Until I launched this site, most of my finished work was rarely seen by someone other than myself. Occasionally a piece might hang in an exhibition, or exist on the social media, but that's the exception. So unless I'm at the opening reception of a show I'm rarely in, or people see my work during an occasional studio crawl, it's mostly unseen. Because it's mostly unseen, I don't really have a sense of how people will react. Once in a while though, I experience someone's response directly.
One—During my first year of undergraduate school I painted quite a bit at home, in a single wide trailer outside of my regular coursework, because pure studio courses weren’t offered until the second year. I was in a groove with my work and wanted to keep it going. I entered one of those pieces the following spring to the Art in the Park juried exhibition in my hometown. It was a mixed-media piece on paper—watercolor, India ink, colored pencil and graphite. I don't recall if I saw the show, or attended any events connected to it, but after it was over I think my parents collected the piece for me that had been accepted. My mom called to say that a neighbor who lived down the block from them had seen it in the exhibition and asked if it was for sale. She said that she stood looking at it for a long time, that it affected her and wanted to have it in her house. I hadn’t ever heard a response like that about my work. What really made a difference was that she was a neighbor I didn’t know—she wasn't an art school friend, or an art instructor, or a close friend of my parents, or my parents, but an average person who was generous enough to share her intimate reaction. My mom told her she’d ask me. When we spoke about it, I got the feeling that my folks liked it and wanted it, but she didn’t come right out and ask me. It’s been hanging on their living room wall ever since. One of my sisters owns it now and it still hangs in the same location. For a few years afterwards, if I was staying at my parents house, sometimes I’d see that neighbor drive down the street and we’d wave to each other.
Two—A female tenant who lived in the same duplex as my brother and sister-in-law walked into their apartment and saw the painting I’d given to them called Wanderlust. At some point during her visit, she said, "I want to make love to that painting." My brother indicated that she said it in a slightly sultry voice. Not because she was being ironic, but he said it’s because whenever she was feeling particularly flirtatious, her voice changed. It was shocking and flattering. I've never heard anyone say something that provocative about something I've made—that includes all the years I dated. It probably would have been exciting to see her make love to my painting, or horrifying, I suppose. How would that even work? I have no idea, but she obviously liked it. It seems to me her reaction is as good as it gets—maybe even better than being included in an exhibition somewhere, but trickier to express in a resume.
Three—During an ‘open studio crawl’ about five or six years ago, I heard someone enter my space during a relatively quiet time one Saturday afternoon. I was in the back working so I looked around the corner to greet whoever it was. A woman was standing alone in front of one of my larger paintings called Full of Birds. I didn’t say anything and after a bit she quietly left. Awhile later, I heard someone walk in and found the same woman standing in front of it again. This time she stayed longer, so I finally approached her, introduced myself as the artist and asked her if she had any questions. It appeared that her eyes were full of tears and she had a difficult time talking at first. I asked if she was alright, if she needed anything and she told me she was fine, that her son had been very sick and this painting somehow was bringing it all up and soothing her at the same time. We stood together for a bit in silence, we thanked each other, and then she walked away.
Four—A young couple was looking at my work during a different ‘open studio crawl’ and spent most of their time in front of my ink drawings. They’re 11” x 8.5” and float within 20” x 16” walnut frames. Eventually I asked them if they had any questions and they asked me how I made the photographs. They said that they enjoyed looking at photography and taking pictures themselves, and they couldn't figure out what kind these were, what kind of paper I used, and how they were printed. I was a bit confused at first because they aren't photographs and then I realized that they thought my drawings were photographs. "These are ink drawings—ball point pen drawings" I said. Then they seemed confused, so I pointed to all of the used Bic pens that I had on display. This random encounter led to a long conversation about perception and art.
© C. Davidson