Friday, April 06, 2018

Saga 2

Saga 2 is up on the website! I'm in the thickets of Saga 3 right now, but I still love working large. Saga 2 is seven feet eight inches long. Here is a tiny picture of the huge painting. You can see it bigger on my website.

There are are some funny references in the piece. The black ship on the right is the U.S.S. Constitution, and the one on the S.S. United States, which is a sad wreck of an ex-cruise ship that is docked across from IKEA in Philadelphia. There are several recognizable political figures in the painting (many of them show up as a well-dressed species of invasive aquatic sponge) and the flowers from Saga 1 , which I came to think of as hysterical media beasts, have weaponized their speech. These paintings connect end to end, and they are meant to be read as one big narrative, from left to right.

I post pictures of my work in progress on Instagram a fair amount now (I'm the_drawist), and there's a nice picture of Saga 1 and 2 together there, as well as a few shots from a wonderful show I saw at the National Gallery recently: Outliers and American Vanguard Art, which was so, so good.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Politics (In the Weeds with Snakes and Saga 1)

I'm working on a series of paintings that are more explicitly political than what I've made before. In The Weeds With Snakes, from earlier this year, is very clearly about a personal reaction to the election. The content of this piece is impossible to see at a small size but you can click the link above to see details.

And this, below, is also an allegorical response to the current climate. It's also huge: it's an 8 foot watercolor and ink painting on paper. I love making giant watercolors, and I'm well into making the next one in this series. I'm going to make several of these large pieces. Each painting will continue the action the one before it, and the edges will match, so images flow from painting to painting. I've titled the first one of these paintings Saga 1, but I may well change that title as I get more of the series done. You can see more of Saga 1 on my website, here.

Samantha Simpson, Saga 1 (Working Title), Ink and watercolor on paper, 96" x 51", 2017

The large sequential pieces are based loosely on the saga of the Danian war that winds around Trajan's column in Rome.

I've been lucky enough to teach in Rome a couple times, and when I'm there I always visit the huge hole in the ground that surrounds Trajan's column. You can't easily get right up close to the images that wind around the column, but there is a long set of informational displays that show the images unwound in one long line. I'm always moved by those pictures. I know very little about the historical context of what I'm seeing, but it feels like a message from a lost society about the cost of a battle. It's a victory column with a message: we did this. Don't do it again. If you're interested, there's a great website that shows the images here. You can see details of my work on my website or on instagram, where I post in-progess shots of what I'm up to from time to time.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Money Money Money and Incidentally, What Is Wrong With the New York Times

A couple days ago I announced on facebook that I'd made a little store to sell multiples of my artwork. I have sweet small framed prints of tiny paintings on there, and at first they were priced at $100 each. My friend wrote that she'd been waiting for me to make affordable art and was excited to buy one, and lots of people I adore shared the link. And then that night I found myself waking up all night thinking, "$100?!?! That's way too much! But, but..."

There is a cognitive dissonance around money that goes with being an artist. Here's the thing. As an artist, in my experience, one learns to live in two monetary worlds. There's the amount of money I actually have and can spend, and then there's the amounts of money that art sells for. 

When I first was approached by a good gallery I went around to a bunch of galleries to ask them how they priced work on paper. They were all hedgy with me, because of course it's a sensitive question and no one likes to talk about the value of someone else's work, but one kind person said that I should set the price an 18'x22" drawing at about $1500 x my name value. That seemed amazing to me, so I told my good gallery that my big drawings were $1500. In time, they came to sell for about $2500, and I felt that as a triumph. I know, in gallery terms, that that is not much. I know artists who sell large work for $20,000. Work on paper is relatively cheap, and $2500 for a piece that likely takes me a couple months to make and $500 to frame isn't exactly cost effective, but still. That's always seemed like a ton of money to me. 

When I started the online gallery I talked about it with a bunch of art people who I respect, and I showed them the little prints I made and told them about the $100 price point, and everyone except my husband said they seemed really cheap. He was very skeptical that anyone would have $100 to spend on art, but I wrote it off. Which is weird. 

$100 is really expensive to me. But in the art world, it's cheap. It's almost "something-is-wrong-with-this-or-it's-student-work" cheap. I felt like I'd be devaluing the work if I went below $100. A few people I talked to confirmed that impression. $100 meant value. I kept the price there.

I loved the idea of having an online gallery because it seemed so democratic. I have had great experiences with brick and mortar galleries. Becky Kerlin from Gallery Joe is a peach among peaches. A good gallery like hers takes a 50% commission, and if they are good, you never think about that again, because they find opportunities for you and sell your work and show your work and present it to the public with incredible care and devotion. It's amazing, and it's absolutely worth it. But it was fun to think about opening my own online gallery: I decided that I'd donate a substantial chunk of the profits to causes I care about. 

And then, the night after I made the store, I kept waking up. I had the voices of the art world people ringing in my head, saying I'd priced it too low, and then I had the face of my friend, who I knew, like me, could not afford to spend $100 on art. 

So today, in between teaching classes, before I rushed off to a faculty meeting, I dropped my prices to a disgracefully low level. Because once I finally did get some sleep, I remembered another crucial thing a gallery does: they cultivate a group of people who can afford to buy art. Gallerists are the people who connect me to the magical universe of people for whom $100 is not a deal-breaker. 

It is for me. $100 is new running shoes, or my kid's winter wardrobe. I wouldn't pay that to get art that I love, not because I wouldn't, but because I can't. But I have bought art for less than $50. And I'm very happy, now, to be making something I can sell to people who, like me, live in that world. When I changed the prices in my store this morning this little box popped up asking me if I wanted to mark the 60% price drop as "on sale." No. These prints are not on sale they are for sale, to people like me.

So is this bad economics? Will I devalue my art by underpricing it? I don't know. But maybe it's a little bit worth it to me to push back at that dissonance, and to get that art on my friend's wall.

The whole time I was thinking about this pricing problem I kept flashing to the NY Times Style section, which I hate-read with religious regularity every Sunday. There's one particular page I can't keep my eyes off, which always features somewhat cute things priced for people whose money is cluttering up their living rooms. Like this.  Isn't not thinking that there's something insane about flatware that costs over a thousand dollars the very thing that made the NYTimes lose touch with the common man? There's some analogue here to the way they missed the call on the election, and it's not unrelated to the way I priced my work higher than anything that makes any sense in the world I actually live in. I apologize. Friends, buy my work if you want it!  This fire sale is going to last for a while.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Philadelphia civic pride and frogs about the election

I'm particularly Philly proud this month because my work is in two group shows in two of my favorite civic buildings. 

You can see my work in A City of Artists, Celebrating the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours Philadelphia Art in City Hall gallery in room 116 on the first floor of City Hall. The exhibition was organized by the wonderful people at CFEVA and runs through December 2, 2016. The show celebrated the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours, which run annually in October, and which brought some lovely people to my studio last weekend.

A tiny book with images from my paintings will also be on view in another Philadelphia civic building in November: I'm in the Philadelphia Center for the Book's Little Lexicons exhibition at the Philadelphia Free Library's Central branch. The exhibition will be up from November 4th to January 13, 2017, and I couldn't be more thrilled. The Philadelphia Library is one of my favorite places in Philadelphia, and I am a regular. I especially love their Print and Picture collection and the exhibitions up in the Rare Books Collection. If you are from Philadelphia and you haven't been up there, you should go, stat. (Because Grip!)

And last but not at all least, my latest frog painting, What We Must Do, is in a show curated by the brilliant Susan Coote in Episcopal Academy's Crawford Gallery called Messages and American Dreams, which is up until November 16th, 2016. I'm delighted that Susan included this piece it: she's an amazing curator, and these frogs are all about the election, so it's wonderful to have them in this show.