My most cherished artwork is a surrealist drawing on brown paper, torn from a restaurant tabletop in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The artist, Mike Cole, is a grad school friend whose thesis, The Somnambulist, consists of 100 pages of two- to four-line poems he discovered by closing his eyes, dropping his head and letting the images or words come. The drawing came to him in much the same manner as we waited for lomo in Dada Café.
I rediscovered Mike's piece last week when I finally got around to hanging a collection of free, found, cheap and self-made prints I had stored over the refrigerator. I remembered how he'd torn the drawing out of the protective sheet, folded it and stuffed it in his pocket when our meals arrived. I had been somewhat disappointed because I had thought to take the drawing for myself, but then, on our last night in Argentina, he handed it to me as a gift.
I hung Mike's work, along with the others, in the kitchen with photo corners from Hobby Lobby, where I took pleasure in the irony of a DIY store filling its foyer with the same kind of cheap factory collages one might find at Target or Z Gallerie.
When I got home, I began building a mental list of places to buy inexpensive, original artworks. Axle Contemporary and Caldera Gallery came to mind, but with colleagues, I came up with a list of less conspicuous places to buy art: Au Boudoir, Harry's Roadhouse, Java Joe's, Kakawa Chocolate House, Salvation Army, Second Street Brewery (Railyard) and Tino's Hair Studio. I'm sure there are more.
Next to Mike's drawing, I hung a screen print by Aaron Wallis, depicting Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast surrounded by an astrological chart. Aaron posts his artists' proofs around my former stomping ground of Jackson Hole, Wyo., to be taken down by savvy collectors—not unlike Caldera's Hide-and-Seek show.
I also hung a wildlife piece by Aaron, titled "Don't Feed the Bears." It's a screen print of black bears with beefy gay men, aka "bears," sitting at a picnic table. I bought it for $25.
Finally, I have a Central American-inspired print by Benjamin Carlson—acquired in a similar manner to Aaron's prints—as well as a black-and-white photo of the front end of a fire truck, which I took during college; a black-and-white print of cowboys by Travis Walker (acquired by buying a ticket to a fashion show); a large photo of a peacock gifted to my baby mama; and a couple postcards of works I admire by Chuck Close and Martin John Garhart.
Looking at the kitchen wall, I celebrated the fact that, pleasure being a profound and foremost purpose of art, investments needn't be justified by money or status. Later, I emailed local artist Jerry Wellman for his thoughts on collecting inexpensive art, and he responded, first, by characteristically questioning "art" more than "inexpensive."
"When I was in my first year in college," Jerry writes, "my brother Ronny and I agreed that the Quaker guy on the oatmeal box was indeed a worthy image. And so he became just that on our wall in our makeshift kitchen. Quaker guy really did fine for us, for [a while], until Ronny drew a self portrait behind a window on a rocket heading into outer space. This work was obviously more local."
Jerry's comments remind me that my sister-in-law decorates her condo with paintings she makes by copying simple designs on postcards she's collected. My brother's contribution to the condo is a framed poster of Ansel Adams' Grand Teton National Park photograph, which he pilfered from me. When I first saw it hanging above the fireplace, I thought, "I have that poster." After a moment of that brotherly I-want-it-because-he-has-it feeling, I decided it looked good right where it was. It suited the moment.
Kakawa Chocolate House
Second street Brewery
112 W San Francisco St.
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