‘You have an honest face’


‘How I went home with a Turner without paying for it, and other Tales of Artistic Adventure’

‘If you get a little money, buy art. If you get a little bit more, buy food.’ I’m pretty sure it was Hemingway who said that. Although, if it was Hemingway, wouldn’t he have been talking about buying books? Oh well, it’s a good quote anyway.

And it reminds me of the time, years ago, that I took my own personal plunge (well, maybe more like a dip) into the Art World. It was back when I was the creative director for an international skincare brand based in Maidenhead, UK. Which meant I had to go to London regularly. (‘Had to go to London’. Sure, you can just hear me: ‘Oh, no, Mr. Boss. You need me to go to darned old London again?’)

I have to admit that I don’t remember all that much about what working on that brand was like. But I remember vividly how cool it was to go to London, say, twice a month. And stay in hotels like Brown’s and the Cadogan and Blake’s. On somebody else’s dime.

I mean, what’s not to like about London? For one thing, everything you do is ‘brilliant’. Seriously. You get in a cab and the driver asks ‘Where to, Love?’ (Nice, being called ‘Love’.) And when you say ‘The Ritz, please’, the cabbie says ‘brilliant’.

And it’s nice to be able to speak the language. Well, sort of. Over there a ‘jumper’ isn’t a dress. And a ‘shingle’ isn’t part of a roof. And trust me, a ‘fanny pack’ isn’t something you can mention in mixed company.

Anyway. I promised an Art Story. So an Art Story you shall have.

I was finishing up an exhausting spell of London-based work (hah), and thought I’d check out a show at the Royal Academy of Arts. There was much to see. And much to buy, if one had the wherewithal. I would find myself drawn to some amazing painting or sculpture, only to jump back in dismay upon seeing its price.

The ones without prices were worse. Why is it that I always forget that important fact about merchandise with no price tags — that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it? Just recently, I saw this gorgeous painting featured in an ad in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. It’s by Thomas Moran (Hudson River School), No price given, but, since it was titled ‘Sunset, Amagansett’, I couldn’t help myself. So, yes, silly me. I emailed the gallery and asked. Here it is. Maybe you’d like to go in on it with me. It’s only $875,000.

I figured I'd have to work at least 100,000 days to be able to buy this sunset

I figured I’d have to work at least a thousand freelance days to be able to buy this sunset. Maybe I’ll just look out the window

But, like I was saying. While the paintings and sculpture at the Royal Academy show were way out of my league, I thought I might be able to manage a print. This very polite gentleman from Wales had a booth featuring Turner engravings. (Yes, that Turner; the famous one. So famous that there was an-acclaimed-but-as-yet-unseen-by-me biopic made about him recently.)

Mr. Polite Welsh Print Guy spent a goodly amount of time ‘splaining engravings to me: how the ones that looked really great were really expensive. And how the ones that didn’t look that great (because Turner had scribbled all over them) were even more expensive. Then he showed me one kind of in the middle that I could actually afford.

I felt pretty confident that The Dude wouldn’t mind me buying it. Besides not being too expensive, it met the criteria for Art That The Dude Likes: which means it either a) looks like what it’s supposed to be, or b) looks like it was really hard to do. Gosh, this engraving did both (!)

My credit-card wielding hand was positively trembling with acquisitive excitement as I handed over my plastic, only to hear Mr. PWPG say ‘Oh, I can’t accept credit cards.’ ‘Oh no‘, I apologize. ‘I don’t have enough cash to cover this. I’d go to the bank for some tomorrow, but I have to go home. I’m so sorry; I believe I’ve wasted your time.’ (This was waaay before cash machines were even a twinkle in bankers’ eyes.)

‘I’ll take a check’, he offers. ‘Darn. That’s awfully nice of you. But my husband has the checkbook’, I lamely explain. ‘He’s in New York, taking care of our little girl’, I go on unnecessarily.

‘I tell you what. You take it. You can pay me when you get home. Just mail me the check.’

‘Are you…sure?!’ I sputter.

‘Why yes. You have an honest face’.

So he wrapped up the Turner, I took it home, and there it is at the top of this post. (Actually, it’s hanging on my wall. You can tell by the weird reflections that I snapped it in situ.)

Of course, the works of art I prize most cost me nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. But I sure didn’t buy them at the Royal Academy. Here’s one.

'Untitled', by The Child. Has kind of a stormy Turneresque quality, wouldn't you say?

‘Untitled’, by The Child. Has kind of a stormy Turneresque quality, wouldn’t you say? Plus, it’s a painting

Speaking of Art (and Art Stories), The Dude’s family owned a De Kooning. If you missed that (absolutely-hilarious-if-I-do-say-so-myself) tale, here it is again: ‘De Kooning’s Revenge’

Now you’ll have to excuse me while I go hang ‘Untitled’ back on the wall. See you next week, unless I decide to rob a bank so I can buy that Thomas Moran.

New York City. April 2016

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21 thoughts on “‘You have an honest face’

  1. Unbound Roots

    I love the title for this post – and I love this post (as always). What a memorable trip, and what an incredible person you met. I love when you come across a “gem” unexpectedly (yes, the piece of art you came home with was beautiful too). My family and I had a similar experience when we visited the Ukrainian Gift Shop last week. The owner was such a delight and the family history he shared with us were incredible. He was a gem and the stories are not ones we will soon forget.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I did have to laugh at your description of your husband’s art taste: “which means it either a) looks like what it’s supposed to be, or b) looks like it was really hard to do.” because I’m pretty much the same way. Ha! Realism is my love. Abstract – not so much. I’ve tried, but I just can’t. Fun post!

    • What a rich and wonderful comment, dear Erin! Thank you for enjoying my post, and for the your comments about art. I will tell The Dude he is not alone! (BTW, I have seen an example of your artwork — that delightful watercolor of the man on the tractor — and I know you have talent as well as an Eye.) Here’s hoping you hear many more delightful stories — from Ukrainians and Others! xoxo

  2. I’m with The Dude when it comes to art. Look like it’s supposed to and/or look like I couldn’t do it. Love The Child’s painting. We do that, too. The best art work gets put on The Fridge 🙂

    • Hahaha! Love that you and The Dude agree. And that we all agree that the Kids’ work is the best work. The painting in the post is from nursery school. Fingerpaints! Thanks for the comment. Enjoy your kids — and their art!

  3. That kind of trust probably no longer exists, Alice – where you could take a Turner home, across that very ocean no less, and mail the check. Good choice – I happen to like the Turner more than the Moran, too. I have let paintings go out the door on approval but I usually know where those people live.

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