Sunday, January 11, 2015

Old, forgotten paintings

A little over a year ago, I found myself intensely focused on a question that had flitted across my mind several times in the past, never sticking around long enough to rattle me: What happens to art that has been forgotten, or that has become obsolete? I was visiting an elderly couple at their dimly lit home, old paintings in tinny frames peering crookedly at me from forgotten corners of the living room, when the question really made its impression. Could my art end up this way? I was rattled.

Here I saw a small painting of a ship on calm waters with a tranquil blue sky; polite and well behaved flowers in a simple vase, painted against a boring background; a portrait of some man, painted in long faded oils. These pieces of art were either kitsch to begin with, or so far removed from their context that they ceased to have meaning beyond something you might find in a thrift store while looking for cheap props for an upcoming play... For all I knew, the couple (or perhaps just the husband or just the wife) still derived pleasure from looking at these pieces, although I felt it was more likely they didn't really see them at all. I knew they cared about the photos of their children and grandchildren adorning the old piano, but the painting of the ship? It was probably background noise at this point.

What if these paintings had been something once? What if the artist had been a local, celebrated artist? What if the artist had been a local, celebrated artist... in Boise, Idaho (i.e., some random, faraway place that elicited little urgency from viewers in Kansas)? What happens to this art when the old couple passes away, and the relatives are purging the house of memories and memorabilia in a rush so they can sell the house? If the next of kin aren't moved by the art, does it die too? Is it okay if it does?

Does most art cycle out, whether due to death, natural disasters, changing tastes and tides, or being entombed in limbo in the basement of an important gallery? How many of my pieces will end up this way? How many of my paintings will ultimately die a death of obsolescence? How many of yours will?

(I found the painting shown here stacked in a closet in the back bedroom of my grandparents' house; they both died years ago. The back of the painting says: "Big Sur Creek", but that has been crossed out and replaced with the words: "Mountain Stream". The artist's first name is either "Andrew" or "Andrea" and the last name is "Tagasis", "Taparis", or some combination of those letters...)

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