preamble and we're just going to roll the whole episode we're going to talk about some current stuff and then
we're going to talk to Ben about himself in about about his career and all about what's new with him can we talk about why he's just so damn sexy can we talk
about that we'll leave that for you welcome to the show Ben thank you
honestly thank you for having me guys I mean I I love what you've done with the podcast and it'll be fun to hang out
with you and chat for the next uh whatever amount of time we've got it's our holiday party
I should have gotten a drink it's too early in the day for me to start drinking wait till you're back in France that's what I tell myself what we said
earlier in the year why would he talked to you about the survey we're like we want to have you back on and um it's
only taken us 24 episodes to make that happen so no rush I'm here I'm easy to find well
let's jump into something like current stuff that's going on on the road and everything so how have your shows been
going what have you been up to these days well I mean late in the year I haven't been doing a lot on the road I
haven't done a show since the middle of October but uh the shows I did this fall
have been pretty great I mean I quite honored I took an award at the last show I did in stockway gardens fancy yeah I
mean it's it's a different industry maybe this year than it has been in the
past I feel like things are different but I'm still actually having good success the shows are pretty strong how
so different what do you mean I feel like there's a lot more
contemplation on the part of collectors it takes a lot more time I mean in the chat briefly before starting our
official conversation here I'd mention I just got an email from somebody who had
last contacted me in July and they're looking for an enormous piece for a February birthday and they dropped the
ball and in the email they briefly mentioned well the Year got complicated uh I feel like I've been getting a lot
of big commissions or bigger sales from collectors but the conversations take a
lot longer a lot more foreplay yeah for sure there's more details that need to get worked out with the space
and it's more of like sometimes at the show we're forming these connections that then play out over the year at some
point it almost seems like a um when I talk to my my gallery owners the gallery owners have a different I don't know
they have a different speed in in buying and people stop by once a week and they
they spend some time with the piece and they start to kind of think about it uh it almost sounds like you're describing
that but the art show used to have that kind of urgency if you will and are you saying
the urgency for you is not necessarily there yeah well and it's weird I mean obviously some shows have a different
customer base than other shows yeah sure you know Norfolk Virginia is not the same as our monk New York I mean we had
a hurricane hit us in in our Monk and I had a blockbuster weekend with a bunch of pieces just walking off the turf
awesome that's always delivery Sunday night and stuff like that so there's still in places at times when people are
like really thinking I'm going to a show I'm going to buy art you still get that immediacy take home the the work kind of
feel but then a lot of the other shows where it's more the I feel like it's you know
the neighborhood crowd or people like yeah let's let's go check out the show this weekend I feel like those people
are it are taking a lot longer to think about it I'm not getting for at least me
personally I'm not getting as many of the spontaneous conversions you know on site the old yeah wander around and
think about it come back and and you know let's talk that line isn't really generating uh four o'clock on a Sunday
walk back through and take home the piece thank you sure more it's more like
six weeks later I get an email remember that piece that you had over there do
you think that the market is changing a bit that that more of the big scale folks who shop are shopping for
themselves and coming to these shows where before it might have been strictly through galleries in a general sense I I don't know like I
don't know how it is at Cherry Creek I haven't done that show in quite a few years or like the the places where you get it didn't work out with your
schedule exactly I didn't I I didn't want to make the drive this year
let's hope I want to make the drive this year but uh no I don't I don't really know
because I haven't actually some of the things like the Texas shows I hadn't applied to a lot in the past and some of the bigger shows so I don't really have
a good data point from the coveted years or post-covered year to talk about that
across the country but in my experience what I've been saying is the only people with money are people with money you
know like that's what I've been finding is it's a lot harder to to swing an 800
piece for a family that's looking for an 800 piece and they yeah I'm you know people still do that people still get
800 pieces or fifteen hundred dollar pieces that is a much bigger conversation for that family than than
the people who if you're looking for a five thousand dollar piece you know probably not hurting financially sure
you're old but you're only offering ham like Ray Alfonso there you go you know it's like right I don't I don't offer a
lot of appetizers and bread rolls I'm I'm only serving ham these days so those 500 I feel like the middle class goes
along with a middle-sized paintings and the small like you've got the the people with less money for the small pieces the
middle and the little the large but it's like I feel like I'm only selling to the large these days like the one percent so
um if they've got the money they're they're not necessarily as cautious well you guys work in I believe you Ben you
do reproductions at some shows if they allow one no I I have never done any Productions I do okay serieses uh and
actually I like I have a whole kind of body of work that is I call it my
Rosenberg inspired series it's uh basically I take a stencil of of one of
my drawings and I use that in a mixed media context either you know whether you want to use Warhol or Rothenberg as
a reference but the kind of like layered stenciling with paint and drawing and
stuff like that I use that partly because the idea of reproductions bores me uh partly because I don't want to
deal with Framing and sizes and all of that and partly because I you know feel like it may undercut my attempt to
capture the people looking for a pure original piece I do like that theory on it that's that's what I argue with when
I start bagging up my reproductions that I do offer but uh I do find that that is
you know for me that's the the takeaway I'm working a little bit slower and I'm kind of like certain parts of my work
feel like work for reproductions but I feel like for your body of work it just doesn't really work out it's like you
are having the same conversation with somebody yeah well and the thing for me about reproductions is like I know that
there's money to be made how many artists do we know who who do it you know there's a way to make that a
successful business model but it's I started my career you know trying little
one-day events or leaning my paintings on the sidewalk in New York and stuff like that and I started with a kind of
all original at every price point doing tiny little
5x7 original matted pieces of collage and selling them for you know 20 25
bucks and yeah they were they were abstract they were process oriented so I
would combine things in interesting ways but each piece became like a very
spontaneous expression you can't sell something for 20 bucks if it's going to take you a month but actually that exhausted me so much that when I started
doing bigger more image reproducible subject matter that is a ferris wheel oh
it's the the oldest Ferris wheel still standing in the world it's in Vienna Austria it's easy in concept to just
reproduce it I made this image I'm gonna sell 500 copies with a paint in exactly
the same place and color and everything and it comes out of a printer except I was so burnt out by doing those
like shrink wraps and shrink bags and like Miniatures and stuff the idea just
it exhausts me thinking about doing reproductions in different sizes and
stuff like that so I just have never done so I've been thinking about this time with this break that I've had with
recovering from my surgery I'm starting to realize how important kind of a step
away from the making of the work plays to our mental enthusiasm towards the
work so it sounds like any aspect that is monotonous that is not inspiring can
really suck the joy out of the heart of our business which is the creative and so if working with truly Originals is
what motivates your ideas and New pieces then that's the way you have to go that's a great point I I love the uh so
Ben and I have been friends for a long time and and I remember he knew the previous body of work that I used to do
and and there was a lot of repetition in that and when I started this body of work I
remember sitting down to dinner and and making this bold Proclamation that I was never going to duplicate okay do you
remember this conversation I'm like I'm never gonna duplicate us the same um I'm never even gonna revisit the same
story I'm never gonna do a painting that's the same thing I'm never gonna do that and so I was making new work and I
had all these ideas and I was just firing on all these cylinders and you were like I don't know if you remember
saying this but like you're gonna burn out really quick like more power to you but I was like what the you been
I'm not I'm not gonna burn I'm like making original stuff every day and but yeah I burned out real quick
yeah for I mean every artist discovers this I think but the thing is the amount
of time it takes to push the brush the pencil the to spin the the glass blowing
through whatever it is the amount of time it takes to do that is nothing compared to the amount of
time it takes to come up with the idea of how you want to compose it how you want to put it together and what you
want the final color shape design size scale everything to be
and so if you are constantly every single image creating something that's
never been created before right you you better be selling in you know gagosian
right well you know when I found that to be you know I I now what I do when I'm
I'm super creative mode and I start to get burned out then I find myself able
to lean back into the familiarity of a past composition that I've done uh where
I'm like okay now let me just kind of clear my brain I know how to make this piece I know how to do this and I'll I'm
always working in New details and things like that but it kind of resets my brain and it's the Comfort level it's like
okay I'm spazzing out I'm making all of this new work I'm working on this new body
I'm really happy with this but I don't know there's always this kind of inner monologue this inner dread where I'm
wondering is this going to sell is this new piece going to sell and it's like well let me just do the thing that I
know you know dance with the one that brought me for a minute and just reset my brain and and go back into this
Comfort level where I know I can sell this piece at every show and just make this piece that I know is going to move well I think we underestimate because we
make a body of work that might seem like you know reproducing a theme or
reproducing an idea but it's not an exact replication but we we
underestimate the fact that the body of the work as a whole is not seen is not
out there that everybody walks by and says oh I've seen that this place or that place and so but because we the
artist creates every single one of their own pieces they start to feel like like you've done it 100 times and so that's
really the challenge is to be that unique body of work that you don't see
out there that you're not like replicating what another artist is doing or whatever or especially at shows where
you've been there um you know like I take the Chicago show that I just finished up I've been at that show 20
times seriously I've been doing that show well you know with this body of work this is my 10th year I think with
this body of work I think so yeah yeah and I'm sitting there and I'm like okay well I need to shake things up a little
bit and have an impact piece at the back of the wall that's different so they're not just like oh there's that guy I've
seen him before you know they're coming it's pretty much the same audience they bring in new crowds but it's like same
audience walk past I don't want to be okay there's the guy that does that all right
let's go see this let me go look at okay I I always want to have something a little fresh especially at those shows
that you've hit again and again and again it's like you need new bait for the fishing hole because that one image could be the thing that makes them stop
looking at the new stuff you know what I mean if that showcase piece is the same then they just gloss over the rest so
you need to capture it yeah right well this gets into something we just talked about I think just before we started the
the three of us but the idea of getting into a rut I mean I feel like I revisit my own themes and subject matter
frequently but if you do it too frequently you get stuck in a rut right
like you're my for me you know artwork is a it's a communication it can be a conversation
with a collector you're trying to say something and when you show up somewhere you may have done a theme 10 times 20
times but the person walking into your booth has never seen that theme and so for them it's the first time they
encounter this idea with this this whatever you're conveying
and in that sense it can be new to each person who sees it for the first time but if you go back to the same show 10
times then you've got a whole body of people who walk past your booth who've
seen the same dialogue of course again and again and you've got to you've got to shake them up there's a fine line as
an artist between being in a rut and being in a Groove you know it's like you're creating your best work and you
feel like you're clicking along or you just fall back into that rut and you're like I don't know uh here's this again
you know yeah what about the whole idea of that the covid bubble that people have talked
about it's like you know we came back out of the gate and things were rocking and we hear both sides currently from
people saying well that boost we got from covet is over um or we hear uh no things are still
rolling and happening for me what are your thoughts on any of that personally there was a an enormous
bubble I guess I would call it uh right after the lockdowns uh opened up and
people were able to go to shows but I think more than anything it was just that after two years of not being able to see
artwork in person there were just extra attendance there were people shopping who had been thinking about it new
houses I mean our industry follows the housing market there was an enormous housing bubble and so people are
redecorating Market all that kind of stuff happened the cranes in downtown like that's how we've always judged the
economy it's like okay well look where are they building the condos they're building condos they need to be filled with art so but I did feel like that too
like the the Year back it almost seemed like okay well there's last year and this year at the same time you know
exactly yeah I'm not sure I would yeah that's why I'm I'm hesitant to really call it a true bubble because I don't I
think what it was is it just kind of compressed a timeline into four months
or five months and then they got it out of their system and this year feels and as I was saying earlier
when you have that reset it's it goes back to being
a new normal almost like you every time we've had you know Bubbles and then downturns and and you know the shows are
great uh the shows are not so good right now whenever it comes back to being good it's never the same model that it was
before I think that anything that has continued on for people after that initial injection really is it's hard to
know you know we all come back to this Market with having more experience
Having learned from previous years and I think that that can't help but make us
better at producing better work or being better business people or adapting to
technology and learning how to use those kinds of sales models in our work yeah
you know we all get these young artists who come through the booth and like oh how do you you know how do you do what
you do whatever and I I find myself often saying like they they ask the question you know God is it hard to sell
out are you selling do you have to like make for the market or what whatever and what I end up saying frequently is look
you can make whatever you want to make in the studio like never never sacrifice what you want to express in the studio
but in the end if you're going to do anything other than stick it in the closet you should consider you know who
is going to put it on the wall on what wall how how does it how is it going to fit into that world otherwise you might
as well just stick all the artwork in the closet yeah that's a great Point too there's a there's a book actually I sent
it to you Douglas I don't know if you've picked it I've read that I was thinking that same thing about David David yeah
he writes about music and he's talking about he's talking about creating for a venue and he's talking about how his his
early music that he that they created for CBGB this little dirty Club in
Manhattan was so much different than when they were selling out theaters and then stadiums too it's like they're
creating music for you know you look at the stones in their early music too and it's like they're creating for a tiny
little Rock Club which is now they're creating for stating idioms and and some of that can also be like unconscious
like there's definitely a point of where we're intentionally let's say making a
piece with scale for a specific space like you're talking about with the musicians in the venue but sometimes
it's not it's unconscious it's just we we kind of just get in a Groove and we that exterior force is affecting what we
create yeah and I'm trying all the time to to like separate my work a little bit give it a little bit of breathing room
and and show when I show these big pieces that I I'm like kind of trying to
give them a little bit of space around it so that they can imagine it in their homes or take it away from the venue you
know it's like well this looks great hanging on the street but I mean every single time I've brought a painting into
somebody's home they're like oh my God I love it in here it's like well you can imagine it in there but yeah your
hardwood floors and your oriental rug look a damn site better than the asphalt and the uh the gum on the ground in my
booth you know that's been my challenge to not pack everything so full and have every wall full of something or every
pedestal or whatever because people then have a really hard time visualizing it in their space so it's almost like
pulling a third out of what I would be more comfortable with showing yeah that's a constant struggle for me I I
over packed the booth and it helped that the low ends you know the the more
easily collectible pieces I'll call it uh aren't selling because then I am just
not tempted to put a wall of them out there which means you know now I'm doing a bunch of double boobs and I often I
basically give myself a whole tent for three paintings and then next to it I'll do a variety of work I want people to
know look I I have a 250 original it you know it'll fit on that little wall that you never thought you could put anything
on uh but like yeah it's there but I don't want to fill the wall with that
because it's it's just it's distracting and then you can sell nine two hundred dollar pieces or you could sell one five
thousand dollar piece you know it's kind of a no-brainer on the exactly where to focus but at the same time you do want
to chip away at the stone of your goal uh you know it's it's hard you know it's like well I a lot of people don't like
sitting around doing nothing too you know you sit around and do not if you've got five thousand dollar only then it's
like so much nothing it's like you have to have the patience to just sit there
and wait for the big thing and keep your energy up for when that dot big dog walks in right I mean because you can
kill it by feeling defeated like it's not happening and feeling when the one when someone comes in and it is gonna
happen you can just kill that opportunity from just being in the dold rooms yeah you can sit there and look
real I mean we've all walked the the show you know you head to the restroom or whatever and you walk past somebody's Booth that's completely empty and
they're just you know completely moping and they're like you know it's like I don't want to go in
there talk to that loser he's yeah exactly who's all right checking out their Facebook uh posts the
small pieces give us energy I mean like not just not just like chipping off the you know the end goal financially for
the show but just like how many times is it have you had like somebody walking in the booth like I was going to say a
second ago some of my best conversations have been with people looking for 200 pieces where they just like they see
this big enormous wall-sized piece they're like I love it I can't afford it but when they start talking about the
work they look I might have two or three little 11 by 14 originals and they're looking and deciding between them and
the things they say about my work I'm like these people really dig it they get it they and and I can talk for 30
minutes and firstly it makes me feel good because somebody likes what I'm saying secondly in the middle of that
conversation the couple who doesn't really have the courage to jump in and say anything they're listening to all
the things I have to say about these smaller pieces and they're staring at the five thousand dollar right you know
wall size piece and then they've already gotten a starter an introduction into
what I'm trying to say with the work and that makes their conversation easier with me so in the end I'll keep the
small stuff and that's where just because it makes the whole thing we've talked about theater before in Douglas's
background in theater and it's like that's the theater of you know you've got your little 10 by 10 or 10 by 20 or
whatever you have your booth space is and that's your the your stage you know and and I I've talked about using kids
that way and you're you're performing you know you're on you're on the stage and you're performing for this person
it's like well this is at least I'm performing and bringing people in and you have that energy and you're trying
to create that that's that way you can kind of create that Feeding Frenzy that will rarely but sometimes happen in your
booth where multiple people at one time are interested and you're kind of talking you know talking to the little
girl it was interesting I'm an artist it's like you know get out of here what
sure you are honey and there's so many Saltines that always bums me out when my neighbor does that to some kids
they're just a little kid you know like I don't care how much how big the line is just smile
and like I do it all the time it's just you I'm using kids but I'm using the I'm
talking really engage the kid and all of a sudden the parents are like well this guy's not a jerk um he's actually engaging with my
daughter and talking about art and talking and talking to them like they're an actual human because they are well
then we shouldn't dismiss the fact that the parents won't buy work for their kid that their kid connects to
too so when they see that it's not all about sales I mean it is forming that connection with the little kid is
Meaningful to them but then sometimes the parents will black wig we bought this for their room because they really
love this image or something no I mean kids kids are going to live with the art too I want them to enjoy and become
collectors and in the end I mean yeah it's you say things in a booth as you
all know and it becomes a line but it's sincere I mean I'll tell people look you know like they'll say oh I'm really
sorry I can't collect or I'm not collecting or or or whatever and whether it's you know a kid or an adult I'm like
yeah well thankfully there's a lot of people who do collect my work so I can have the luxury of just enjoying the
fact that you like what I do and then 15 minutes later someone comes and buys the big piece great it all
works out hang tight we'll be right back this episode of The Independent artist
podcast is brought to you by zap the digital application service where artists and art festivals connect well
I've been getting notices from shows this week that I need to jump on and pay for my booth but I'm not at home at my
desk so I really enjoy that I'm able just to flip open my phone I flip open
your phone do you have a flip phone dog yes it does zap work on your flip phone because that's impressive and I turn on
my phone I log into zap and I'm able to buy my booth right there on the spot and
I can make sure I get that double Booth or that corner Booth I'm looking for and I don't get stuck somewhere I don't want
to be quit talking about double booths because if those shits are sold out by the time I come to get to them I'm gonna
be mad well I sure do appreciate that with zap
we're able to keep up on our business with the shows on the road using our mobile device
but let's jump back to what you were talking about earlier you said you've been selling your work in different venues for years you said selling in New
York on the streets leading your stuff against buildings and stuff tell us about that whole experience
yeah so my you know art business bio started actually before New York I met a
mentor in Maine where I grew up and actually a group of artists all kind of
connected to this one professional artist who was living in this very small town in Maine and uh his name is Rod
Slater and actually a bunch of Art Festival artists ended up being influenced by him and becoming full-time
professional artists in in their career but basically you know I was you know in high school and interested in our my
parents are both very artistic my grandfather painted and and so I kind of
grew up always liking art wanting to do art if the only thing I ever wanted to do at 10 I was going to be a cartoonist
that's awesome but you fell in with kind of like it almost sounds like a collective but this guy your Mentor tell
us his name again uh Rod Slater Roderick Slater most people called him
um so yeah I mean we used to call it the academy basically a group of kids 10 years older than my set of friends
actually met him hanging out in a pizza shop uh he would sit there doing the crossword puzzle and he's a character I
mean he's come to a couple of shows he used to do art shows in the 70s there's that generation right that knows him and
then there's you know our generation who who've encountered him he would
sometimes come to a show with me he's a was an amazing person um but basically he sat there in this
pizza shop doing crossword puzzles and interrogating the drivers who when they
had nothing to deliver in this Tiny Town in Maine and eventually the question came up you know what did you want to do
with your life and uh one of them confessed you know I kind of wanted to be an artist or the only thing I ever
liked to do was Art and Rod basically said well why don't you do that and as
everybody says well because nobody makes their living off of art right that's the preconceived notion of why we we don't
just jump in full force unless somebody kind of gives us that push or that that that sense of you can do this there is a
way for you to do this out here yeah I've always felt like your story and I've heard your story before but it's
always got this Dickens yes kind of thing it's like you've got this Rod it's
like this Fagan character and he's collecting these ragamuffin artists to go sell on the street and and uh it's
it's amazing I mean if if anybody is ever able to write the story of who Rod
is firstly it wouldn't be one story because everybody who ever met him has a different version of who Rod is but it
would be an amazing Story I mean I'm not a writer and I'm I don't play one on TV uh but he really was unusual he he
literally he was one of the most generous people I've ever met he sat there for hours basically encouraging
these kids to to make more art and eventually like you know to try to bring it to a local Art
Festival in the town in Maine where we all grew up and then do other shows in
New England and talked about you know the ultimate shows of you know the big
prize money shows Gasparilla Winter Park stuff like that and trying to encourage these artists to try that and so this
group a generation you know 10 years older than my closest friends
a couple of them got together rented a space because it's a Mill Town Without A Mill and they got a space for
practically nothing and got together and basically started living together and making art and Along Came my group of
friends and we were all you know the the Art Theater kids in high school with nothing to do and so it became kind of a
hangout the the you know between the coffee shop and this Collective commune we all called The Academy it was the
most interesting place to be in this town that had nothing to do for someone of our age and so hanging out there with
an interest in art my friends and I would sit there and talk all day all
night long to to the artists to Rod specifically and he would constantly encourage us to attempt to do a career
so was this kind of a formalized thing where he like put out a shingle as a teacher or was it just as people would
kind of find him and you just kind of drift into this this kind of learning or
this mentoring no it was literally basically an Art Collective an art commune where people
were up until four in the morning you know smoking and making paintings and
and there was always the door was always open Rod didn't even live there he lived down the street but he was always there
hanging out in the kitchen with a half burnt cigarette in his hand and a cup of coffee that had been on the the burner
for 16 hours and he would talk until the last person fell asleep and
sometimes he would still be there talking when one of the people who went to bed early got up or some kid came you
know having some frustration in their life came in at 10 o'clock in the morning and Rod's still there talking to
the person who hadn't gone to bed and Rod would just keep talking he he was a social addict in the sense
that he never wanted to stop communicating he loved people in general and so that just meant that there was
this constant flow of people and when you sat down and talked to him you were the most important person in the
universe he was one of those teachers where it's best to do as I say not as I
do he had a million ideas of how to make an art career and yet like Willie Lowman
he never actually got in the car to make the sales pitch and he didn't care partly mostly because he just didn't
care about the business side of it beyond the idea he wanted to come up with the idea how to make a great pitch
to a gallery how to make a perfect series to bring to an art festival
and he'd start and then leave the half finished piece in the side and have coffee with
somebody for 16 hours and just never get in the car to go to the gallery that's kind of like the Romance of the artist
you know what I mean the the classic not business side person artist it's like
the true Artisan or something you know what I mean yeah yeah I mean I met him one time a couple of different times you
had brought him to different shows brought him to Alexandria and I mean just kind of the the Tweed coat and the
hole in the pocket and the hat that has a cigarette burn in it and I mean he was an amazing guy but definitely I don't
know the idea guy you start talking to him and he's he would say something to me that I disagreed with and you know he
kind of like with a wink in his eye like I'm gonna I'm gonna with this guy and see what he says and just you know
your ideas start to kind of roll and then all of a sudden you're into this major conversation with him he was he was an amazing guy exactly well as you
as you said Douglas he was on one level the cliche artist he had he had all these ideas and he never did any of them
on another level he was this very hardcore logical hierarchically oriented
thinker who broke everything down into is it rational and can it be defended in
in the hierarchy of knowledge and ideas that I've built up over 80 something
years of my life and so that's the opposite of you know Van Gogh with the cliche ear and all of that so he had
this odd dichotomy honestly but uh it did turn out that basically you know he loved making the paintings and he loved
talking about business but he didn't really focus on making the painting for business after a certain point in his
life I mean he was really successful he's he sold with Faye gold in Atlanta you know one of the top galleries in the
South um he sold in really good galleries in DC he had a really good career I don't
want to portray him as a cartoon but he basically you're not here after a point
he cared more about talking than about business how do you get the academy from Maine and Rod's Studio there onto the
streets of New York how do you guys get there so basically again it was you know I'm following in the footsteps of others
one of the artists from that group Andrew Weber who is Susie Scarborough's partner uh we all know Susie from the
shows he um so he's from my hometown and he was one of the people who got that
group going he ended up on a trip to New York whether it was Gallery related or what I don't really know he ended up
meeting artists on the sidewalk on West Broadway selling their paintings and was very excited
about that and then saw these artists selling at the Met some of them I think I forget the story he could tell it to
anybody who stopped in and asked him but he ended up you know coming back down I think and selling at
the met with some of his artwork and then he went back to Maine and he
brought this story Into the group of artists living there and so some of my friends from my own
group ended up moving to New York and starting to test this model of you know
leaning the paintings against trees you get a fold-out table and you put the paintings on the table and and it worked
and so me personally my story is I dropped out of college to move to France because I wanted to learn French and my
best friend from high school was an artist in this group he called me one time or I called him when I was in
France and he said oh you got to move to New York we're selling our paintings it's amazing we've got this apartment and I had had plans to stay in France
for the rest of my life I never wanted to come back um whether I had logical plans of how I
could do that is another question but I thought well I could use a little bit of money I'll go to New York for a couple
of months make some money and go back to France my goal was to apply to the art school in Paris and I had I knew a
professor there who I had taken some cultural anthropology classes with and
he'd encourage me to apply but it's a December January application so I had all this time and I thought well go to
New York for six months from July to December and then I'll go back to Paris and as commonly happens you start a new
Direction in life and I just dropped the idea of applying to school in Paris and
whatever and I just kept on in New York I love that image of you guys setting up your paintings on the sidewalk it it
starts to sound like Carol Swayze and Duke Lawson and how the beginning of the art show industry was I mean there
really aren't that many I mean there's our monk there I mean there are art festivals in New York but it's more of a
gallery scene and it's more of like a sidewalk scene I think of Europe I think
of my travels through Italy uh Venice and there'd be the artists sitting right there in the squares attracting tourists
and you know doing their little paintings I mean that kind of has a little bit of a European feel to it was
that in Paris did was any of that there so yeah I mean the the thing is there is
actually there's a big Art Market of Independent Artists that happens I think
it's monthly and maybe every two weeks in Paris in front of the monpanas Tower
and there's a couple of those Street Markets I mean a lot of a lot of towns even the tiny little town where Camille
and I spend a lot of time near where her family is from in the south of France they have these Artisans or creatives
markets that happen during the summer once a month or whatever so that kind of
venue of like oh I made something I'm gonna bring it down you know on on three
days a week There's cucumbers and and tomatoes and once a month there's
somebody who made something out of wood or somebody who does sketches or whatever showing up but that particular
model has always stayed very accessible in Europe but very small scale so they
don't have what we have these big art festivals but actually the New York art
sidewalk Arts Market really did start with an inspiration from Europe the
Washington Square art festival if you look back and they have a thing on their website but they they describe how in
the very early days a few painters came back you know with inspiration from Europe started leaning their paintings
on the Stoops in Washington Square and then basically I think it might have
been I think his name is Alfred Barr from the who you know started the Museum of Modern Art he saw these artists he
had a gallery I forget exactly who it was not not an art historian but um a
couple of people from the gallery World got together and decided to formalize this selling on the sidewalk and it's a
super interesting history in fact there's there's a woman who wrote a book about the history of art festivals and how that was inspired by those European
markets and for my generation in New York and you know the people who came
before me basically what happened is the art just kind of intermingled with the
people selling you know buttons and trotskies and and you know cutouts of calendars inside frames as though they
were photographs and stuff like that and original artists just would bring their stuff down to the sidewalk and you know
mingle with the whole crowd of people selling fake Rolexes and everything and sell paintings and that's what I did
that's what my my friends did basically show up and find collectors and New York
is such a big city with so many people walking the sidewalk that you have
people walking past you into the store to buy six hundred dollar Tootsie popo and boots and whatever and they don't
even notice you exist and then one of them comes out and says yeah I'll buy this 800 painting sure you know like
it's it's a really odd environment first coming from the Art Festival world it's
a completely different experience than what we do in this industry on a on a
weekend but it's it is the old the old model it's kind of how it's done right very like Douglas said very European
kind of model and so you guys are you're there and Rod has already planted the seeds with you as far as uh prize money
shows and some of these Florida shows you're on that 95 Corridor you can ZIP down to Florida pretty easily uh through
DC in Virginia and all this stuff but you had started out as a strictly
collage artist under Rod's mentorship and I wanted to kind of talk to you
about changing your stream you know changing your pace I know I remember
very clearly when you posted that first elephant drawing on social media and and
that thing blew up I mean talk about the light bulb that went on when when that drawing came out
so as I mentioned briefly you know at 10 years old I was certain I was going to
be a cartoonist I I love always loved drawing as an actor so kind of like like will and you have that in common a
little bit of the illustration start it's true definitely yeah I love graphic
arts I love illustration and like I remember watching my father paint and me sketching and one day he gave me some
some paint and a canvas and I basically Drew with the paints and it's like that that's always been my thing even when in
high school I did some Arts Magnet programs in the school not talking about the my influences from Rod but I've
always been interested in imagery and the drawing aspect of imagery even my my
acrylic paintings from that time were very drawing oriented so when I started making art
professionally I was in the mood as you said I was inspired by Rod and collage and the capacity of collage to convey
really complex narratives almost a visual poetry but as we said before you can kind of
get in a rut and what happened was I started losing my inspiration for the
narrative for the for the story itself of the layered collage and I started wanting to do something
else I started wanting to make an image again like an an image not using an image here and an image there I wanted
to just make make a picture you know like this is this is an illustration of
this concept or this this thing I was inspired by something I saw Lenny Bruno
who's Chris Bruno's mother working with in her own work which was using a lithographer's pencil in a really
creative way it's similar to The Jasper John's kind of Drawn Lines that look
almost like charcoal and basically on a whim while I had a studio full of
abstract collages I literally took a lithographer's pencil and stuck a piece of paper on a wall and
I drew what ended up being this elephant that I posted to Facebook uh that you were talking about will yeah and it had
a quality that was ambiguous it was both joyful and maybe a little bit
reminiscent of of Carnival or circus or something like that but also a little bit quiet subdued maybe even sad and
people responded really positively to it in my close friends group who saw it in
person and then on social media and it's like as you said a light bulb went off like this is something I love
to do I love to make and it wasn't long I basically went radically turned left
and went in 90 degrees from what I was doing and instead of doing abstract paper collage I went into
graphic illustrative drawing as a primary medium nice and switched within
not even not even six months I was I was literally showing up at art festivals with my new body of work that's really
cool it's funny you and I have been close for a long time and I remember showing you a piece that I had done
separately I was like hey come on out to the truck because you had your collages at Boston Mills and I had metal quilt
and I was like come on out to the truck I want to show you this piece that I've been working on and I showed you this this piece and it was like you're like
oh my God that's wow that's really cool that's uh really similar to what I've
been doing or you know and it's so funny like you and I I have so many different people like I remember feeling bad at
the beginning I'm thinking like God I feel like I'm you know I don't want him to think I'm copying him you know and
it's we just have kind of traveled the same path to the point where like it starts out at the beginning when we talk
about this on the podcast too where we are not alone and we are not our competitors I love that thing uh what
was the quote I don't know if you can pull it right out of your head Douglas but you posted a great question it's a long one but the gist of it is we're not
like athletes where we're competing against each other that art is not a sport it's not a competitive nature
there's room for everybody and and that goes in line with so many of the different threads that people have
talked about whether it's signing or Chris dolquist we all kind of Rise as
one and I I think about that you know how many different times I have hung a piece in a home that one of Benjamin's
pieces has been hanging there too I'm like it's my boy you know exactly
yeah and it's like if you like a lot of of times if you like me you like him and it's but it's not a competition it's
like our work does have a similar thread to it too I can't tell you how many different people have come into my booth
and be like oh do you do the Ferris wheels I'm like no but here's his contact exactly no and that's the thing I mean
I've said it before to you but you know I'll say it again I I feel like
even though we had a similar graphic quality right when we started our new
bodies of work at a similar time to me personally that's that's just
showing that we share a passion for similar Aesthetics and similar materials I wanted to be Thomas Nast or Frank
Miller you know that's who those were my heroes and I'm still trying to figure out who I want to be
no but the thing is like how many times have I been to a show and and I hear like oh you're also doing that and it
turns out they're talking about collage material behind images right or graphic
lines on paper or simply the fact that two drawings are heavily black and white
with some sort of color behind them and it might be you it might be Aaron heckenberg you may be Banksy how many
times have I been told that my artwork looks like Banksy I'm not spray painting anything I'm not doing you know girls
with balloons I love Banksy but my work actually doesn't really look like it like it's there's a high black and white
contrast and a graphic quality and those two elements are really similar but I
have more material and technique inspiration from someone like Jasper Johns even though my Aesthetics are very
different than I have from some of the public they really are able to identify similar let's say technique or style or
like for in my case they'll think all glass blowers work looks alike because it's glass but you know what I mean it's
like if you are a collector of glass and someone who knows what they're looking at no you look at the 20 or 15
exhibitors in the show and it's completely different bodies of work same
thing with what you're talking about absolutely and that's what people can kind of hang their hat on and that's fine you can't take it as an artist you
can't take it as an insult because that ends the conversation if you're oh you're offended or you hate what they
said they're really again you know you're the hot person in the bar that they're trying to to be like hey you
come around here often you're like oh what a stale stupid line you're like you just said that the person was you want
what I'm selling you know really they're just like that's their intro that's your foot in the door exactly and you might
think it's dumb but that's their foot in the door so you can't really judge it yeah well and to speak to what you're
saying before about this industry where we all you know we're a community we're friends we're acquaintances we're we're
you know all setting up trying to sell to a similar body of collectors we are
aware of the fact that some of us are really working hard to communicate a certain idea aesthetic body of work in
that way and you know I get like you said it about the you know the ferris wheel or the elephant or whatever but
like I get that sometimes people will talk about oh you know this kind of 1950s rockabilly music aesthetic and I'm
like let me let me give you his card exactly you know like I I'm not personally it's not my vocabulary I'll
tell them honestly I you know it's a cool subject but it's not the thing I'm trying to express with my work and will
expresses it so well give him a call and I'm sure he'd do something same thing with me with like um somebody came into
my booth and they started talking this this talk about a custom piece and they were like have you ever done anything with more like splashes of color with
like mid-century modern and all the stuff and I had you know I I've got the work and I'm like man you're not you
know who could do this and you'll be really happy with like the gross Jeff finkos around the corner I'm like
they've got mid-century modern and and like somehow current modern meets this
like go talk to them and that collector actually bought from me at the following Cherry Creek and we had a relationship
because he was so happy with the painting that he bought from the Christian finkos All Ships arises one
yeah right so um you had that major that kind of that shift when you introduced new materials and it kind of lit a fire
under you in a direction under you when I look at your work I feel there's like
a romance to it there's motion how do you describe how you feel about your
work or what are the words that you put to your work that kind of describes your style or what you'd like to make I like
to say that my work is Unified uh in the themes of motion and perspective and
energy as you said interestingly when I started the body of work you know the first image I kind of made in this
direction was that elephant piece and so I started thinking what other work fits
in that and I did a whole body of work I did some Gallery shows with this kind of circus and carnival theme and then I
brought it obviously art festivals a lot of people kind of associate me with the circus in carnival imagery and every
weekend if I have a ferris wheel or something like that I've stopped doing so many of the kind of animal pieces for
many reasons but one is that the circus is a complicated subject but also because it wasn't really the the core
focus of why I was doing it but someone will see for instance a ferris wheel and
they'll say oh did you you know did you grow up in the circus do you work in the circus and I find myself I use this line
a lot but it's like well no but I put up a tent every weekend but um and you do a lot of those promoter
shows which I've heard you refer to one of the major promoters down south is PT Barnum of Arts festivals I'm not trying
to burn any Bridges but I love that line especially the fact that it's selling that imagery as well well so it's funny
because actually what what really drew me in the end to all of that imagery
Carnival circus animals and everything wasn't ever the circus it was that
energy the movement there's this you know that first elephant piece I had done you know an elephant encountering a
child and it turns out you know that that makes people think of the circus the moment is actually from an African
Sanctuary you know the original Source image came out of a a sanctuary image where a child is meeting an elephant and
it's a baby elephant so it's these kind of two young minds meeting and to me that moment of meeting is interesting
there's that that emotion with that and then with all the other kind of circus and Carnival imagery it's motion focused
I did a whole body of work with flying machines with like old Zeppelins and seven layer biplanes or you know
septoplanes or whatever that never actually flew because it's a movement that energetic spatial representation
that I like like a sense of enthusiasm that that I mean I know carnivals do in
Circus do give off a feeling a feeling of right happiness and youthfulness and
and wonder and that all gets captured from that absolutely and I play on that
I like that I mean I don't it's not like I dislike the fact that people associate my work with the circus or the carnival
for most people that's a really amazing experience I mean the Advent of the circus regardless of what you know
ethics are involved with circuses as a concept the Advent of the circus when the circus came to town and you know the
middle of nowhere America it was the first time most people in those towns had ever
encountered anything beyond Main Street of their town so it was a it was a way
for the world to open up in in a way that Generations later television
changed people's perceptions of the outside world it was really an encounter
with things that they never could have dreamed of This Is The Stuff of Mythology except it's in front of them a
man fighting a lion that goes back to Hercules and yet here you are there's a guy with a bullwhip and a lion in front
of him I mean it's it's so people have these really strong associations and I
like that that it's this positive sense of wonder the potential for for Humanity
to surpass itself to do things that we didn't think were possible yeah I love that I love that feeling too of you know
we come out of our of our houses and we meet with communities and it's like all of these feelings are are generated from
an image you're creating it's that that feeling of connection that feeling of being uplifted and being exposed to new
people who you've never seen before but then also like enjoying it with your family or enjoying it with new people
around you it's it encapsulates such a huge sense of an experience Beyond just
the image itself and I love that about thinking about Rod again going back to rod and him kind of
saying what's the perfect series to show at an Arts Festival and and the venue I
have seen your career as you've edged toward what you are creating and it's like okay well here are the elephants
and you're like okay well I might have to cut the elephants and okay I'm trying to go for a feel of optimism and romance
and childhood innocence as well as this feeling of nostalgia that kind of comes
in and it's interesting to see you kind of edge towards finding your groove you know and then you can kind of sit in
that Groove and create and I'm always it's true I mean that's a that's actually a pretty clear description of
of what I'm aiming at and the trick is in these artistic Journeys you never know what it's going to look like when
you get there I mean like my newest kind of experiments have been these flowers that I've been working with because
they're you know they're very expressive as a subject matter and I tinker I try
something and then I go back to the studio and six months later I try something new and you know I sell
collectors will contact me oh I really love this one I saw on Instagram and my already my flower Series has diverged
from what I was doing six months ago a year ago whatever and occasionally I'll bring one to an art festival to see you
know get the response of people on the street but it is that sense of like optimism uh sense of maybe maybe a
little bit of a sense of wonder or childhood as you say and as you were talking I actually thought of something one of the unifying themes of my work
from the perspective of collectors is family which is really hard way to to
think about it but what I get from collectors again and again and again is whether it is the
architecture the fire escapes of the you know Williamsburg Brooklyn windows or
whether it's the circus or the carnival or a Paris scene with a ferris wheel or
something like that a huge percentage of my collectors have a personal family connection to that image that is I I
just did a commission for a woman in Norfolk whose father took her to an amusement park with a roller coaster and
a ferris wheel that is now gone it no longer exists but her memory of doing
this with her father is so important she ended up after a couple of years she ended up contacting me and saying yes I
really want a custom piece to commemorate this experience with my father I've done pieces for roller coaster
enthusiasts who've been on every roller coaster in America and who have favorites she wanted a roller coaster not because she loves roller coasters
but because it reminds her of her father and the same thing with the the urban pieces the fire escapes and the the
windows and everything people come and they say oh my God you know my dad grew up on a house on a street that did look
just like this I do now I'm doing custom pieces where someone like tells me the address of their childhood home and if
they're lucky they've got a picture and if not I have to go on Google Images and try to find the structure of the
building and what the windows look like to recreate that street where their parents grew up in the Bronx or in
Brooklyn or whatever and so it's odd but it's it's like all of these things in a certain sense come
back to that connection of childhood family sometimes our audiences tell us what our work is about before we even
know what it is yeah you know totally feel like there's a dishonesty if you sit there in your studio like uh what a
family's like you know you're not seeing you grasp but like you know the day out at the Ballpark this or that it's just
like okay you can't come at it from that intention of like I'm gonna make what people want you make what connects and
then other people meet you there and I feel like this year we've had several
conversations with the idea and the theme of nostalgia how artists will focus on what is Meaningful to them in
history or memories and other people join them in that search and they they
resonate with that yeah well then I this ties directly into a piece of writing
that I worked on more than a decade ago I ended up presenting to a small group of people but I called it the viewer is
a creative force and to me it I I'm not sure I ever expressed
it perfectly but to me the artist doesn't get the right to dictate meaning
we as artists we have a story We Tell ourselves we have something that we want
to express and if we're lucky what we've created is a vessel for meaning and we
show that to the world and then the viewer the the person who comes in and
experiences it they create meaning themselves we don't get to say oh no that's not how you can interpret it the
best we can do as artists is make a vessel that can hold meaning and then each person who comes up to the object
the image we create they're going to bring their own story their own background to it and they're going to
fill it with their own meaning and that's as true as whatever Story We Tell I mean how many musicians don't
want to tell the back story behind what their song is about because they want people to connect on their own personal
experience exactly and one of the last one of the worst interviews I've ever heard is the the interpretation of
Stairway to Heaven it's like
I didn't want to hear that I know well that's the same thing when you hear the the real story behind Like You Can't
Always Get What You Want by the Stones it's like well Keith really wanted a cherry soda and the drugstore was out of
it we're like well we thought it was blood cherry red and the devil and we're like no he really wanted a Cherry Coke
just a Cherry Coke that's it and he was he was he's out of luck but that's interesting I love that like music is a
big theme in my work and and I love that um Douglas and I I mentioned it earlier
on in the show but David Byrne wrote this book how music works and it ties right in line with so there's your your
reading material for the independent artist podcast I'm enjoying it yeah and you can pick up little passages
and um it's it's almost like an interactive book for me I've written in the margins and things that uh that
translate to my own work but I love that kind of thing and how music and art definitely has its own similarities and
and hand in hand even going to a a town setting up performing your art breaking
back down moving on down the road it's all these songs that the artists write from Jackson browne's turn no wait what
is it stay a little longer and turn the page senior in the drive-by trucker I can't man uh all of those songs about
the road how many the opening act by the drive-by truckers how many times when you when I've had a bad show have I
driven away being like it ain't my time it ain't my town yeah you know it's just it's sometimes you're
the opening act for somebody else's great show well Ben earlier you mentioned being in Paris before you came
back to New York and kind of started that but you have a longer history with Paris than just that that little
snapshot right well my my history caught back up to me yeah so actually
okay by the time this airs everybody's gonna know but Camille and I went and eloped at City Hall on Monday
congratulations that's fantastic congratulations we've
been contacting our family and friends and stuff but we haven't we haven't put it out there but anyway it'll be it'll be out there so I don't even know how to
introduce the subject but that really gets rid of like I was going to call her your lover and I was like that's I don't
want to do that that's just it makes it really simple doesn't it yeah I'm not gonna love her in Paris just goes right
in line with my Charles Dickens naughty storytelling but uh that's just the image I've created for for you but your
wife Camille sorry let's let's move on exactly so yeah so although Camille and
I just got married this month we met six years ago and she's French and I mean
very soon we knew that we were interested in being together for the for
the long term and so over the last six years she and I have gone back and forth
to France she's doing her PhD as a lot of you know here uh at UPenn and so you
know we we spend our time on both sides of the Atlantic but yeah Paris has always been kind of a a point of
inspiration for me France in general interestingly I always wanted to learn French since I was a child in an odd way
it's specifically because of my mother for some reason she always wanted to
learn French and when I was a kid we had some audio cassettes learning French I failed to
sign up for French class in high school and then when I went to college the
school I went to did two years of ancient Greek and two years of French but all my friends a couple years ahead
of me told me look you can translate rabile after this but you won't even be able to order a coffee in Paris it's
totally useless as a spoken language education and after my second year of college I dropped out and moved to
France because I really desperately wanted to learn French and I'm glad I did and those states were planted from
your mom they literally come from my mother who always wanted to learn French who's now she's on 850 days of Duolingo
because of course when we told her that when we told her that we were eventually going to probably get married and she
really wanted to come to France and meet Camille's parents which she did this Summer She's Got You know an extra fire
under her ass so to speak to learn French so she's doing great in fact she just did a class a distance learning
class in French in Maine where she where she lives and she's super motivated to
be conversational and fluent in French and now it's me who's inspiring her where is so what would Freud say about
the fact that we asked you about your your experience in France and Camille and then you immediately just started
talking about your mother as any good academic will tell you Freud
not necessarily the only way to interpret things so you went off to Paris without knowing
the language at all you just dropped yourself into France and we're like I'll just assimilate I'll figure it out yeah
so basically I mean there's no other way to put it I got a hair across my ass and I really wanted to go there and learn
French and I all of my attempts to study French in you know high school and
college seem to be frustrated by by circumstances and an opportunity fell in
my lap I had I had considered teaching English but because I didn't have a bachelor's degree I couldn't sign up for
teaching at an Institute and so I would have to do private lessons and I considered various other ways of doing
it and a family in Annapolis who were French had an association with my
college and I mentioned casually to them that I wanted to be an au pair okay and they happened to know somebody in France
looking for an au pair and six months later I was on a plane going to France with my little
you know pocket-sized French dictionary learning to count to 10 and asking you know
really important questions so you have that experience being in Paris and then
coming back to the US and you were kind of on the ground floor of being on the show market and your your Mentor kind of
pushed you down the road of doing these Road shows what happened was and so my mentor Rod was a huge influence on my
life on many levels but interestingly for both the decision to sell on the sidewalk in New York and the decision to
eventually bring my artwork out to art festivals that actually came from
Friends of my own generation or or a little bit ahead of me who were kind of breaking ground in New York basically it
didn't work for me to sell my paintings on the sidewalk I had friends who had who made their entire career that way
personally I was scrambling to pay for a very inexpensive room in New York City
like I had an insane deal and I still barely was able to make ends meet and so
I ended up getting other jobs I apprenticed for an amazing book finder in New York who influenced me both
artistically and you know life-wise and I ended up working security at a
Broadway Theater you know the kind of random stuff I worked as a as a server in a restaurant and eventually those
types of secondary jobs just burnt me out I couldn't do it and I
wanted to go back into making artwork and I knew that selling on the sidewalk in New York wasn't going to cut it and
so I started testing you know the small New England art festivals New Jersey a
little bit further trying Virginia and I had more and more success reinvesting yourself into how do I make a living at
this doing the artwork which is the thing I love realizing that the other Market wasn't working for you what other
kinds of choices do you have exactly so basically you know working my restaurant job I made good money working just a few
days a week I was able to do some artwork I saved up a nest egg and I just quit and kind of went cold turkey on
work and that gave me some time to make paintings except when I went into the studio I started making collages because
that was my influence from Rod and as I as I started looking at you know how to
bring these into the market the art festivals were just so much more successful than leaning my collages on
the sidewalk in New York that I started looking at how to make that more full-time you know you buy the van this
is the story all of us have done you get the van you get the professional tent you buy a set of walls that sucks you
buy a set of walls that doesn't suck and we've all had a set of walls that suck
exactly and like you know I remember I did my first two-day show ever in my
whole life that I made like two thousand dollars and I was like oh my God it's gonna be amazing how much money am I
gonna make when I go to Coconut Grove that windfall and then I didn't make yeah I didn't make the scale of increase
and so then you start the long slog of like okay how do I turn this into a business where I'm doing just chose to
get by chose to make this work and basically that was in the early 2000s and by you know the mid mid 2000s I'd
kind of gotten on a roll with that body of work where where it it you know made sense I had a system I kind of knew what
shows to do and all of that as you're finding your career you know and the market and how to kind of navigate and
make a living what motivated you then to kind of give back and to be on the board
for the National Association of Independent Artists and then kind of take on a leadership role in that way I
gotta be really blunt here so when I first when I first my first big National Art Festival was
Coconut Grove basically 20 years ago it might have been 19 I don't know and there was the the morning meeting of
Naya in the parking lot by the building that's now been blown up and turned into a garage there was you know a little
meeting with artists talking about Naya and I went and I was like not giving a break what are we doing here I don't
even know what the what the organization does and it's boring me and I left and you know over the years I would read the
the independent artist it was my favorite thing was the newspaper other than that I had no idea what Naya did
well before we did the podcast for those people who don't know the history there was a newsletter that Naya would put out
kind of talking about current issues and advocacies and all that kind of stuff and that's what you're talking about
you'd read that paper about what's going on out there yeah exactly and a lot of the artists we all see I chose still I
mean they wrote really interesting articles about current issues topics problems and so it's entertaining and
there's a little bit of social stuff but other than that I had no interest in the association I'm not much of a board
member person I mean like like most of us I probably couldn't hold down a real job if someone tried to pay me to do it
so I ignored it but at one point I got to be more involved in some of the
things that were being organized this application was doing conferences and they were doing sessions on different
topics and at one point I was asked to be a panelist on one of the conferences
because of my role as an administrator of the group Greg Turco started art fair review on Facebook they'd asked me to
come to the panel on the zap conference and talk about the next generation of artists and how to get young collectors
and Young Artists more invested and successful at art festivals and I did the panel and 30 seconds after
the panel was done a bunch of people Terry from the NAIA came to me and said
we want you to be on the board and there were some former board members who were who were leaving at the time who were
also there at the conference and they basically cornered me in the hallway outside uh this session and said it's
exactly you know your energy and everything that we need I think they had lots of plans and dreams for me I'm not
sure whether I actually succeeded in them but I literally I had this kind of moment where I thought you know what I
can criticize the NAIA or say oh they don't do anything as I'd done for a
decade or more or I could say sure I'll join the board and I'll see what I can
do and see if if my skills are useful and if I have the patience for board meetings which is exactly what I did
once I got into the group I you know I enjoyed the dynamic and everybody on the
board of that generation and also of our current board of directors is really passionate about making things work for
art festivals and that basically is is what keeps me on the board of directors
is that I I want to be involved in a group who is trying to help when an issue
arises or when there's a new topic such as online exhibitions and things like
that I'd like for there to be an organization that represents artists to be able to express something and and
take a stand so the organization was founded to kind of advocate for this
market and it's evolved a lot over the years we've we've seen it at a starting
point and Midway point and then you know it's kind of got visions and goals for where it's going can you talk a little
bit about that whole trajectory of what NAIA is sure I mean I know a lot of people or
several people who were involved at the beginning of the original meetings when the NAIA group got together in Chicago
and then in Ann Arbor and there were a few other events uh over one summer in
the 90s where artists started talking about a union for some sort of group
that would regulate shows the original idea probably every person present had a
different vision of what they wanted but the original idea was some sort of artists Union and over time informing
the group I know that the idea of a union or some sort of like rule-setting
organization if evolved because that's not exactly how our industry works we as
artists are actually consumers we pay for a service a booth fee we're not employees of art festivals and so unions
typically work when Ford Motor Company is the single paycheck for 1000 of Auto
Workers and those thousands of Auto Workers can say we're not going to show up at the factory if you don't do this for us
that's not at all how our industry Works we're an industry of scabs if anything oh you're not applying to Cherry Creek
great more more chance for me for the original gig workers basically exactly and so it's not that model doesn't work
and despite the fact that some artists wish it did the NAIA evolved away from
that and became a kind of guidance industry uh organization attempting to
maybe set standards before they became an issue many of us remember the slides
there was this chaos where you would pay hundreds or depending on how many applications thousands of dollars a year
to have slides printed and every single Festival at one point had a different rule of how
to write the name on the slide and what was up and all of that and the group the orientation of how they get loaded
exactly and the classic NAIA decision was to standardize that Marketing System
including a red dot on the slide and that became kind of the symbol of something the NAA was good at most art
festivals in the country adopted that standard for paper slides and then when digital applications started the NAA was
really heavily involved in making sure that there was one single Digital Image
standard I love hearing the history of how it got started when I think NAIA works the best it is as an advocacy
group as a voice for artists and some of our concerns and and helps to to voice
the collective thinking if you can even do that what are some of the ways that that Nia is working right now if you can
kind of talk to that I I feel like the group of volunteer board members works
best at ads taking ideas and problems and opinions from the
entire Art Festival industry and kind of consolidating them into a recommendation or a bit of counsel or suggestion some
of the things we work on is helping promote the industry as a whole actually there's a there's an initiative by a
couple of the board members to come up with some video that can be used by
shows that don't have a budget to make a video to promote the concept of art festivals to their Community as well as
to promote the specific Festival just before it happens so that there'll be something maybe on social media for all
the small shows who never do any kind of PR release like an integration of
something that's kind of standardized and National but then also they can put their own personalized flavor for their
event in their merge together to use yeah we're looking to create something that's a in a toolkit for shows that
lack the resources to generate this kind of material for themselves is this digital generate interest in the show
for the community or intro to get sponsorship what's the what's the goal
of the video the goal of the video and you know I'm not taking the lead on this particular project but I'm involved in
the conversations the goal of the video is essentially to create interest among
citizens you know local local residents to make the show have a little bit more
energy among That Base to get people more people out on the street to get
people more involved in the festival create a kind of a whole new Vibe too volunteer sponsorship exactly just
raising the Public's awareness what these festivals are about and oh maybe this is a desirable place to go to buy
artwork to live with artwork to to experience a show that sort of thing yes and I think we I don't think Nia could
have a better person kind of heading up that than Evan reinheimer he's the one that's putting that video together and
his terrific series that's on YouTube about art shows that if you enjoy this podcast definitely suggest checking out
his YouTube channel as well yeah his YouTube channel is great well one of the changes that I'm kind of excited about
too with the organization is for years we've tried to operate as that kind of that artist Union that that idea of
being a membership group where somebody will pay a fee to get benefits bestowed
upon them to advocate for them and we're moving we're reincorporating into what's
the type of non-profit that they're incorporating briefly the NAIA was created as a 501c6 which is a which is
an industry membership group that can make political advocacies to change laws
and things like that and can have other aspects of member benefits what we're
transitioning to is something basically that embodies what we've done all along which is a 501c3 non-profit that
attempts to create a public good that is we are attempting to make art festivals
in general more successful for artists more accessible to the public serve as
resources for shows exactly to give them data and feedback on what makes a good
Festival an event for artists which then improves the market all around so yeah
really we're there to help the industry as a whole right because the difference essentially is if we were behaving as a
true membership organization when somebody has a problem we would check the membership roster and tell people to
go stuff it if they hadn't Paid Dues for the last year or two whereas what actually happens what's happened for
decades is when an industry problem arises something like an issue with applications at a show or spaces at a
show the NAIA gets together the board of directors sits down and talks about is this something that's big enough or
seems awkward enough that some sort of collective voice should come together and express an opinion and then we we go
out and we talk to the show we talk to board members of the show we talk to people artists who've experienced
problems and we say okay well it looks like this whole thing is happening and in general this is not good for the
artists it's not good for the show as a reputation that the show has which is
completely not taking into account whether or not any of the people involved are members of our organization
so we've never really operated as a membership organization we've operated as a as an organization that advocates
for artists to try to make shows better for all of us if listeners out there find that they
want to help promote this advocacy the in the market that they can they can donate to NAIA to to help fund the
initiatives that are needed how can they do that we have a really simple donate link on the website and in the end we
are a very lean organization we have very few expenses but things like the software of the website and stuff like
that and and various aspects of of running any non-profit take a little bit
of money and so the donations are always useful and as we try bigger projects like the video project that takes a
little more resources so any donations are gratefully accepted this is a completely volunteer organization it's
just artists like you and I who are trying to help out and and to raise the
the level of art shows and and people are just trying to help it's not like you know the the union name gets bandied
about and artists have a tendency to disagree especially this time of year when we don't have shows
this time of year gets particularly testy online uh among artists and people
start getting feisty but it is just a group that's trying to get out there and
help help each other help art festivals as well if something's not working and
maybe you know not everybody always likes advice but at the same time a lot of shows will reach out to Naya and ask
and it's a it's a great advocacy group for for all of us it's true so show directors will will often Reach Out
they'll email or call knowing that one of us is on the board and say look we've got this debate in our own board of
directors about what to do for next year's show regarding a new layout regarding what to do with the porta
johns whatever it is and working on like the next generation of artists I mean that's been a big thing right there
another big advocacy we're working on is shows have reached out on how can they implement or how can they work with
other shows to learn about emerging artist programs and what is actually effective and what is just like giving a
newbie a space and having them show up and figure it out for themselves so that there's actually more of a mentoring
process going on so that's also something we've been working on in in AIA yeah and my my personal Vision I
mean I was I was the only person who voted against myself as chair of the board when I was voted onto the chair
my personal leadership philosophy is full democracy I want consensus I want
the group to work together as a whole and honestly there's been so many years
of the NAIA asking for membership fees asking for money from artists personally
what I want to do as a group is I want to create something that is of such benefit to the entire
community that people are excited to just say oh yeah I'm going to give them five bucks there's you know such a
helpful organization there or I'm just excited by the fact that there's a group
of people out there giving their time to try to make the industry better I I don't like the idea of an organization
that's constantly begging for money I want to show people what we do of value and then people will will help us do it
by donations by giving their time you know that's at the core of what Naya is Ben and we do appreciate the work that
the organization does which is why we kind of adopted them as a sponsorship really as far as the podcast goes we are
the newsletter you know we're the newsletter exactly the new direction that Naya is going trying to take it kind of into the future but and even
more than just like policies just through these talks we find out what's important to us as a professional artist
and we talk to people who work in different mediums so we get this broad perspective on what isn't important in
the industry so I think these conversations are really good to get things moving forward yeah absolutely I
feel like the best thing we can do is community building we attempt to bridge
the the distance between shows and artists and among artists and among shows and the podcast is a perfect
example it's not a function of the NAIA it's your project YouTube but what we
can do is help you know lend it a little bit of voice whatever publicity we can
give it and then you turn it into something amazing well we're all holding hands together it's Kumbaya that's the
Time of the Season right it's a good way to end this season right the end of the year we're going to take a little time
off and enjoy family time and recreating and and kind of come back to 2023 with a
fresh perspective on hitting the road again and and making a living out there getting right back on that that uh wheel
chasing that cheese Gentlemen let's do it exactly well Ben congratulations on
on your wedding on your marriage and we're really happy and happy holidays yeah congratulations Ben it's been
wonderful talking to you and it's a great way to kind of wrap up the year and yeah happy happy times and are you
spending uh you're gonna spend the holidays in in Paris or or Virginia we're sending them here and Camille's
family is going to come over around the holidays uh to spend time with us so we're hanging out here in Virginia this
is a year were they pissed that you eloped well eloping is is a good
description of it Although our family is actually new in advance nice good good plan yeah well thank you guys I'll see
you uh next time and thank you again for this this talk it's been really enlightening and fun and cool and
honestly thank you guys for having me all right it was fun see you guys later this podcast is brought to you by the
National Association of Independent Artists the website is also sponsored by
zapplication that's org and while you're at it check out Will's
website at and my website at be sure to subscribe
to this podcast and be notified when we release new episodes [Music]

English (auto-generated)

Recently uploaded